Saint Catherine of Siena



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Fast Facts
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Function: 
Saint
Traditions: 
Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Anglican Communion, Christianity
Main Countries of Activity: 
Italy
Date of Birth: 
March 25, 1347
Place of Birth: 
Siena, Italy
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
No
Date Left His/Her Body: 
April 29, 1380

Biography

Saint Catherine of Siena was a Tertiary of the Dominican Order, and a Scholastic philosopher and theologian. She also worked to bring the Papacy back to Rome from its displacement in France, and to establish peace among the Italian city-states. She was proclaimed as a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

She was born Catherine Benin in Siena, Italy, to Giacomo di Benincasa, a clothdyer, and Lapa Piagenti, possibly daughter of a local poet. Born in 1347, she was the last of 25 children. She took the habit of the Dominican Tertiaries after vigorous protests from the Tertiaries themselves.

In about 1366, St Catherine experienced what she described in her letters as a "Mystical Marriage" with Jesus. Her biographer Raymond of Capua also records that she was told by Christ to leave her withdrawn life and enter the public life of the world. Catherine dedicated much of her life to helping the ill and the poor, where she took care of them in hospitals or homes. Her early pious activities in Siena attracted a group of followers, both women and men, while they also brought her to the attention of the Dominican Order, which called her to Florence in 1374 to interrogate her for possible heresy. After this visit, in which she was deemed sufficiently orthodox, she began travelling with her followers throughout northern and central Italy advocating reform of the clergy and the launch of a new crusade and advising people that repentance and renewal could be done through "the total love for God."

Physical travel was not the only way in which Catherine made her views known. In the early 1370s, she began writing letters to men and women of her circle, increasingly widening her audience to include figures in authority as she begged for peace between the republics and principalities of Italy and for the return of the Papacy from Avignon to Rome. She carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI, also asking him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States.

In June of 1376 Catherine went to Avignon herself as ambassador of Florence to make peace with the Papal States, but was unsuccessful. She also tried to convince Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome.[2] She impressed the Pope so much that he returned his administration to Rome in January, 1377. Following Gregory's death and during the Western Schism of 1378 she was an adherent of Pope Urban VI, who summoned her to Rome, and stayed at Pope Urban VI's court and tried to convince nobles and cardinals of his legitimacy. She lived in Rome until her death in 1380. The problems of the Western Schism would trouble her until the end of her life.
St. Catherine by Tiepolo, c. 1746

St Catherine's letters are considered one of the great works of early Tuscan literature. More than 300 letters have survived. In her letters to the Pope, she often referred to him affectionately as "Papa" or "Daddy" ("Babbo" in Italian). Other correspondents include her various confessors, among them Raymond of Capua, the kings of France and Hungary, the infamous mercenary John Hawkwood, the Queen of Naples, members of the Visconti family of Milan, and numerous religious figures. Roughly one third of her letters are to women. Her other major work is "The Dialogue of Divine Providence," a dialogue between a soul who "rises up" to God and God himself, and recorded between 1377 and 1378 by members of her circle. Often assumed to be illiterate, Catherine is acknowledged by Raymond in his life of her as capable of reading both Latin and Italian, and another hagiographer, Tommaso Caffarini, claimed that she could write.

St Catherine died of a stroke in Rome, the spring of 1380, at the age of thirty-three. The people of Siena wished to have her body. A story is told of a miracle whereby they were partially successful: Knowing that they could not smuggle her whole body out of Rome, they decided to take only her head which they placed in a bag. When stopped by the Roman guards, they prayed to St Catherine to help them, confident that she would rather have her body (or at least part thereof) in Siena. When they opened the bag to show the guards, it appeared no longer to hold her head but to be full of rose petals. Once they got back to Siena they reopened the bag and her head was visible once more. Due to this story, St Catherine is often seen holding a rose. The incorruptible head and thumb were entombed in the Basilica of San Domenico, where they remain.

Saint Catherine's body is buried in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, which is near the Pantheon.

Saint Catherine by Carlo Dolci

Pope Pius II canonized St Catherine in the year 1461. Her feast day, at the time, was not included in the Roman Calendar. When it was added in 1597, it was put on the day of her death, April 29, as now, but because of a conflict with the feast of Saint Peter of Verona, which was also on April 29, it was moved in 1628 to the new date of April 30.In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, it was decided to leave the celebration of the feast of St Peter of Verona to local calendars, because he was not as well known worldwide, and Saint Catherine's feast was restored to its traditional date of April 29.Some continue to use one or other of the calendars in force in the 1628-1969 period.

On 5 May 1940 Pope Pius XII named her a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Francis of Assisi. Pope Paul VI gave her the title of Doctor of the Church in 1970 along with Saint Teresa of Ávila making them the first women to receive this honour. In 1999, Pope John Paul II made her one of Europe's patron saints. She is also the patroness of the historically Catholic American sorority, Theta Phi Alpha.

Saint Catherine Of Siena's Prayer

O marvelous wonder of the Church, seraphic virgin, Saint Catherine, because of thine extraordinary virtue and the immense good which thou didst accomplish for the Church and society, thou art acclaimed and blessed by all people. O blessed Catherine, turn thy benign countenance towards me, who confident of thy powerful patronage call upon thee with all the ardor of affection and I beg thee to obtain by thy prayers the favors I so ardently desire (mention your request). Thou wast a victim of charity, who in order to benefit thy neighbor obtained from God the most stupendous miracles and became the joy and the hope of all; thou canst not help but hear the prayers of those who fly to thy heart - that heart which thou didst receive from the Divine Redeemer in a celestial ecstasy. O seraphic virgin, show once again proof of thy power and of thy flaming charity, so that thy name shall ever be blessed and exalted; grant that we, having experienced thy most efficacious intercession here on earth, may come one day to thank thee in Heaven and enjoy eternal happiness with thee. Amen.

Sources: 
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