Saint Catherine of Siena is one of the most well-known Catholic saints. This is largely due to the amount she accomplished during her short time on earth, as well as her contributions to the Catholic faith that are still being recognized to this day. Her story is one of true sacrifice, devotion, and bravery. Keep reading to learn more about Saint Catherine and her powerful faith.
Catherine was born on March 25, 1347 in Siena, Italy. The Black Death was sweeping through Italy, creating very dangerous conditions for newborn children. Catherine had a twin sister, but sadly the newborn died shortly after being born. Catherine was raised by her mother and father, who earned a living dying cloth. Growing up, Catherine was a happy child. So happy, in fact, that her family nicknamed her Euphrosyne, which is Greek for “joy.” While living a relatively care-free life in her early years, at the age of five Catherine received her first vision from God. Her writings indicate that she saw Christ, Mary and the Apostles gathered around a banquet table. It was at that moment that Catherine decided to devote her life to Christ.
Catherine spent the next few years at home, where she was extremely devoted to serving her family. When asked how she served them so fully, she explained that she considered her father to be Christ, her mother to be Mary, and her siblings to be the apostles. She also practiced asceticism, or the act of denying earthly desire to enter into deeper spiritual enlightenment. Catherine lived like this for years, until her parents tried to arrange her marriage when she was 16 years old. Completely opposed to the marriage, Catherine did everything she could to dissuade her parents. This included entering into a heavy fast and even cutting her hair to make herself less attractive. Eventually her parents gave in and allowed Catherine to join the Third Order of Saint Dominic as a tertiary. Taking simple vows, Catherine stayed at home with her family, where she lived in silence and isolation. In the rare instances when she would visit the public, she was known for giving away her clothing and food, often at the cost of her own well-being.
When Catherine was 21, she entered into what she described as a “mystical marriage” with Christ. This was a turning point for Catherine, for after her spiritual marriage to Christ, she devoted her life to serving the public and broke her pattern of isolation. Catherine began to gather a following due to her good works and eventually she found herself called to intercede in the rocky political climate in Siena. She was a strong advocate for reform within the clergy and peace within the Church. She worked closely with Pope Gregory XI to make changes that would better the church as a whole. Pope Gregory and Catherine worked closely together for several years. (It was during this time, at the age of 23, that Catherine received her first stigmata.) Pope Gregory even called on her to help negotiate peace between Florence and Rome in 1378. That same year, Pope Gregory died during riots associated with the conflict. Catherine herself was almost killed, but this didn’t stop her from pursuing peace. Eventually peace was established and she was able to return home to Siena.
When Pope Urban VI was elected to the papacy, Catherine served on his court and continued to take an active stance in local politics. However, the remaining years of Catherine’s life were ones of great hardship. While she was known for fasting throughout her life, she began to fast even more extremely, even against the advice of her family and spiritual adviser. It became so severe, that by 1380 she could not swallow food or water. In the same year, she also suffered from a major stroke and was unable to use her legs. On April 29, 1380 at the young age of 33, Catherine passed away. In 1461 Catherine was declared a Saint. In 1970 and 1999 respectively, Catherine was named a Doctor of the Church and a patron Saint of Europe and Italy.
Today Saint Catherine holds several patronages including nursing, illness, fire prevention, still born children, and miscarriages. While Saint Catherine never had the experience of carrying or birthing a child during her short life, she was no stranger to the pain that losing a child can bring. Her own twin died shortly after being born, and she lost another sister due to complications during child birth. Today, many men and women pray to Catherine of Siena for a healthy pregnancy and the avoidance of a miscarriage. Take a look at the prayer below, and say it for you or someone you know that is going through similar struggles.
Humble Virgin and Doctor of the Church, in thirty-three years you achieved great perfection and became the counselor of Popes. You know the temptations of mothers today as well as the dangers that await unborn infants. Intercede for me that I may avoid miscarriage and bring forth a healthy baby who will become a true child of God.
Post written by Katie Karpinski