Saints Series: Catherine of Siena

Catherine of Siena

Catherine of Siena is probably one of the more well-known Medieval saints.  Catherine was born in Siena, Italy on March 25, 1347. She was one of 25 children, half of whom died in early childhood. At an early age, she wanted to devote her life to God. At the age of five or six, Catherine started having visions of Christ. She devoted her life to Christ at age seven.

At the age of sixteen, one of her older sisters died. Catherine’s parents want her to marry her sister’s widower. She was absolutely against it and start on a strict fast and cut her hair in protest of being told to improve her appearance to attract a husband. However, she was just as resistant to becoming a nun. She insisted on living a life in service to God, but outside the walls of a convent and not in the life expected of women at that time, marriage and motherhood. Her father finally gave in and let her live her life the way she wanted.

After a trip to a public bath to improve her health, Catherine developed a serious rash and fever. This illness forced her mother to accept Catherine’s desire to join the “Mantellate” the local association of devout women. The Mantellate was an order of the Sisters of Penitence of St. Dominic. She joined as a tertiary member, which meant that she continued to live in her family home in silence and solitude. Catherine became known for her holiness and her severe asceticism.

Catherine also started to minister to people outside of her local community. She traveled around Italy promoting reform of the clergy, encouraging cities to remain loyal to the Pope, and trying to convince the Pope to return to Rome from Avignon. She also dictated letters that were sent to men and women in her circle around Italy. She would continue traveling and writing until her death in 1380 after suffering a massive stroke.

Catherine of Siena was canonized (made a saint) relatively quickly after her death. She was canonized in 1461, less than 100 years after her death. She was also named a doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. A doctor of the Church is a saint whose theology and writings are instrumental in Catholic theology.

Catherine of Siena is a great example of how someone can serve God and not be a religious leader like a pastor or nun. She served God while living at her home and traveling all around. She lived a normal life and served God. To follow Catherine of Siena’s example, a person can serve God as a banker, a school teacher, a farmer, etc. You serve God by doing whatever it is that you are good at, whether it is being understanding of a student who is having a difficult time or donating part of your crops to help others who are in need. You don’t necessarily have to go to seminary and become a pastor.

This is part of a monthly series of newsletter articles written by Intern Bridget.