St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena is one of the most famous Dominican saints, one of 36 Doctors of the Church, and an influential mystic and author. Nearly 400 letters, 26 prayers, and a treatise penned by Catherine are known today, even though she didn't learn to write until she was 30 (though many of her letters were dictated to scribes). Some of her letters were later carried by soldiers as a sort of good luck charm during battle.

Lifetime: March 25, 1347 to April 29 1380
Region: Alexandria, Egypt
Patronages: Fire; Miscarriages; Illness; Italy
Iconograpy: Crown of thorns; Lilies; Dominican habit
Feast Day: April 29

Catherine was the 23rd child born to her mother, though half of her older siblings had died young. Catherine was a joyful and pious child, earning the Greek word for "joy" as a family nickname, having her first vision of  Jesus at five or six, and declaring at seven her intention to dedicate her life to God.

When Catherine was 16, one of her older, married sisters died in childbirth. Catherine was devastated by the loss of her sister, but even worse for her was that her parents wanted to arrange for her to marry her sister's widower. Catherine still intended to dedicate herself to God and taking a husband wouldn't allow her the space to do so. She fasted in protest, and even cut her hair short to make herself less attractive to the men who wanted to marry her.

However, Catherine was not rebellious or disrespectful to her family. Though she rejected their pressuring her to marry, Catherine served her parents and even her siblings with humility. Eventually, her father accepted her wishes and allowed her to live the spiritual life she wanted to pursue.

However, Catherine was not destined to become a nun. Instead, because of illness and rash, she joined a third order which allowed her to live in her own home but celibate and dedicated to a life of service to the church and community.

When she was 21, Catherine experienced a mystical marriage with Jesus. This experience encouraged her to leave her withdrawn life and take a more active role in her community, both in charity and in spiritual leadership. She began to become involved in politics, visiting church leaders and writing letters to popes and governors.

Soon after nearly being assassinated, the political tensions around Catherine led to a schism that would last for nearly thirty years after her death. For the rest of her life, Catherine was dedicated to trying to resolve the schism, taking to extreme fasting and other abstinence. She even moved to Rome to use her influence in an attempt to reunite the church. At the end of her life, Catherine is said to have lived off of only the daily Eucharist.

Catherine died when she was only 33, following a seizure that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Calls for her canonization started almost immediately after her death. Miracles occurring at the site of her burial in Rome led to her remains being relocated to a basilica rather than the cemetery where she had originally been interred. Her head was placed in a bronze bust for veneration while her mother was still alive. Catherine's mother even participated in a procession of the eventual relic to her hometown of Siena.

According to legend, the process of acquiring Catherine's head for Siena was even the initiation of one of her posthumous miracles. Some of Catherine's followers wanted her buried in her hometown. They knew they couldn't sneak her whole body out of Rome, so they instead took only her head, placing it in a sack to hide it. But when they were caught by a guard, they were so confident that Catherine supported their mission that they prayed for her intervention and showed the guard the sack. He saw only rose petals in the bag, and allowed the thieves to carry on.

Prayer by St. Catherine of Siena

Holy Spirit, come into my heart; 

draw it to Thee by Thy power, O my God,

and grant me charity with filial fear.

Preserve me, O beautiful Love, from every evil thought;

warm me, inflame me with Thy dear love,

and every pain will seem light to me.

My Father, my sweet Lord, help me in all my actions.

Jesus, love, Jesus, love. Amen. 

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