A native of Siena, Catherine received no formal education. At the age of six, she had a vision of Christ in glory, surrounded by His saints, from that time on, she spent most of her time in prayer and meditation, at the age of seven she consecrated her virginity to Christ, despite the opposition of her parents, who wanted her to be more like the average girl of her social class. Eventually they gave in, and at the age of sixteen she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic (First Order = friars, Second Order = nuns, Third Order = laypersons), where she became a nurse, caring for patients with leprosy and advanced cancer whom other nurses disliked to treat. As a tertiary, Catherine lived at home rather than in a convent, and she practiced acts of mortification there which a prioress would probably not have permitted. She is especially famous for fasting by living for long periods of time on nothing but the Blessed Sacrament.
She began to acquire a reputation as a person of insight and sound judgment, and many persons from all walks of life sought her spiritual advice, both in person and by letter. (We have a book containing about four hundred letters from her to bishops, kings, scholars, merchants, and obscure peasants.) She persuaded many priests who were living in luxury to give away their goods and to live simply.
In about 1366, Catherine experienced what she described in her letters as a 'Mystical Marriage' with Jesus, after which she began to tend the sick and serve the poor. In 1370 she received a series of visions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, after which she heard a command to leave her withdrawn life and enter the public life of the world. She began to write letters to men and women in authority, especially begging 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 impressed the Pope so much, however, that he returned his administration to Rome in January of 1377. During the Western Schism of 1378 she was an adherent of Pope Urban VI, who summoned her to Rome where she lived until her death in 1380.
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). Her major work is the Dialogue of divine providence.
Catherine is known (1) as a mystic, a contemplative who devoted herself to prayer, (2) as a humanitarian, a nurse who undertook to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the sick; (3) as an activist, a renewer of Church and society, who took a strong stand on the issues affecting society in her day, and who never hesitated (in the old Quaker phrase) "to speak truth to power"; (4) as an adviser and counselor, with a wide range of interests, who always made time for troubled and uncertain persons who told her their problems -- large and trivial, religious and secular.
Pope Pius II canonized Catherine in 1461. Her feast day is April 29 in the new Roman calendar and April 30 in the traditional Roman calendar. This date is observed by various Christians including Anglicans and Lutherans although many refer to such days as commemorations and such. Pope Paul VI bestowed on her in 1970 the title of Doctor of the Church - making her the first woman, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, ever to receive this honor. In 1999 Pope John Paul II made her one of Europe's patron saints. Saint Catherine is also the patroness of the historically Catholic American sorority, Theta Phi Alpha.
St. Catherine is the patron saint of fire prevention and Italy. Her great learning earned her the title Doctor of the Church and she used her wisdom to challenge the authorities on matters she was passionate about. Her ability to engage important issues with Popes was a highly unusual and controversial role for women of her time.
Propers for Catherine of Sienna
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of thy love in the heart of thy servant Catherine: Grant to us thy humble servants, the same faith and power of Love; that, as we rejoice in her triumph, we may profit by her example; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle - Hebrews 12:1-2.
SEEING we also are compassed about with so great a of cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Gospel - St. Matthew 25:31-40.
WHEN the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the lease of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Reference and Resources: