MAY 2003
vol 14, no. 28

Saint Catherine of Siena

The Powerful and Prayerful Persuader

    The twenty-fifth Doctor in this chronological series on the Doctors of the Church was the second woman elevated to the status of Doctor. She was given the mystical gift of the stigmata, not visible to the world until her death. She convinced the Sovereign Pontiff to end the Babylon Exile in Avignon, France and fought against the Great Schism that began after the death of the Pope she talked into returning to Rome. She was a close counselor to Popes and worked many miracles, helping all no matter their walk in life or their state of life or health. Known as the "Powerful and Prayerful Persuader." She was Saint Catherine of Siena.

    Catherine, the daughter of a humble Christian tradesman, was born the youngest of 25 children in 1347 in the great walled city of Siena, Italy. Little did her parents or few others realize she was raised up to be the guide and guardian of the Church in one of the darkest periods of its history, the fourteenth century.

    As a child, prayer was her delight. She would say the ďHail MaryĒ on each step as she mounted the stairs, and was granted in reward a vision of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in glory. For her innocence and total allegiance to her Heavenly King, He revealed to her the secrets of Christian perfection. When only seven years old Catherine made a vow of virginity. Jesus requested of Catherine, "Please give Me your heart." Catherine willingly did so and in return, He gave her His Most Sacred Heart for God had a special mission for this special saint He raised up for the Church.

    Her parents persisted long in their refusal to allow her to enter religious life, her only ambition; but she made a kind of spiritual and penitential convent cell in her heartís depths, and there she found her Beloved and conversed with Him each day. At the age of fifteen she was permitted to enter the Third Order of Saint Dominic, but continued to reside in her fatherís house, where she united a life of active charity to the prayer of a contemplative Saint. Our Lord bestowed on her His Heart in exchange for her own, gave her Communion with His own hands, and imprinted on her body the marks of His wounds.

    Though courted by many young and noble bachelors, Catherine remembered what Christ had asked her and turned down numerous offers of marriage to become a bride of Christ with the Dominicans. Blessed with physical beauty, she purposely dressed to be unattractive to possible suitors for she was promised to her Bridegroom Christ. She fasted and made reparations constantly, ministering the the sickest of patients, victims of leprosy, cancer and the bubonic plague.

    From this obscure home the seraphic virgin was taken by Providence to defend the Churchís cause. Her life became a continuing miracle. Accused of faking spiritual gifts those within her own order accused her and had her brought before the General Chapter of the Dominicans in Florence. There, the wise judges of the Order realized there were no findings for such accusations and one speaking as eloquently as she had to them, could not possibly be a fraud, but the real deal - sent and blessed by the Divine Son. All accusations were dismissed.

    This gave her more fame among the populace and more converts, who saw in Catherine one who truly knew her Faith and lived it. They sought to emulate her and longed for the Vicar of Christ to return to his seat in Rome. Armed with Papal authority and accompanied by three confessors, she traveled through Italy, reducing rebellious cities to the obedience of the Holy See, and winning hardened souls to God.

    Catherine did not know what exactly her mission was, but prepared for it through penance and prayer, devoting herself to the poor. She knew in her heart the Pope belonged in Rome, the seat of Christianity. Therefore, in sight of virtually the whole world, she made a pilgrimage to Avignon in Southern France to persuade the Pontiff Pope Gregory XI to return from exile to Rome where he belonged. By her letters to the kings and queens of Europe all royalty fell in line with Catherine's request. Heeding the advice of this simple nun, he did as she requested for he knew intuitively that it was God's Will for the Almighty had sent Catherine as a light in the darkness during this dark time in Church history. Dissension followed Gregory's decision to return in 1376 and those who followed their own will tried to elect a false pope and keep him in Avignon, but again Catherine intervened and lovingly, wisely counseled those in power to accept Gregory as the true pope and desist from promoting anyone else.

    She successfully resolved the differences between Florence and the Holy See. With that accomplished she retreated to her beloved Siena where she recorded her mystical experiences, which were published as the Dialogue of St. Catherine. She had thought she be able to remain there in peace and solitude but with the death of Gregory XI on March 26, 1378, the Great Schism began when Pope Urban VI was selected as his successor. Several of the dissident French cardinals objected and elected their own at Fondi Robert of Geneva who became the antipope Clement VII and set up his headquarters in Avignon. Catherine knew Urban was the true Pope and did all in her power to secure support for him and end the schism. While she was a staunch supporter of his Primacy, she did not hesitate to rebuke him when she saw weakness or knew he was wrong. Knowing it was of the Holy Spirit Who inspired her, Urban VI minded her words and he brought her to Rome to be near him full time. Thus she came to be his close counselor. She never minced words with him or when sternly rebuking other prelates, especially the disloyal cardinals who took part in electing an antipope.

    Long had the holy virgin foretold the terrible schism which began before she died. Day and night she wept and prayed for unity and peace. But in spirit she saw the entire city of Rome full of demons, who were tempting the people to revolt and even to slay the Vicar of Christ. With intense earnestness Saint Catherine begged Our Lord to prevent this enormous crime. Their seditious temper was subdued by her prayers, but they vented their rage by scourging the Saint herself, who gladly endured all for God and His Church.

    On April 21, 1380 she suffered a paralytic stroke and died eight days later in Rome at the same age as Christ, 33 years old, receiving not only Jesus' Heart but His wounds as well, for she was bestowed with the stigmata. Though she suffered constantly from the pain of the holy wounds, they had been invisible during her lifetime, but upon her death God made them visible to all so they would know she was truly authentic. It was a reaffirmation to all and the world mourned this great saint in for she had touched and brought many nations and princes back to the true faith through her simple, but firm faith. She also prophecied the schisms that would come in the following centuries. She was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461 and proclaimed patroness of Italy by Pope Pius XII in 1939. In 1970, she was made a Doctor of the Church, only the second woman so recognized following Saint Teresa of Avila. In addition to Catherine's famous I>Dialogue, she left the Church over 400 letters to people of every class of society on how to live the Faith and love God more.

    Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis] Some of the sources taken from: Dictionary of Saints, John J. Delaney (Doubleday); Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butlerís Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894; Saints of the Roman Calendar, Enzo Lodi).

For the chronological list of the Doctors of the Church to date, see Archives.

      Doctors of the Church Series