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Saint Catherine of Siena

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Lived 1347 - 1380
Rank and group: Virgin, Doctor, Dominican
Feast day: 29/30 April
Patron saint: Italy
Attributes: Stigmata, lily
Status: Roman Martyrology

Catherine Benincasa was the youngest of twenty-five children born in Siena to a wool-dyer, and became the most powerful woman of the 14th century. From childhood she was consumed with piety, in a way epitomized by her quote, "God is He who is, and I am she who is not." She received the habit of the third order of St Dominic at 16, though she continued to live at home. She worked among the poor of Siena and had great success at her passion, which was conversion of hardened sinners. Her charisma, sanctity, humanness and love for God spread by word of mouth, and clerical and laypersons alike gravitated to her -- the Caterinati -- who treated her as a leader.

She was especially dedicated to the Church institution. She was instrumental in persuading Pope Gregory IX to abandon Avignon and return to Rome. She tried to heal the schisms of the West by rallying Italy around Pope Urban VI. In 1378 she was summoned by the pope to Rome and thereafter fought for the cause of the true pope. Her fervor led her to skip food and sleep, leading to an early death.

She could neither read nor write, but she dictated her messages, often using several secretaries at once. She has left over 400 letters and a Dialogue which has endured as a remarkable mystical work. She was canonized in 1461 and declared patron saint of Italy in 1939.