Saint Catherine of Siena

A Saint's Tale
April 25, 1999
Brother John Raymond

As we approach the Church's Great Jubilee Year of 2000 we find 1999 dedicated to God the Father. A holy woman named Eileen George in our diocese of Worcester several years ago started the "Meet-The-Father Ministry." Those interested in this ministry can learn more about it by looking on the Internet at or writing for her "The Father's Good News Letter" at 363 Greenwood Street, Millbury MA 01527 ($6 offering/year). Eileen reminds me of another holy woman who also had a special relationship with God the Father - St. Catherine of Siena.

St. Catherine of Siena's work "The Dialogue" was dictated during a state of ecstasy while in dialogue with God the Father to her secretaries. It was completed in 1370 and treats of the whole spiritual life of man in the form of a series of colloquies between the Eternal Father and the human soul (represented by Catherine herself.) This would be a good book to read this year. One can find the Dialogue on the Internet at and in Catholic bookstores.

St. Catherine, a Dominican Tertiary, stigmatist and Doctor of the Church dedicated herself early on to the pursuit of spiritual union with Jesus, her only desire and goal in life. Born at Siena in 1347 Catherine as a child had visions and practiced great penances. At seven years of age she made a vow of virginity and became a Tertiary at sixteen. She was the youngest of a very large lower middle class family with twenty-three children. Catherine's father wanted her to get married but finally accepted his daughter's vocation.

Once a Tertiary Catherine lived like the early Church anchorites of the desert totally preoccupied with the pursuit of holiness through prayer and penance. Not without struggles and trials, in three years Catherine reached the high state of holiness referred to in the spiritual life as the Mystical Marriage. Then began her public mission. She now rejoined her family, began to tend the sick, especially those afflicted with the most repulsive diseases, to serve the poor and to labor for the conversion of sinners. Though always suffering terrible physical pain, living for long intervals no food except the Blessed Sacrament, she was ever radiantly happy and full of practical wisdom. All her contemporaries bear witness to her extraordinary personal charm.

Because of her holiness, Catherine began to draw disciples around her. In 1370, after a series visions she felt Our Lord wanted her to enter more into public life, which she did wholeheartedly. She corresponded with people of every station in life including princes and the Pope. She tried to bring peace to her war-torn land divided into warring factions. Once in Florence Catherine barely escaped with her life. She implored Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon (a series of Popes took up residence in France instead of Rome) and to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States (lands given to the Church.) She succeeded in getting Pope Gregory to return to Rome in 1378. Later the Great Western Schism broke out. Pope Urban VI, who succeeded Gregory XI, was opposed by a group of Cardinals who claimed he was invalidly elected. They elected another Pope.

St. Catherine, now in Rome, worked strenuously for the reformation of the Church, serving the destitute and afflicted there and writing letters in behalf of Pope Urban. Being distraught over this Schism, Catherine implored Jesus to let her bear the punishment for all the sins of the world, and to receive the sacrifice of her body for the unity and renovation of the Church. For three months Catherine experienced a mysterious suffering which cause her death in 1380. Her feast day is April 29.

Here is one quotation from The Dialogue that is worth pondering, "Man is placed above all creatures, and not beneath them, and he cannot be satisfied or content except in something greater than himself. Greater than himself there is nothing but Myself, the Eternal God. Therefore I alone can satisfy him." (p. 203)