St Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380)
Born in 1347, St. Catherine of Siena was the twenty-third child born to Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa. Recognized as a lovely and highly intelligent youth, she was filled with a joyous spirit from an early age.
However, no one expected this lovely young girl to become one of the great mystical doctors of the Church. Yet, it was early in life that she demonstrated an uncommon desire to surrender herself completely to Christ. It is due to this desire and her willingness to live it completely that she is remembered and celebrated today. At the age of eighteen, she entered the Dominican Third Order and spent three years in seclusion and prayer. A group of followers gathered around her—men and women (lay and religious) – and an active public apostolate grew out of her contemplative life.
But it was during the Great Schism (beginning in 1378) which split the allegiance of Christendom between first two, then three popes that Catherine became most notable. She spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the unity of the Church and arguing for the legitimacy of Urban VI. In 1380, she died at the age of 33. She was canonized in 1461.
Along with Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine was named a doctor of the church in 1970 by Paul VI. Her most famous work, The Dialogue, contains an ecstatic vision of a conversation between a soul (who rises to heaven) and God. This mystical work is often called her spiritual testament.
She is the patron of Italy and Europe.