On April 29, the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena (March 25, 1347 – April 29, 1380). Saint Catherine of Siena is a saint whom all Catholics should know well and acquire a deep devotion to, especially in these challenging times in society. Here are ten things you perhaps did not know about this holy woman.
1. Catherine came into the world seemingly ready to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ: she was born on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25, 1347).
2. Catherine was one of twenty-five children born to her parents, Giacomo and Lapa; however, half of her siblings, including Catherine’s twin sister, did not make it out of their childhood. When Catherine was born, her mother Lapa was forty years old, which is considered well into advanced maternal age now, let alone going on seven-hundred years ago.
3. Catherine was born in 1347, in the midst of the Black Plague / “Black Death” (circa 1347-1351) sweeping through Europe and subsequently killing up to one-third of the entire population of the continent.
4. Due in great part to her renowned work titled “Dialogue,” the hundreds of letters that she composed (especially those to Church leaders and anyone in need of profound spiritual guidance), and various prayers, Catherine of Siena is one of only four female Doctors of the Church. The other three are Teresa of Ávila, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Hildegard of Bingen.
5. Catherine of Siena is the only lay Doctor of the Church. The other thirty-five are all clergy or religious. Catherine of Siena was a third-order (lay) Dominican.
6. Many lay Dominicans of Catherine’s time opposed her becoming a lay Dominican, because they felt that such a role should be primarily reserved for widows, rather than young virgins. Due to her tenacity, she was accepted into the order anyway.
7. Catherine effectively preserved the stability of the papacy. She convinced Pope Gregory XI to eventually return from Avignon to Rome in order to bring a close to the period known as the “Avignon Papacy” (1309-1377).
8. Catherine received the stigmata… but her wounds were visible to her alone.
9. Catherine of Siena is the patron saint of fire prevention. This is ironic, considering her famous proclamation that “If you are what you ought to be, you will set fire to all Italy, and not only yonder” (which has been rephrased in various forms, including the commonly appearing “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire”).
10. Not only was Catherine born on the Solemnity of the Annunciation (see #1), but she also lived to be thirty-three years old, just like her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whom she had served throughout her entire life.
Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us!