On this forth
coming Saturday-April 28,the Spring 2007 Catholic Conference at the Camp VI would be having the Dominican nun -Sr. Nancy Murray, who is making her mark throughout the world, portray St. Catherine of Siena as she has been doing for years. Now let us take a look into the life of this fiercely devoted Saint of God who is a doctor of the church...
St. Catherine of Siena
St. Catherine was
born on Annunciation Day, March 25, 1347, which in that year was also Palm
Sunday. Catherine’s twin, Giovanna, had died at birth. They were the
23rd and 24th of 25
children. By the time Catherine was weaned, Siena had lost 80,000 people in the
Black Death, which was sweeping over Europe.
As a child, she was the
same as other children; it is also true that she was different. She was
different in her intensity and fullness of spirit, different in the natural
gifts bestowed upon her by God, and different too in the extraordinary favors He
gave her. These latter became manifest very early.
Jesus, Her Teacher
At the age of six, St.
Catherine was retuning home one day when she looked toward the Church of the
Dominicans. Above it she saw a vision of Jesus Christ seated on a throne,
clothed in priestly garments and wearing the papal tiara. Smiling upon
Catherine, He blessed her in the usual manner of a priest. Her brother, Stephen,
who had gone on ahead, now returned and tugged at his sister’s arm. She looked
away from the vision, and then burst into tears. For when she looked back, the
vision had vanished.
The pattern of St.
Catherine’s future is more or less contained in capsule form in this vision. For
Jesus Himself was to lead her. He was to be her teacher. He was always tender
with her. In Jesus she also saw the Church, the priestly ministry and especially
Catherine’s vision at
age six had a great effect upon her. Because of it, St. Catherine felt the need
to do something special, to give herself more to Christ. Therefore, at the age
of seven, she promised herself to Him, through Mary, by giving herself over to a
life of chastity. She understood, at least, that this meant the complete giving
of herself to the one she loved, to Jesus who had smiled upon her and blessed
Under the persuasion
of her mother and her favorite sister, St. Catherine indulged in a short period
of worldliness during her early teens. This brief period
ended with the death of her sister in 1362. St. Catherine wept at Bonaventura’s
death and over her “apostasy.”
She refused the marriage
her family had planned for her and cut off her beautiful golden hair. Her
punishment was to be made the servant of the house. Her parents did not know of
St. Catherine’s vow of chastity and acted out of love to try to get their
strong-willed daughter to do what they thought best for her.
Eventually, after seeing
a milk-white dove hovering over St. Catherine’s head as she prayed, her father
ordered the family to leave her in peace. She was given a 15-by-9 foot
street-level room in the family home, where she then lived as a hermit for the
next three years, keeping silence, eating alone (and very little) and going out
only to church. At this time she joined the Mantellate, or Dominican women
tertiaries, the first unmarried girl to wear the famous black and white
Like many who receive
extraordinary supernatural gifts, St. Catherine also experienced unusual
torments and temptations from the evil spirits, and this throughout her entire
About the age of 19, St.
Catherine had a great temptation in which the devil afflicted her with the
thought that all she was doing offended God rather than pleased Him. Then it
seemed to her that the room filled with sensual images. They blotted out the
crucifix, dancing before her eyes, tempting her to sins of the flesh. A voice
prompted her to do as they did and predicted that the temptation would last
until her death. “Even if my Creator would condemn me in the end, I will not for
one instant cease from serving Him…Of myself I can do nothing, but I trust in
Our Lord Jesus Christ.” At the name of Jesus, which she repeated over and over,
the oppressive air of the room lifted and all seemed again fresh and clean. A
light broke out, showing Our Lord on the Cross bleeding from all His
[When asked where He
was, Our Lord replied] “I was in your heart, for I will not leave anyone who
does not first leave Me…When at last you offered of your own free will to bear
all the temptations and torments and even eternal loss, rather than cease from
serving Me, it was all taken from you…Therefore I will from henceforth show you
greater confidence and be with you more.”
After three years of
eremitical life in her own home, Catherine received from Our Lord the revelation
that He wanted her to lead a more active life. She rejoined her family and began
to visit various hospitals. Her ability to stay awake twenty hours or more a day
made her a willing volunteer on the night shift.
As St. Catherine
became more known around Siena, she made both friends and enemies. But
gradually, a little band of devoted friends gathered around her, united
eventually by such close bonds of friendship and spiritual union with her, and
with one another, that they referred to themselves as “the family.” They called
St. Catherine Madre, or even more tenderly, Mamma or
Mammina. Young and
old, clergy, religious and lay people became St. Catherine’s
As a peacemaker, St.
Catherine began by helping to settle various family quarrels. Then cities
invoked her aid, and eventually her work in settling arguments broadened to
include Italy and Europe. She had the insight to see that if one can influence
policy at the place where it is initiated, he can help the greatest number of
people. Therefore, she began writing to the shapers of policy. And she was
listened to. She was invited to meet various leaders, and she was sent on
embassies. Because of these peacemaking endeavors, her life was at times in
Pope Paul VI in his
address of October 4, 1970, in which he declared St Catherine of Siena a Doctor
of the Church, called her success in inducing Pope Gregory XI (1362-1370) to go
back to Rome the “masterpiece of her work.”
The obstacles to be
overcome in this, her greatest achievement, were tremendous. But a thin,
frail-looking young woman came to Avignon and, by her insistence, overcame all
these obstacles. One of the major steps in St. Catherine’s winning the Pope’s
confidence had been her whispering in his ear a secret known only to himself and
to God. Long ago he had made a promise to return to Rome.
But Gregory XI died soon after his return
to the Eternal City and the new Pope, Urban VI, pushed reform in the Church too
harshly. The French cardinals who had been influential in electing him had
second thoughts about the validity of the papal election, and therefore
proceeded to elect Robert of Geneva, who became an anti-pope, taking the name of
Clement VII. Christendom was divided, and the Great Western Schism that was to
last for the next forty years had begun.
St. Catherine never
doubted who the real Pope was. She pointed to Urban VI as the successor of St.
Peter, calling him “sweet Christ on earth.” She wrote to him, urging him to be
strong but gentle. But to the Cardinals she wrote in strong, direct words. She
offered herself as a sacrifice for the Church. Through Bl. Raymond of Capua, one
of her confessors and her biographer, the Pope asked St. Catherine to come to
Rome. She came at once, and was never to leave.
Her Sacrifice Accepted
St. Catherine saw that
many devils were inciting the people of Rome to kill the true Pope. She begged
the people for mercy upon themselves and upon the Pope. “You know that if this
happens, not only this people, but the whole of Christendom and your Church will
suffer greatly.” When she understood by an inner locution that God’s justice
must demand this punishment, she offered herself instead.
This prayer was
answered, and Catherine entered into her final four months of life, months of
intense suffering. Her final words were, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my
spirit.” It was the forenoon of April 29, 1380. “Then sweetly, with her face
like an angel’s, bowing down her head she gave up the ghost” (Bl.
Pope Urban VI asked all
the clergy of Rome to be present for the funeral. St. Catherine’s body, lying in
the Church of the Minerva in her black and white Dominican habit, was venerated
Meet Sr. Nancy Murray