Saint Catherine of Siena

29th April

St. Catherine was from Siena, Italy. She lived in the mid-fourteenth century. She was born during the outbreak of the plague in Siena, in a large family of twenty-five children. However half of her siblings, including her twin sister, died in infancy.

To appreciate the mission accomplished by St. Catherine one needs to have a realistic picture of Siena and the whole of Italy at that time. During her lifetime, the epidemic of the Black Death surfaced three times. Italy was divided in states that very often were at war with each other. Powerful men very often ruthless, engaged in family feuds. The Roman Catholic Church was passing through one of its worst times. As a result of the strife within the Church itself, the Pope moved the Holy See from Rome to Avignon.

In the midst of all this, there was Catherine, a messenger of love and peace.

Even as a child, Catherine manifested a religious nature and had spiritual experiences. When she was sixteen years old her parents wanted her to marry the widowed husband of her sister who had died in childbirth. But Catherine had already reached a decision of living in union with Christ. In protest she cut her hair short to mar her appearance secluding herself in her room spending in prayer and fasting. When she was eighteen years old, she joined the Dominican Third Order, and together with other women of this lay Order, cared for the poor and the sick, especially the victims of the plague.

Then when she was twenty-one years old, a mystical experience changed her life. 

It was only about this time that Catherine learned to read and write! She had had no formal education because like most people at the time she was illiterate. Her religious knowledge came from what she had heard in church. And yet, heeding Jesus’ call in her mystical experiences, she set out to instil a message of peace and reconciliation among the strife raging in Italy.

She undertook dangerous journeys, she faced powerful kings and queens and other political figures as well as members of the Church in positions of authority, besides peasants and prisoners!  She wrote about 400 letters and other writings, containing spiritual thoughts and prayers that are still valuable today.

It is believed that it was due to her influence and persuasion, that Pope Gregory Xl left Avignon and returned the Holy See to Rome.

With God’s help, she succeeded in achieving all this for God, during her short life, as she died when she was only thirty-three years old. It is believed that after her death the Stigmata appeared on her body. 

She is the Patron Saint of Siena and of all Europe.

St. Catherine has a lesson for us adults, especially those who are parents, guardians, carers, educators.

She was an uneducated, young woman from an ordinary family in the Middle Ages. And yet Pope Paul Vl declared her as Doctor of the Church, a title that is bestowed  on certain saints not only for outstanding holiness  but whose preaching or writing stands out as spiritual guidance because they contain particular theological importance. She is the only lay woman who has been honoured with this title.

-No matter who we are, wherever or whenever we live, whatever family we come from, God has given each and everyone of us, gifts, talents to be used to fulfil God’s plan for us.

Our role is to instil in our children Catherine’s motto ‘Be who God meant you to be,’ being careful not to project our own aspirations for them. Our attitudes should enable children to achieve their full potential, to build their own future, based on gender equality.

Catherine was never on her own. A number of men and women became her followers. They were ‘ a team of talented men and women’ who believed in her mission and supported her with their expertise and also financially. They accompanied her on her journeys, very often dangerous ones.

Discuss with the children the importance of teamwork to achieve the best results, to learn to give and take, to take turns, to share.

  • take examples from their daily life, to show the importance of working in a team: – their favourite football team/games, – a school concert  – sharing home chores.
  • Working in a team might give rise to disagreement. Point out to them that when somebody disagrees with them does not mean that they are not liked any more! It should not affect friendships. Explore with them ways how they would act/behave in these situations.

For Family Prayer time lead prayers

  • for Pope Francis, for the Bishops (mention by name!)
  • for the people in their ‘teams’ to keep strong and brave in fulfilling their mission.
  • for the leaders of European countries and around the world to work for peace.

This happy child nicknamed ‘’Euphrosyne’’ meaning ‘’Joy’’, sacrificed herself to love God. Throughout her life, she helped lots of people, even corresponding with letter writing worldwide, to encounter the Lord and helped the sick, even in a difficult period for the Catholic Church. St. Catherine is an inspiration of Love and Help. 

Activity: Writing a letter!

Write a letter to your friend. In this letter write and draw about what you’ve learned from St. Catherine of Siena and how you are going to help others and love God in your life. 

Don’t forget to send us a picture of your letter!

How to use this space

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Saints of the Church. Here you will find useful background and activities to better understand the holy life, helping you to connect the saints to daily life in a meaningful way.