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.