FEast: Apr. 29th
Patron of: fire, miscarriage, nurses, illness, Italy, U.S.A.,
sexuality, eating disorders, political activism
Catherine was born as one of 25 children! Unfortunately, only half of them grew to be adults, and Catherine's twin sister did not survive, either, as the both of them had been born prematurely.
Her father was a cloth dyer, and her mother was the daughter of a poet.
Since she was very young, Catherine had a very strong prayer life. At only 7 years old she decided she wanted to dedicate her life to her faith after seeing an image of Jesus and the saints while praying in a cave where she often meditated.
When her older sister Bonaventura died, Catherine's family proposed that Bonaventura's widowed husband re-marry Catherine.
Very against this idea, Catherine cut her hair and opposed the idea at every turn. Her father soon realized she would have her way, and gave up the idea.
Catherine wanted to join religious sisters, but fell very ill, and her mother opposed the idea. Instead, she joined a group of laywomen religious that taught her to read and allowed her to do her work and prayer from home. For three years she lived isolated in one room in her family home, and, with much attitude, still refused what her family offered her and gave their things away to the poor without asking permission. At the end of three years of this, she had a change of heart, imagining a "marriage" to Christ. She rejoined and tried to better serve her family, and went out into the public to help the sick and the poor in the streets and in the hospitals. Her work attracted many followers because she was outgoing, had a fiery spirit, and did not want to live exactly in the same way as any other religious sister at the time. She did all this also while still in physical pain and battling an eating disorder.
The plague had caused many people to flee her hometown, but Catherine stayed to take care of the ones who had not. She also was living in a time in which there were many new political ideas and divisions - in which she got involved as well. She was not afraid to voice her opinion, even when other sisters and priests disagreed. Catherine even called out the Pope whenever she did not agree with his actions or words. The main problem with the religious authorities at this time were their corruption and decadent lifestyles, and Catherine warned them in many letters.
But for as many enemies as she made, Catherine also gained followers who were not afraid to show their support for her working to change her society. They aided her as she visited condemned prisoners and forgave them, negotiated peace between warring units, and persuaded the Pope to return to Rome. She was almost killed several times in the violence she inserted herself into in the effort of making peace. Her courage and determination could not be shaken, however. She believed in a faith that was based on Jesus who had a burning passion for aiding the poor in any way possible and who participated in revolutionary forgiveness.
Catherine later developed a stigmata that was not visible but that she could feel, and when writing her most important work "Dialogue", she had to rely on secretaries due to the pain she suffered. (The wounds did appear on her body after her death, however). She nevertheless traveled to Rome to work on Church reform, and wrote a total of around 400 letters.
Catherine's health continued to decline as her eating disorder worsened - she could not eat or drink anything and she soon lost the use of her legs. Eight days after a stroke, she passed away at the age of only 33.
In 1970, she was named a Doctor of the Church for her writings - and is one of only four women to hold that title today.
We feel so powerless when our communities are suffering and when we disagree with people in places of authority. You felt the same way, but you never rested until changes were made. You worked for peace, justice, and equity for the forgotten and the oppressed. you protested, but also quietly visited those who needed it. Help us to also do both.
Catherine's fiery red hair needed to match her spirit, I knew. With an expression of confidence and fearlessness as she pursued what she believed to be right, I also wanted her to appear satisfied with the huge amount of changes she made in such a short lifetime. Her braid is a stand-in for the crown of thorns she is pictured with in traditional images.