St. Catherine of Siena
Doctor of the Church (1347–1380)

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St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena was one of the greatest saints of a tumultuous era. Like other great mystics, she enjoyed an intimate relationship with Christ. This was certified by a dazzling array of miraculous signs, which even in her lifetime made her something of a celebrity. What was distinctive about Catherine was the way she mediated through her own heart the burning love of Christ and the needs of her time.

Early in life she declared her betrothal to Christ. When her parents retaliated by forcing her to work as a household servant, she responded by erecting within her heart “a secret cell” of “self-knowledge” to which she could retreat from her daily drudgery. Eventually, while still living at home, she was permitted to put on the habit of a Dominican tertiary. But after three years she experienced a mystical marriage with Christ. This launched her on a new public career, as she cared for the poor and sick and attracted a large band of disciples.

In 1374 she received a divine commission to help heal the world and the Church. She wrote hundreds of letters to the pope, monarchs, and other powerful men, counseling them on their duties to make peace and restore unity in the Church. She even traveled to Avignon on a mission to persuade the pope to return to his see in Rome.

After a final vision in which she saw the Church, as if like a mighty ship, placed on her back, she collapsed in pain. She died soon after on April 29, 1380, at the age of thirty-three. In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church.

“Preach the Truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.”

—St. Catherine of Siena

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.