St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist's Narrative:
Catherine of Siena was the 24th child of a prosperous Sienese wool dyer. From childhood she felt called to a life dedicated completely to spiritual pursuits and resisted all efforts to push her towards marriage. She became a habited Dominican tertiary when she was 16 years old, and after three years of solitary prayer, took up a life of apostolic work.

She worked at first as a nurse among the sick of Siena. Miracles of all sorts accompanied her prayers. She became renowned as a peacemaker and able to mediate between squabbling individuals, families, political factions and even city states. A group of disciples gathered around her. As she traveled through Italy, crowds came to meet her, and many changed their lives for the better.

Between 1377 and 1378 she dictated her Dialogue, a compendium of everything she had learned about the spiritual life. This work was written in Italian and has a concrete, earthy flavor.

The last years of her life were devoted to trying to re-establish peace in the Roman church. Several weeks before her death as she was praying before a mosaic in the original St. Peter’s Basilica, she saw Peter’s fishing boat leave the mosaic and land on her shoulder. It crushed her to the ground. She was virtually paralyzed until her death on April 29, 1380.

In this icon she is shown with a mighty ship on her shoulder, a symbol of how St. Peter’s ministry had been changed by the medieval papacy. As she carries that ship, so did her prayers carry the hierarchy of her time. She is a patron for all those who feel crushed by religious institutions, as well as a great teacher for those drawn to a life of mystical prayer.

Her feast day is April 29.


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