Catherine Benincasa was born in Siena, Tuscany, in 1347. The twenty-third child of Giacomo, a well-to-do dyer, and his wife Lapa, the lively and happy girl grew up in the Benincasa’s spacious house. Their family home is preserved to this day.
At six years of age, Catherine saw Our Lord Jesus dressed as a Pontiff atop the Church of the Dominicans. This vision left such a deep impression upon her that she pledged herself to Christ.
Under family pressure, when she turned twelve, Catherine consented to pay more attention to her appearance and had her beautiful hair dressed to the fashion of the day. Repenting of this “great sin”, she cut it all off and declared she would never marry – a scandal to her family. She was set to menial labour, and harried and scolded continuously in an attempt to break her resolve. One day her father found her praying, a dove hovering over her. From that moment he ordered that she be left alone to a life of prayer.
Received into the Dominican Order as a tertiary in 1366, Catherine had a vision in which Jesus, accompanied by His Blessed Mother, officially betrothed her and placed a ring on her finger.
After this mystical betrothal, she was told that her seclusion was over and she must mingle with her fellow human beings seeking their salvation. Gradually, there gathered around her a group of followers whom she guided in the spiritual life. As her renown for holiness grew and the fame of her miracles spread, former suspicion turned to veneration.
Catherine became the arbiter of a serious feud between Florence and Perugia and the Holy See then at Avignon, France. She visited Pope Gregory XI and convinced him to return to Rome. Finally, through her mediation the cities were reconciled to the Holy See.
Around this time, she produced the great work – later entitled “Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena” – which she dictated under the inspiration of God the Father.
With the death of Pope Gregory XI in 1378, and the election of Urban VI, the cardinals in Avignon disputed the choice and elected a rival pope giving rise to the great schism. Catherine spared no effort in establishing recognition of Urban. Far from resenting her help, he called the holy mystic to Rome to profit from her advice.
But early in 1380, thirty-three-year-old Catherine suffered a strange seizure after she offered herself as a victim for the healing of the Church. On April 29, after much suffering, Catherine gave up her ardent soul to her Divine Spouse.
She was canonized in 1461 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970.