By anyone’s standards, Saint Catherine of Siena was a truly extraordinary woman; at a time when women, even religious women, had little or no say in society, Catherine had more influence on popes, bishops and princes than anyone else. When she was a child, Catherine discerned a vocation to the religious life, but her parents had arranged marriage for their favourite daughter; but Catherine refused point-blank to marry. To break her resistance, her parents cut off her hair and she was forced to work as a servant. Eventually Catherine was allowed to become a lay Dominican.
The reputation of her sanctity soon spread and thousands of people came to see her for advice. A group of pious women gathered around her and they formed a community. As time went on Catherine’s influence reached to both secular and ecclesiastical matters. She made peace between princes. The leading figures of Church and State bowed to her words. She weaned Italy away from an anti-pope, and persuaded cardinals and princes to promise allegiance to the rightful successor of St. Peter. She even went to visit the exiled Pope Gregory XI and convinced him to return to Rome. Catherine was only 33 when she died and yet her accomplishments place her among the great women of the Middle Ages, and perhaps of all time.
In 1970 Pope Paul VI named Saint Catherine a Doctor of the Church and in 1999 Pope John Paul II proclaimed her a Patron of Europe.
The value of Saint Catherine’s life for us today lies in her recognition of holiness as a goal to be pursued over the course of a lifetime. May we all follow her example in this endeavour.
Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us.