Giacomo Benincasa, dyer of fabrics in Siena, Italy, named his twenty-third child Catherine. Their house sat on a hillside, the basement containing dye rooms. Atop the hill sat the church of St. Dominic over which, when Catherine was seven, she saw a vision of Jesus. From that day she yearned to serve Christ.

At age 12 she so resisted her father’s pressure to marry that he said, May God preserve us, dearest daughter, from trying to set ourselves against the will of God. We have long seen that it was no childish whim of thine, and now we know clearly that it is the Spirit of God. He gave her a room near his dye quarters, and there Catherine made herself a chapel.

Catherine’s personality burned like a knife, and she soon inserted herself without invitation into community and church affairs, becoming the most outspoken Italian woman of the Middle Ages. She railed against the death sentence of a young man convicted of criticizing the government, and she accompanied him to his execution, snapping up his decapitated head and arousing public protest. She cared for prisoners. When the Black Death swept Italy, Catherine was everywhere giving aid.

Catherine fumed and stormed about corruption in the Church. She denounced materialism and immorality in the monasteries. “Those who should be the temples of God,” she wrote, “are the stables of swine.” She fired letters like missiles, keeping three secretaries busy at a time. She told Pope Gregory it would be better for him to resign than to founder, and “Do not be a boy, but a man!” She negotiated peace treaties. She was instrumental in moving the papacy from France back to Rome.

It’s no wonder that, on April 29, 1380 she died at age 32 of exhaustion from these and other labors. Her last words: “Dear children, let not my death sadden you; rather rejoice that I am leaving a place of many suffering to be united forever with my most sweet and loving Bridegroom.”

Next to St. Francis, Catherine of Siena is the most celebrated of the Italian saints.

Don’t get tired of helping others. You will be rewarded when the time is right, if you don’t give up. We should help people whenever we can, especially if they are followers of the Lord. (Galatians 6:9,10)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Apr. 29.

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