St. Catherine of Sienna

St. Catherine of Sienna was a truly remarkable person. Her determination to follow God and to help the less fortunate than herself, is something I particularly admire. She did not give up even when her own brothers and sisters mocked and jeered at her. At first, her parents would not allow her to dedicate her life to God. Her love and devotion to God are amazing. But, perhaps, what I admire most, is the fact that no other woman, except Joan of Arc, did so much to alter for the better the Continent that I live in, Europe. Catherine was chosen by Pope John Paul II to be one of the Patron Saints of Europe. Her feast day is celebrated on 30 April. Late in the 20th century, she was declared a Doctor of the Church because of the deep spirituality in her writings.

The city of Sienna is built at the top of a high hill, and the two highest points are the cathedral and a convent dedicated to St. Dominic. Between them is a great valley in which there is a well whose waters are famous all over Italy. Not far from this fountain lived Catherine's parents. Her father was a wool dyer. Catherine was born in 1347; she was the youngest of many children.

When she was about six years old, she was out walking one evening with her brother Stephen and stopped to rest on the steep hill leading up to St. Dominic's. As Catherine was looking up at its tall tower, it seemed to her that the sky was opening and she saw Jesus sitting on a throne in heaven, with St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John standing beside Him. Her brother Stephen saw nothing, and could not understand why his sister stood so still looking into the sky. He shook her arm; she turned to him, and when she turned her eyes back to the sky the vision had gone. She threw herself on the ground and started to cry bitterly. From that moment she was determined that she would give her whole life to Jesus and no one else. I think that this must have taken a huge amount of inner courage and strength, especially in one so young.

When the time came for her to marry she refused the man her father had chosen for her and, instead of marrying, she asked to become a nun in the Dominican Convent. But her parents would not allow this and when Catherine still refused to marry anyone they grew angry at her disobedience. They sent away their servant and made Catherine do all the work. Her brothers and sisters laughed at her and mocked her. However, Catherine bore all of this without complaint for, she thought, the saints and the martyrs had to bear far worse things than this. Then one day, her father found her kneeling in her room with a white dove nestling on her shoulder. He remembered that the Holy Spirit often came in the form of a dove. He thought, perhaps, he was wrong that that it was God's will that Catherine should live as a nun, keeping herself only for Jesus as she wished.

So Catherine became a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic, which meant that she did not actually live in the convent, but stayed at home observing the Rule. For three years she lived in her room in absolute silence, going out only for Mass and prayers in the great convent church at the top of the hill. Yet again, her great strength of character was shown, for at the end of this time she came out of her desert and went about helping the people of Sienna. She believed that Jesus wanted her to return to the world 'for the good of souls'.

At this time, the Pope had been driven out of Rome and was living in Avignon, France. There had been bad times in Italy and Catherine was quite sure that one of the reasons for this was the absence of the Pope. When the people of Florence, who had made the Pope very angry, asked her to go to him at Avignon, she made peace with them before she set out on her journey. And she did more than that, she persuaded the Pope to come back to Rome, where the head of the Church ought to be. After that, not only the Pope, but kings, queens, and rulers of republics asked her advice. She was so busy that several young noblemen became her secretaries and wrote the letters she dictated to them.

For Catherine, these were just some of the ways she showed her love for Jesus. The greatest day of her life was when praying in a church before a crucifix, she found that Jesus gave her the greatest proof of His love for her — on her hands, feet and side appeared the marks of the wounds of the Crucified.

No woman, except Joan of Arc, did so much to alter the history of Europe, as did St. Catherine of Sienna. I see Catherine not just an example to the people of Europe, but to the whole world.

Claire Dwyer, Year 9
St. Michael's Convent School
Barnet, London.