St. Catherine of Siena Parish
302 St. Catherine Circle, Ithaca, New York
We are a vibrant Catholic community where all are welcomed, challenged, and supported on their life journeys.


We are so pleased that you chose to celebrate with us this weekend. We warmly invite you to active participation in our liturgical celebration. Please feel free to approach one of our Ministers of Hospitality if you are in need of any assistance. No matter what your present status in the Catholic Church, your current family or marital situation, your past or present religious affiliation; no matter what your personal history, age, background, sexual orientation, gender, race or color; no matter what your self-image or self-esteem: YOU are invited, welcomed, accepted, loved and respected at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Ithaca, New York.
CONTACT US: 607-257-2493 or

Fax: 607-257-5901

MASS SCHEDULE: 5 p.m. Saturday; 9 & 11:30 a.m. Sunday; 5:30 p.m. Monday; 9 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday


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Read the entire Did You Know series.

Did You Know that... on April 30, 1960, St. Catherine of Siena's Parish celebrated our first Mass on the Cornell campus? Did you know that on March 4, 1962, the first Mass was celebrated in our church? This spring, St. Catherine's will begin a 2-year celebration of our 50th Anniversary. On April 25, 2010 we will celebrate our Anniversary Mass with Bishop Clark. A concluding Mass will take place on April 29, 2012 (the feast day of St Catherine of Siena). In between, we will celebrate and rejoice together in many other ways. In preparation for the celebrations, Michael Twomey, a member of our Adult Faith Enrichment Committee, will write for the bulletin a "Did You Know?" weekly question and answer about St. Catherine of Siena. Michael will help us learn more about our patron saint.
Did You Know that... when our patron St. Catherine lived, when she was canonized, and what is her feast day? Catherine was born in 1347 (date unknown) in Siena, Italy, the 22nd child born to Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa (whose name means 'well housed'), in a building that still stands today. She died in Rome in 1380 and was canonized in 1461; her feast day is the day of her death, April 29th. Catherine was named a Doctor of the Church in 1970. (1/3/10)
Did You Know that... Catherine of Siena was her mother's favorite daughter? Catherine had a twin sister, Giovanna, who was sent to a wet nurse; Catherine was the only Benincasa child that Lapa was able to nurse before becoming pregnant again. Lapa's love for her daughter was heightened by the fact that both Giovanna and another daughter born later died in infancy, leaving Catherine the baby of the family. (1/10/10)
Did You Know that... Catherine of Siena's birthday is the feast of the Annunciation, March 25? This date is given in the *Legenda,* the first biography of Catherine of Siena, which was compiled partly from recollections by Catherine's mother Lapa Piagenti Benincasa. The author was Raymond of Capua (ca. 1330-1399), Catherine's spiritual advisor and confessor, who was known as the "second founder of the Dominican order" (St. Dominic being the founder). Raymond would have interviewed Lapa when she was already an aged widow, and she was known to be living still when he completed his biography in 1395. (1/17/10)
Did You Know that... St Catherine is one of two patron saints of Italy? The other is St. Francis of Assisi. Pope Pius XII named Catherine a patron saint on May 5, 1940. Moreover, Catherine of Siena and Theresa of Avila were the first women to be named doctors of the Church when Pope Paul VI gave them this distinction in 1970. (1/24/10)
Did You Know that... in the same year (1461) that he canonized St. Catherine, Pope Pius II began a crusade against the Turkish occupiers of the Balkans? Pius himself led the European army, but he died in Ancona, Italy in 1464. The Turkish empire continued to gain ground in eastern Europe until it was finally halted at the Siege of Vienna in 1683. Meanwhile, Catherine's feast day was not added to the Church's calendar of saints' feasts until 1587. When it was finally added, her feast was April 29th, the day of her death; but in 1628 her feast was moved to April 30th because it conflicted with the feast of Peter of Verona, a 13th century saint. When the calendar of saints was revised in 1969, shortly before Catherine was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, Catherine's feast was returned to April 29th. The date of St. Peter of Verona's feast was then left up to individual churches to decide. (1/31/10)
Did You Know that... St. Catherine’s father Jacopo, a wool dyer by trade, was a famously mild-mannered man? According to Catherine’s biographer Raymond of Capua, who got his information about Catherine’s childhood from Catherine’s mother Lapa, once when Jacopo refused to make extortion payments demanded of him by another Sienese, he preferred to suffer slander rather than say a word against the man. When Lapa denounced the man to her husband, Jacopo replied, “Leave him in peace. You will see that God will show him his fault and protect us.” And, Lapa told Raymond, that’s what happened. (2/7/10)
Did You Know that... from the example of Catherine’s father Giacomo and mother Lapa, the entire family used only the mildest, gentlest speech? Raymond of Capua illustrates the family’s abhorrence of profanity with an anecdote about Catherine’s sister Bonaventura, whose husband’s friends were “sometimes absolutely foul-mouthed.” Hearing their language, Bonaventura lost weight and weakened, telling her husband that if he and his friends “did not stop using these words,” he would “soon see me dead.” He immediately forbade the use of profanity in the house, his friends obeyed him, and Bonaventura recovered. “Thus,” concludes Raymond, “the modesty and decency that were to be found in Giacomo’s house drove license and indecency from the house of his son-in-law Niccolo.” (2/14/10)
Did You Know that... as a child, Catherine of Siena was so beloved that friends and neighbors would invite the little girl into their homes as a guest, and they even gave her a nickname? Raymond of Capua writes that they invited her “so they could enjoy her wise little sayings and the comfort of her delightful childish gaiety.” So vivacious was the young Catherine that she was dubbed “Euphrosyne,” one of the three Graces, whose name means “mirth.” (2/21/10)
Did You Know that... Catherine of Siena's first prayer was the Hail Mary? Her biographer Raymond of Capua writes that Catherine learned it when she was five, and whenever she went up and down stairs she was "inspired by heaven" to kneel and recite it at each step. (2/28/10)
Did You Know that... in the year after Catherine of Siena’s birth, the first wave of the Black Death (bubonic plague) swept over Italy? According to the Sienese chronicler Agnolo di Tura, “The mortality began in Siena in May (1348)... The victims died almost immediately. They would swell beneath their armpits and in their groins, and fall over dead while talking. Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through the breath and sight. And so they died. And none could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship. Members of a household brought their dead to a ditch as best they could, without priest, without divine offices. Nor did the death bell sound. They died by the hundreds both day and night, and all were thrown in those ditches and covered over with earth. As soon as those ditches were filled, more were dug. And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. This situation continued until September. Siena and its suburbs had more than 30,000 people, and there remained in Siena (alone) less than 10,000.” According to modern estimates, the 1348-52 plague reduced the population of Italy, southern France, and Spain by 50% to 75%. And yet, in relating the events of her childhood, Catherine’s biographer Raymond of Capua makes no mention of the plague. (3/7/10)
Did You Know that... after the bubonic plague, Catherine of Siena’s family became involved in politics? Being wool-dyers, they belonged to a coalition of tradesmen and nobility who supported a ruling faction known as “the Twelve.” In 1355, the Twelve seized power by gaining the self-interested goodwill of the visiting German emperor, Charles IV, who was passing through Siena on his way to be crowned king of Rome by Pope Innocent VI. Catherine’s two eldest brothers joined the revolt, in which churches were stripped of their furniture to make barricades in the streets. According to nineteenth-century biographer Josephine Butler, “All that [Catherine] saw and heard contributed to encourage in the young girl the strong republican love of liberty, and to confirm in her the conviction that human life is no holiday pastime, but a prolonged struggle between opposing elements, for nations as well as for the individual.” (3/14/10)
Did You Know that... St. Catherine's first vision of God occurred when she was about six? Raymond of Capua relates that with her brother Stefano, she had visited her older, married sister Bonaventura. When walking home, she happened to look up, and in the air she saw a bridal chamber in which were the apostles Peter and Paul, John the evangelist, and, seated on a throne, Christ Himself, dressed in papal attire and wearing the papal mitre. As Catherine stared in adoration, Christ "raised his right hand over her, made the sign of the cross... and graciously gave her His eternal benediction." Stefano had walked ahead, but noticing that Catherine was no longer with him, he turned back, and when he saw Catherine staring up into the air, he shouted to her. Getting no response, he walked up to her pulled at her hand, and asked "What are you doing? Why don't you come along?" Catherine looked down and replied, "If you could see what I can, you would not be so cruel and disturb me out of this lovely vision." Buy when she raised her eyes again, the vision had vanished, and Catherine burst into tears. (3/21/10)
Did You Know that... after her first vision of God at age six, St. Catherine suddenly seemed like an adult to everyone who knew her? Without reading the lives of the saints, Catherine seemed to know the ways of the early Church's 'desert fathers' -- saints who lived in solitude and practiced mortification of the flesh. And she become interested in the life of St. Dominic (1170-1221), founder of the Dominican order of friars. Perhaps her interest in Dominic came from her foster-brother Tommaso della Fonte, who aspired to enter the Dominican house just up the hill from the Benincasa home. Whatever the reason for her special interest in St. Dominic, the little child dubbed "Euphrosyne" had been forever changed. Catherine's first biographer, Raymond of Capua, wrote that "From that moment it became clear from Catherine's virtues, the gravity of her behavior, and her extraordinary wisdom, that under her girlish appearance there was hidden a fully formed woman. (3/28/10)
Did You Know that... at age six, after her first vision of God, St. Catherine stopped playing games with other children and spent her time in prayer and meditation? Inspired by the lives of the 'desert Fathers', she adopted an ascetic lifestyle, eating little and seeking solitude in the vacant upper rooms of her parents' house, where she practiced mortification of the flesh by whipping herself with a rope. Raymond of Capua says that Catherine did all this in secret, and yet her playmates joined Catherine in a sisterhood of penitence, praying and scourging themselves together. But one day, when she decided to take the further step of living as a hermit in a cave outside of town, Catherine was divinely inspired with the realization that she was too young for such hardship. As she told Raymond of Capua years later, God carried her aloft and deposited her back at the Siena city gate. (4/4/10)
Did You Know that... at the age of seven, St. Catherine made a vow of perpetual virginity? She did this is a prayer to the Virgin Mary, asking, "give me as husband Him whom I desire with all the power of my soul ... and I promise Him and you that I will never choose myself another husband." (4/18/10)
Did You Know that... Catherine loved to be sent on errands for her mother? But one day when her mother sent her to church with candles and an offering, Catherine stayed to hear a Mass, and so when she arrived home, her mother greeted her with a sarcastic proverbial rebuke: "Cursed be the evil tongues that said you would never come back." Catherine replied: "Dear Mother, if I have done wrong or more than you meant me to, beat me so that I remember to behave better another time. That is just. But I beg you not to let your tongue curse anyone, good or evil, for my sake. It is unseemly at your age, and it hurts my heart." (5/9/10)
Did You Know that... as Catherine began to practice her spiritual disciplines, even as a child, she became more calm and serene? Already obedient, the child who once because of her merriment had been called Euphrosyne was not known for her patience. She later perceptively called patience "the marrow of piety." (5/2/10)
Did You Know that... Catherine loved to be sent on errands for her mother? But one day when her mother sent her to church with candles and an offering, Catherine stayed to hear a Mass, and so when she arrived home, her mother greeted her with a sarcastic proverbial rebuke: "Cursed be the evil tongues that said you would never come back." Catherine replied: "Dear mother, if I have done wrong or more than you meant me to do, beat me so that I remember to behave better another time. That is just. But I beg you not to let your tongue curse anyone, good or evil, for my sake. It is unseemly at your age, and it hurts my heart." (5/9/10)
Did You Know that... in addition to being a patron saint of Italy (with St. Francis), St. Catherine is the patron saint of firefighters, nurses, the sick, and people who are ridiculed for their piety? She is the patron saint of firefighters because in some of her visions she witnessed the fires of hell and returned unharmed; of nurses and the sick because she nursed victims of the bubonic plague in Siena; and of those who are ridiculed for their piety because she stood courageously against ecclesiastical corruption during the Avignon papacy and the Great Schism. (6/13/10)
Did You Know that... St. Catherine probably never learned to write, because in her time writing was a manual art practiced by professional scribes, but she nevertheless carried on a lively correspondence of almost 400 letters to people such as Popes Gregory XI and Urban VI, and she composed a book called the Dialogue—all via dictation? (6/20/10)
Did You Know that... Catherine kept her religious vows a secret, so that her family never knew why she refused their desire to find her a husband? Since Catherine was slender, with dark eyes and shining golden brown hair, her mother Lapa considered her a good prospect for marriage. When Catherine’s favorite sister Bonaventura died, the family lost both a daughter and a son-in-law, and so they increased their pressure on Catherine to marry. Finally, on the advice of a Dominican friar named Tommaso della Fonte, whom, ironically, her family had asked to speak with her, Catherine staged a dramatic refusal by cutting off her hair and tying a veil around her head. To be continued. (6/27/10)
Did You Know that... when she cut off her hair, Catherine’s family gave her a Cinderella-style punishment? She was denied a bedroom of her own and forced to do housework day and night so that she would not have time for prayer. Her family taunted and jeered her continually, and went ahead with plans for a wedding to a young man they knew. But Catherine remained unbowed. Later in life she was fond of saying to those who complained about the threats of others, “Make yourself a cell in your own mind, from which you need never come out.” (7/4/10)
Did You Know that... while she endured the Cinderella-like treatment of her family, Catherine found refuge in prayer by hiding in the vacant room of her adult brother Stefano? One day, her father Jacopo discovered her in her hiding place. As he entered the room, he saw a white dove perched on her head as she prayed. When he tried to touch it, the dove flew out the window, and when he asked Catherine about the dove, Jacopo realized from her replies that she was completely unaware of the dove’s presence. (7/11/10)
Did You Know that... one of St. Catherine’s iconographic symbols is the lily, and that this symbol comes from a vision she had of St. Dominic? While Catherine was still praying to be allowed to join the Mantellate (Cloaked Sisters, third-order Dominicans), Dominic appeared to her. In one hand he held a white lily that burned but remained unconsumed. With the other, he offered Catherine the habit of the Mantellate, saying, “Sweetest daughter, take courage and fear no obstacle, for you will undoubtedly put on this habit, as is your wish.” Ten years after her death, Catherine was depicted holding a lily in Andrea Vanni’s fresco of her, which remains intact in the west chapel of Siena’s Church of San Domenico. (7/18/10)
Did You Know that... Catherine’s father, Jacopo, was the only member of her family to support Catherine’s wish to take religious vows? Her mother Lana and all her siblings had their hearts set firmly on Catherine’s arranged marriage, and they reacted to her news about St. Dominic’s message by bursting into tears. But Jacopo remembered seeing the dove of the Holy Spirit with Catherine, not once but several times, and so he gave Catherine his approval, admonishing his family, “We have no reason to lament if instead of a mortal man we are to have God and an Immortal Man in our family.” (7/27/10)
Did You Know that... the earliest translation of St. Catherine’s writings into English was made just a few decades after her death? Called "Cleanness of Soul," it is an extract from the "Dialogue" urging conformity with Christ. The oldest surviving manuscript, Arundel 197 in the British Library, London, dates from about 1400—just 20 years after Catherine’s death in 1380. (8/1/10)
Did You Know that... the writings of St. Catherine were printed in English even before the works of the famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri? In 1519, Catherine’s "Dialogue" was printed in London in a deluxe edition under the title "The Orchard of Syon," complete with woodcuts illustrating Catherine’s visions. The "Dialogue" is a mystical counterpart in prose of Dante’s "Divine Comedy"; but Dante could not be read in English until the London 1782, translation of "Inferno," part one of the "Divine Comedy." (8/8/10)
Did You Know that... from the time she received permission to join the Mantellate as a third-order Dominican, St. Catherine practiced mortification of the flesh? One form was limiting her food intake. Already a vegetarian, she gradually restricted her diet to bread, raw herbs, and watered-down wine, and at times she went for days, even weeks, without any food at all. (8/15/10)
Did You Know that... along with restricting her food intake, St. Catherine’s penitential discipline included using boards as a platform for prayer and meditation, as well as for sleep? At night, she would lie down fully clothed on the boards. But Catherine also practiced limiting her sleep, so that eventually she could get by on half an hour every other day. (8/22/10)
Did You Know that... another of St. Catherine’s penitential practices was wearing clothing made only out of rough wool? She tried wearing a hair shirt, but in the words of Raymond of Capua, "being clean of soul she hated any kind of outward dirtiness, too," and so she exchanged the hair shirt for an iron chain that she wound tightly around her waist until it chafed her skin. Towards the end of her life, writes Raymond of Capua, he "ordered her under obedience to take this chain off, which she did, though extremely unwillingly." (8/29/10)
Did You Know that... although St. Catherine did not yet know it herself, when she began her program of mortification of the flesh, she was following the example of the “desert fathers” and early monks of the Church? These “anchorites” as they were called (from a Greek word meaning ‘one who withdraws from the world’) lived alone in remote places in order to avoid the distractions of worldly life. They ate little, prayed much, and in effect died to this world in anticipation of eternal life with God. (9/26/10)
Did You Know that... besides imitating the early anchorites, in mortifying the flesh, St. Catherine was following the advice of St. Paul? “If you live after the flesh,” he says, “you shall die, but if through the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Romans 8:13; see also Colossians 3:5 and Galatians 5:24). But since extreme asceticism was uncommon in St. Catherine’s day, few understood the rigors to which she subjected herself. (10/3/10)
Did You Know that... although St. Catherine’s mother Lapa had at first been the member of her family who was most opposed to Catherine’s membership in the Mantellate, it was Lapa who ultimately persuaded the order to admit Catherine? Lapa’s change of heart came about after Catherine developed a deathly illness—a fever and rash with burning pains. It was then that Lapa realized that she had been praying for Catherine's body rather than her soul. She brought a delegation of Mantellate to see Catherine, and in short order Catherine’s wish was granted, upon which Catherine quickly regained her health. (11/7/10)
Did You Know that... the Mantellate was originally an order of married couples called “Brothers of the Militia of Jesus Christ”? When St. Dominic founded it, the order’s purpose was to recover property stolen from the Church. But when the original need passed, the name changed to the “Sisters and Brothers of Penitence,” and since the husbands usually died first, the order ultimately became one predominantly of widows known as “The Sisters of Penance.” This was the composition of the order when the exception was made for St. Catherine. (11/14/10)
Did You Know that... when St. Catherine was accepted into the Mantellate she was not required to take the three main vows: chastity, poverty, and obedience? As her biographer Raymond of Capua explains, vows weren’t necessary for her. She had already made a vow of virginity at age seven. As for obedience, she remained so perfectly obedient that on her deathbed she could not remember having once disobeyed her order. And as for poverty, Catherine was already famous for her austere personal habits and for giving away her family’s possessions when they weren’t looking. (11/28/10)
Did You Know that... for the first three years of her membership in the Mantellate, St. Catherine practiced perfect silence at all times, and spoke only when making her confession? She was a virtual hermit, living alone in her bare room and leaving the house only to attend Mass at the Dominican church up the hill from her home. During this period she would stay awake at night while the Dominicans slept, and then, at Matins (before dawn), when they rose for prayer, Catherine would sleep. (12/5/10)
Did You Know that... the family home in Siena of St. Catherine can be visited by tourists? The present building is a nexus of chapels called the Santuario that surrounds what’s left of the original house. At street level was the dye shop where Catherine’s father worked; it is now a chapel whose walls are covered with frescoes depicting scenes from Catherine’s life. The family lived on the floor above. A hotel attached to the Santuario is known both as Alma Domus or ‘nursery house’ and as the Casa del Pellegrino or ‘house of the pilgrim’. The hotel and a nursery school in the same building are run by the Dominican nuns of San Sisto Vecchio in Rome. (12/19/10)
Did You Know that... Catherine of Siena’s room in her family home, now the Santuario in Siena, is still intact? The room, restored in 1812, is beneath the stairs leading up to the kitchen from the street known as Vicolo del Tiratoio. Within the room are the stone Catherine used as a pillow, as well as the knob of her walking stick, her lantern, and her flask for smelling salts—all of which she used when she cared for the sick. Pieces of her veil and the woolen gown she wore pentitentially are also kept in the room. (12/26/10)
Did You Know that... after joining the Mantellate, St. Catherine began to experience religious ecstasies, especially after receiving the Eucharist at Mass? At times she lay motionless, her body rigid as a stone. Sometimes, she appeared to float several inches above the floor. In her ecstasies, she was suffused with such heat that her face would flush and she would perspire. (01/09/11)
Did You Know that... Catherine’s visions were a continuous part of her life? Raymond of Capua writes that “No matter whether she was praying, meditating, reading, watching, or sleeping, she was comforted one way or another by visions of Jesus; at times, even when she was talking to other people, this holy vision would remain with her and her mind would be conversing with the Lord while her tongue was talking to human beings.” (01/16/11)
Did You Know that... St. Catherine was the first woman to receive the stigmata (marks of the crucifixion)? This occurred at Pisa in 1375, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, when Catherine was 28; but the marks themselves did not appear on her body until she died. The cross at which Catherine prayed when she received the stigmata was moved to a chapel on the grounds of the former kitchen garden at the Santuario in Siena, where visitors can see it today. For over a hundred years after Catherine’s death, Franciscans objected to her being portrayed with the stigmata, refusing to believe that anyone other than their founder could have been chosen for this sacred honor. (01/23/11)
Did You Know that... while Catherine was in her twenties, the painter Andrea di Vanni made a portrait of her on a pillar in St. Dominic’s Church in Siena that remains today as the only image of Catherine taken from life? In it, Catherine wears a white head scarf and a gray gown over which is a blue-black cloak. The stigmata on her hands and the lily that she bears in her left hand—referring to the vision in which St. Dominic called her to the religious life—were added to the painting years after her death. (01/30/11)
Did You Know that... at first St. Catherine’s religious ecstasies were widely believed to be an act? Even though 14th century people were hungry for saints’ miracles, prophecies, and signs of God’s presence, her fellow Mantellate and many ordinary townspeople looked on her with suspicion. If she was still lying motionless in the aisle when the church closed, wardens carried her out to the street, where passersby would punish her with kicking and slapping (of which she was unaware.) (02/13/11)
Did You Know that... when Catherine was in a state of ecstasy, she was impervious to injury? One day she fell face-forward into the glowing coals of the family kitchen fire but was completely unburned; her clothing was not even singed. On another occasion, while leaning against a wall in church, heedless of her surroundings, a burning candle fell on her head, spilling wax on her veil, but although the candle continued to burn, Catherine was unscathed (and unaware). (02/20/11)
Did You Know that... it was her Sienese confessor, Fra Tommaso della Fonte, who first persuaded the locals that Catherine’s spiritual gifts were genuine? He would bring other Dominicans to talk with her, and although many Dominicans were unaccustomed to female company, they felt so comfortable with the young Catherine that they called her “mother”—although not until two Sienese ladies with sons in the Dominicans first called her by that name. And for her part, Catherine at last lost her unease around men, which proved important in her later career as an activist. (02/27/11)
Did You Know that... Catherine performed a miracle similar to the miracle at Cana? In her daily rounds, giving food from her family’s pantry to the poor, she began drawing off wine from the best barrel in the house, bottling it, and giving it away. But as soon as she did this, her brothers noticed that not only did the wine begin to taste even better than before, but it was clearer, and the barrel remained full. So it went until the Benincasa’s cellarer needed the barrel for new wine from the harvest, whereupon he discovered the barrel completely dry inside. (03/06/11)
Did You Know that... in addition to giving alms to the poor, St. Catherine served the sick as a nurse? Her biographer Raymond of Capua relates that at the leper hospital San Lazzaro in Siena, Catherine ministered with such dedication to a woman named Theca that as Tecca’s condition and temperament worsened, Catherine only spent more time with her, until finally Catherine’s own hands began to show signs of leprosy. When Tecca died, Catherine washed and prepared the body for burial, then buried Tecca herself—at which point the leprosy vanished from Catherine’s hands. (04/03/11)
Did You Know that... Catherine’s nursing included interceding for the sick with God? Raymond of Capua tells of a woman named Palmarina who—like many Sienese—resented Catherine for her extravagant piety. When Palmarina fell deathly ill, Catherine visited her and prayed over her, which made Palmarina hate her even more. Raymond reports that Catherine then challenged God in her prayers, asking why “the fruits that You were to obtain through me” were leading to “the damnation of one of my sisters.” When God replied that He was going to punish Palmarina for her sins, Catherine prayed harder—staying three days while Palmarina lay at death’s door. And then suddenly Catherine’s prayers were answered: Palmarina confessed her sins, begged God’s forgiveness, and died. (04/10/11)
Did You Know that... St. Catherine claimed to be able to see into the souls of others? She told her confessor Raymond that once she had prayed for the salvation of a sinner who then repented; God "showed me the beauty of that soul.... Father [Raymond], if you could see the beauty of the rational soul, you would not doubt for a minute that you would be prepared to give your life a hundred times over for the salvation of that soul, for there is nothing in this world that can compare with such beauty." (04/24/11)
Did You Know that... St. Catherine’s ability to see into the souls of others enabled her to assess even a stranger’s spiritual condition? When she encountered such people, writes Raymond of Capua, either she could not "look them in the face while they were speaking to her" or they were unable to look Catherine in the eye. After one such encounter, with the mistress of a prelate, Catherine remarked, "If you had smelled the stink that I could smell while I was talking to her, you would have been sick." (05/01/11)
Did You Know that... while St. Catherine was nursing the sick; she was visited by Jesus and offered two crowns? One was a crown of jewels, the other a crown of thorns. He asked her, “Will you wear the crown of thorns while you live here on earth and have the crown of precious stones in eternity; or will you have the crown of precious stones here on earth—but then you must wear the crown of thorns hereafter?” Catherine immediately seized the crown of thorns and pressed it onto her head. As when she received the stigmata, the marks were invisible during her lifetime, though Catherine could always feel them in her skin. (05/08/11)
Did You Know that... shortly after St. Catherine’s father died, her hometown of Siena was wracked with revolution and anarchy? In the fall of 1368, shortly after Jacopo Benincasa’s death, government changed hands several times within a few weeks, and even peacemaking visits by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, in September and at Christmas could not quiet the feuding between nobles and popularists. Some of Catherine’s brothers abandoned their father’s dye business and fled to Florence. Catherine worked to protect her family, once persuading them to change shelters just ahead of an angry mob that massacred everyone in its way. (05/15/11)
Did You Know that... after Siena fell into anarchy in early 1369, Catherine prayed her mother Lapa back to life? On the point of death, Lapa had refused the sacraments, and then appeared to die. Catherine wept over the body, reminding Christ of a promise He had once made to her that Lapa would not be allowed to die unrepentant. She concluded her prayer by saying, “I will not go alive from Your feet until You give me my mother back!” - and then her mother began to breathe again. Lapa Benincasa lived at least 15 years beyond her daughter, to 89 or more, and later in life she would complain, “I think God has wedged my soul crossways in my body so that it cannot come out.” (05/22/11)
Did You Know that... St. Catherine was a culture hero with a following called the “Caterinati” who accompanied her (often against her will) in her travels as an entourage? Her following began as small group of defenders who would try to fend off the many doubters and scandalmongers who plagued Catherine on account of her increasingly famous piety. Many of these critics found themselves inspired by Catherine, however, and after confessing their sins, they would join the ranks of her supporters. (05/29/11)
Did You Know that... because of the close relationship between her and her mother that developed after her father Jacopo died in 1368, St. Catherine came to be known as “Caterina di Monna Lapa”? (06/26/11)
Did You Know that... from 1370 onward, St. Catherine sustained her physical existence primarily with the Eucharist? In modern terms, she became bulimic. Many Sienese denounced her for vaingloriously trying to be holier than Christ—who, after all, ate and drank normally. Monks received communion only a few times a week; priests did not yet say Mass daily. But when she could attend Mass, Catherine took the Eucharist daily, which was much more often than the usual custom of the time. (07/03/11)
Did You Know that... there was such opposition to St. Catherine’s frequent reception of the Eucharist that in Siena she was permitted to take communion only from Fra Tommaso della Fonte, her first confessor? On one occasion, the feast of St. Alexis (July 17) in 1370, when he gave in to her desire to hear a Mass, as she took the Sacrament, Fra Tomasso observed Catherine in an intense ecstasy, her face glowing and covered in sweat, which lasted through the day. Afterwards, Catherine was unable to describe her experience except to say that she had asked Christ to replace her will with His, and He had agreed. “And it shall make you so strong that nothing that may happen to you can ever touch or alter you.” (07/10/11)
Did You Know that... after praying to receive Christ’s will, St. Catherine prayed for His Sacred Heart, and in a vision, she received it. Meditating on Ps. 51:12 (“A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit”), Christ appeared before her, opened up her left side with His hand, and removed her heart. But a few days later, while Catherine was praying, He returned to her with another heart which he placed in her body, saying, “Today I give you My heart, which will give you eternal life.” Catherine’s closest friends later affirmed that under Catherine’s left breast there was a scar. (07/17/11)
Did You Know that... after Catherine began living on the Eucharist, when she received the Sacrament she would see not the Host but a beautiful child? The Christ child would be brought down from heaven by angels and placed in the hands of the priest, and after taking communion Catherine often fell into an ecstasy in which she felt herself transported to heaven, where she saw the secrets of God. (07/31/11)
Did You Know that... when she began living on the Eucharist, Catherine was given the first hint that she later (in 1375) would receive the wounds of Christ, known as the stigmata? In the summer of 1370, while praying to God for a sign that everyone she loved would be saved, Catherine was visited by Christ, who instructed her to open her hand. When she spread her right hand, a burning nail pierced her palm. Later, when she lay down on her wooden plank bed to rest, her body was observed to levitate, something that would happen on other occasions. And from that day forward, Catherine’s right hand pained her. (08/07/11)
Did You Know that...when she began living on the Eucharist, Catherine developed a special devotion to Mary Magdalene as a second mother? After her death, Catherine’s biographer Raymond of Capua was struck by the parallels between Catherine and the Magdalene. Just as the Magdalene had lived for 33 years “in her cave in continual contemplation without taking any food,” so Catherine lived a life of contemplation and fasting until her death at the age of 33. “And as Mary Magdalene was taken up into the air by the angels seven times a day so that she could listen to the mysteries of God, so Catherine was for most of the time taken out of the world of the senses by the power of the Spirit.” (08/14/11)
Did You Know that...around the same time that Catherine received her mission from Christ, her family began to fall on hard times? In August of 1370, three of her brothers moved to Florence to pursue the family business, cloth-dyeing, but their business failed. The Sienese part of her family were continually in debt, even after Catherine herself arranged loans. They left their house in the Via dei Tintori (“dyer’s street”), and Catherine lived with various friends until her political career kept her on the move until her death. (09/18/11)
Did You Know that...St. Catherine was responsible for numerous spiritual conversions? The first was in December 1370, when she prayed for the repentance of a notorious Sienese drunk, gambler, and brawler named Andrea de Bellantis. Catherine’s confessor at the time, Fra Tommaso, sent word to her asking her to pray for Andrea, and as it happened, that very night Andrea died. But before he died, he confessed, took the sacrament, and told those around him that he had had a vision of Christ accompanied by St. Catherine. Later, even though Catherine had never laid eyes on Andrea, she was able to describe accurately both him and the room in which he died. (09/25/11)
Did You Know that...St. Catherine inspired a Franciscan professor to change his life? Doubting her piety, Fra Lazzarino, who taught theology in Siena, preached actively against her. Convinced she was a fraud, one day he visited her, and though he interrogated her harshly all day, as he left, Catherine humbly asked for his blessing. That night, Lazzarino became depressed, even hysterical, doubting his life, until suddenly he realized that he had been wrong about Catherine, and it was he himself who was the fraud. The next day, he asked for her guidance, and she recalled him to his vows. Lazzarino then gave away his possessions, became a hermit outside Siena, and remained Catherine’s great friend ever after. (10/02/11)
Did You Know that...St. Catherine acquired a castle from a sinner whom she converted? Nanni di Servanni was a wealthy and notorious criminal who repented after speaking with Catherine only once in 1376. Catherine commanded him to confess his sins, but after he did, he was arrested for his crimes and imprisoned. When he regained his freedom, he gave Catherine the deed to a castle that he owned outside of Siena. Securing permission from Pope Gregory XI, Catherine had the fortress made into a nunnery.(10/16/11)
Did You Know that...Catherine was known by many popular pet names among her followers, the “Caterinati”? She was the “Beata Popolana” (blessed child of the people); “the Seraphic Mother Caterina”; but most often she was simply “Mamma” or, even more affectionately, “Mammina.” (10/30/11)
Did You Know that...during Catherine’s lifetime the pope resided in Avignon, France, rather than in Rome? This period in the Church’s history, often called the “Babylonian Captivity” for its similarity to the period of exile endured by ancient Jews in Babylon, lasted from 1306 to 1376. It began when the archbishop of Bordeaux, Raymond Bertrand de Got, was elected as Pope Clement V in 1309 but refused to leave France because of his ties to the French king. (11/06/11)
Did You Know that...Catherine was summoned to Florence in 1374 to account for herself before the Chapter General of the Dominican order (to which she belonged as a Mantellata), but once there, she met the person who became her main spiritual adviser and biographer, Raymond of Capua? Catherine won over the Chapter General in Florence and made new admirers, including Raymond, who previously had been skeptical of her. From her previous advisor, Fra Tommaso, Raymond received an account of Catherine's life thus far, to which he began to add, writing the only eyewitness account of Catherine's life. (11/13/11)
Did You Know that...Catherine nursed the sick during the bubonic plague that struck Siena in 1374, and that her prayers saved no less than three people, including Raymond of Capua? This wave of the plague was worse than the 1348 plague. The Dominicans of Siena were overwhelmed caring for the sick, and several of them fell ill themselves. Each time, Catherine prayed over them, and they recovered. (11/20/11)
Did You Know that...Catherine's involvement with papal politics began with a papal blessing from Pope Gregory XI? As messenger, Gregory sent the Bishop of Jaen, Spain, who earlier had been the spiritual advisor of St. Birgitta of Sweden. Through the bishop, Gregory asked Catherine to support his plans, one of which was a new crusade in the Holy Land. From this time on, Catherine wrote many letters to kings and military leaders urging them to go on Gregory's crusade. Catherine's support of holy war—which had been opposed by St. Birgitta, Catherine's predecessor in attempting to bring the papacy back to Rome—is one of the great conundrums about her. (12/18/11)
Did You Know that...despite St. Catherine’s efforts to reconcile the Pope and the warring Italian city-states, northern Italy went to war with the papacy in 1375? Catherine continued to write to Gregory XI, demanding that he make peace and return the papacy to Rome, but she also wrote to the Florentines, urging them to seek the pope’s forgiveness. War occurred anyway. When papal troops defeated the rebels at Casena (on the Adriatic), Cardinal Robert of Geneva was so ruthless that he became known as “the executioner of Casena.” By a historical irony, in 1378 he became the first “anti-pope” of the Great Schism. (01/29/12)
Did You Know that...Pope Gregory XI laid Florence under interdict for rebelling, and the Florentines sent St. Catherine to Avignon to ask for peace? A papal interdict excommunicated an entire geographical area, depriving it of the sacraments and in effect outlawing it, suspending its rights as a community. Inspired by a vision in which Christ laid His cross on her shoulder and an olive branch in her hand, Catherine set out for Avignon at the end of May 1376, arriving at Avignon on June 18. She met the pope two days later. So much did she impress him that midway through their first conversation, Pope Gregory authorized Catherine to represent him to the Florentines. Unfortunately, the Florentine delegation would negotiate only with the pope, and peace talks broke down. (02/05/12)
Did You Know that...St. Catherine inspired Pope Gregory XI to return the papacy to Rome by seeing into his soul? One day when Gregory asked Catherine about moving back to Rome, she replied that she was unfit to advise the Vicar of Christ; but when Gregory pressed her, asking her to tell him God’s will, she shot back, “Who knows God’s will so well as your Holiness, for have you not bound yourself with a vow?” At this, Gregory was badly shaken, for only he knew that while he was still a cardinal, he had made a secret vow to return the papacy to Rome if he were ever elected Pope. On September 13, three months after first meeting Catherine, he left Avignon forever. (02/12/12)
Did You Know that...on her return from Avignon to Italy in 1376, St. Catherine halted the bubonic plague in the town of Varazze, north of Genoa? Verazze was the birthplace of Jacobus de Voragine (Giacomo da Varazze, c. 1230-1298), author of the hagiographical classic, The Golden Legend. Passing through the little town nearly wiped out by plague, Catherine urged the inhabitants to build a chapel dedicated to Jacobus, which they did. In all subsequent epidemics, Varazze was plague-free.(02/26/12)
Did You Know that...when St. Catherine arrived home in 1377, Siena was one of the city-states aligned against the pope? On January 17, Pope Gregory XI arrived in Rome, carried by a white mule, to the acclaim of the city. But other city-states, like Siena, kept up the war, and had in fact turned the tide in their favor. During this time, Catherine continually had to inspire the pope not to go back to Avignon. In Siena, her peace-making efforts took the form of ministering to prisoners, by which she hoped both to save their souls and to bend the will of the city government towards making peace with the pope.(03/04/12)
Did You Know that...Catherine converted Siena’s most famous prisoner, Niccolo di Toldo, a native of Perugia whose crime was simply making malicious jokes about the Sienese government one day when he was drunk? For this, he was sentenced to death. In jail, di Toldo refused to make his confession, but when Catherine came to visit him, he went willingly to his execution with Catherine at his side. She was allowed to sit beside the chopping block and receive his severed head, a scene that is depicted in a painting in her own church of San Domenico. She told Raymond of Capua that immediately after the execution, she had a vision of di Toldo’s soul being received by Christ. (03/11/12)
Did You Know early 1378 St. Catherine presided over a peace conference to reconcile the city-state of Florence with the papacy? Opinions about her were divided. To some, she was too young, too spiritual, too middle-class, and, being female, too weak to operate in the brutal world of politics. To others, she was inspirational, knowledgeable, insightful, even brilliant. But on March 27, Pope Gregory XI unexpectedly died, the peace conference adjourned, and the new pope, Urban VI, demanded non-negotiable terms from the Florentines: acknowledge guilt for rebelling against the papacy, and show public contrition. The result was that Florence became torn by a civil war that pitted those who sided with the pope against those who refused to submit. (03/18/12)
Did You Know that...during the Florentine civil war, St. Catherine briefly formed the desire to become a martyr? At one point, in a friend’s garden, she was surrounded by armed men, but when she offered her life in exchange for the lives of her companions, the soldiers turned and went away. But in a letter to Raymond of Capua, she wrote that her death would become “an obstacle in the making of peace,” and so she gave up the thought of martyrdom. And yet, despite her commitment to making peace, her trust in God, and her many spiritual triumphs, Catherine feared that peace would not come to Florence. In the same letter, she wrote, “it seemed as though God let [the warring factions] do as they wanted for the sake of justice and vengeance.” Even so, a peace treaty was signed on July 28, 1378, after which Catherine returned to Siena. (03/25/12)
Did You Know that...St. Catherine composed her most famous book as a response to the Great Schism? Resenting the loss of the papacy, the French had declared the election of Urban VI illegal and manipulated the cardinals to elect another pope—cardinal Robert of Geneva, the notorious “executioner of Casena” during Florence’s rebellion against the papacy—who took up residence in Avignon as Clement VII. Hearing this news, Catherine retired to a house outside of Siena in October 1378. There she experienced a series of ecstasies over a period of four or five days, during which she dictated her visions to secretaries gathered around her. Raymond of Capua titled the book The Dialogue. It is one of the first masterpieces of the Italian language, and it is the basis for the Church’s decision to declare Catherine a Doctor of the Church in 1970. (04/01/12)
Did You Know that...Pope Urban VI invited St. Catherine and her entourage to live in Rome in 1378, then separated Catherine from her spiritual advisor Raymond of Capua by sending Raymond to negotiate with the French king about the schism? Raymond later reported that in her final conversation with him before his departure, Catherine told Raymond, “Go now and work for God, but I do not think that we shall meet again in this life.” This prophecy came true. Urban called Raymond back before Raymond arrived in France, then appointed him Master General in charge of the Dominican order. (04/08/12)
Did You Know that...St. Catherine was a master of sarcasm? When she arrived in Rome in 1378, Catherine sent for the English Augustinian monk William of Flete, who had abandoned Cambridge University to live in a hermitage near Lecceto, Italy, from which he corresponded with Catherine. William refused to go to Rome because he feared that his faith would weaken if he left the hermitage. Catherine’s reply: “The glow of your faith cannot be very ardent if you risk losing it by changing your dwelling. It seems as though [you believe] God cares about places, and is only to be found in solitude and in no other place on the day of need.” (04/15/12)
Did You Know that...St. Catherine made six candied, gilt oranges as a Christmas gift for Pope Urban VI in 1379? Oranges were still new in Italy, and they had the bitter taste of modern Seville oranges used to make marmalade. Catherine’s gift came with the recipe and a letter, in which she compared the process for making oranges sweet with the process of the soul achieving virtue: “What has become of the bitterness which is so unpleasant to human taste? It is drawn out by the fire and the water [of cooking]...Water and fire take away the bitter taste of self-love, and so constancy fills the soul with good things—the patience combined with the honey of humility which conserves our knowledge of our own self… When the fruit is filled and finished, it must be covered with gold, which is the purity which shines radiantly from burning love, and it manifests itself through faithful and patient service of our neighbor.” (04/22/12)
Did You Know that...St. Catherine died at 9 a.m. on the Sunday before the Feast of the Ascension? The date was April 29, 1380. She was in Rome, in the house near the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where she lived with her followers. Her mother Lapa, a priest, and some of her followers were with her. For a few hours she was restless, troubled, and prayed audibly for God’s mercy. Then she was overcome with peace. Her last prayer, and her life, ended with Christ’s last words in Luke 23:46 (from Ps. 30:6): “Beloved, You call me, I come. Not through any service of mine, but through Your mercy and the power of Your blood. Blood, blood! Father into Your hands I commend my spirit.” (04/29/12)
Did You Know that...St. Catherine spent her last year on earth deeply involved in the politics of the Great Schism? Her résumé for 1379 is as follows: Getting help from Tuscany when a French garrison prevented Pope Urban VI from moving into the Vatican; then stage-managing the Pope’s thanksgiving procession, a barefoot walk from the church of Santa Maria Trastavere to the Vatican; then calling on the Roman city council to provide charity to soldiers wounded in the defense of the Pope; writing scathing letters to Queen Johanna of Naples, chiding her for her allegiance to Avignon. (05/06/12)