Saint Catherine of Bologna, Abbess

March 9

Today is the feast day of Saint Catherine of Bologna.  Ora pro nobis.

The birth of Saint Catherine of Bologna was foretold to her devout father by the Blessed Virgin, with the announcement that the child would be a brilliant light throughout the world. On the feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady in the year 1413, Catherine was born at Bologna. Her father, John of Vigri, was a relative of the marquis of Este, who resided in Ferrara. It was his wish that little Catherine, who charmed everyone with her beauty and purity, be brought to his court, to be educated there with his daughter. Here, Saint Catherine of Bologna learned the foreign languages, especially Latin, painting, and everything that belongs to the culture of a young woman of high rank. People admired in her the singular wisdom and insight with which she read the profound works of the Fathers of the Church, along with her great modesty and such purity of soul that she was looked upon more as an angel than as a human being. (1)

When she was ten years old, her father sent her to the court of the Marquis of Ferrara, Nicolò d’Este, as a companion to the Princess Margarita. Here Catherine pursued the study of literature and the fine arts; and a manuscript illuminated by her which once belonged to Pius IX is at present reckoned among the treasures of Oxford.

After the marriage of the Princess Margarita to Roberto Malatesta, Prince of Rimini, Catherine returned home, and determined to join the little company of devout maidens who were living in community and following the rule of the Third Order of St. Augustine in the neighboring town of Ferrara. Later the community, yielding to the entreaties of Catherine, adopted the Rule of St. Clare, and in 1432 they were clothed with the habit of the Second Order of St. Francis by the provincial of the Friars Minor. The increasing number of vocations, however, made it necessary to establish other monasteries of the Poor Clares in Italy, and in pursuance of the Brief of Callistus III, “Ad ea quæ in omnipotentis Dei gloriam”, convents were founded at Bologna and Cremona. St. Catherine was chosen abbess of the community in her native town, which office she held until her death. (3)

Upon her deathbed, her sisters observed that her aged face had been restored to the smooth youth of her teen years when she had entered the order. Buried without a coffin, her body was exhumed 18 days later, due to the overpowering sweet fragrance emanating from the gravesite. Found incorrupt, Saint Catherine was seated in a golden throne, in the small chapel of Cheisa della Santa, where she remains today. Her incorrupt body and face appear smooth and featureless, although somewhat blackened by the soot of 500 years of burning candles. (2)

St. Catherine was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII. Her feast is kept on the 9th of March throughout the Order of Friars Minor. (3)

Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff


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