Saint Catherine of Genoa, Widow

September 15

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

Saint Catherine Fieschi (also known as Caterina Fieschi Adorno), was born in Genoa.  St. Catherine’s parents were Jacopo Fieschi and Francesca di Negro, both of illustrious Italian birth.

Her family, rich in great men, had given to the Church two popes (Innocent IV and Adrian V), nine cardinals and two archbishops. Catherine, noble in birth, rich, and exceedingly beautiful, had as a child rejected the solicitations of the world, and begged her divine Master for some share in His sufferings.

Despite her ardent desire to enter the cloister, at sixteen years of age she found herself promised in marriage to a young nobleman of dissolute habits. She was obliged to obey her parents’ intentions. Her spouse treated her with such harshness that after five years, wearied by his cruelty, she somewhat relaxed the strictness of her state and entered into the worldly society of Genoa.

She went one day, full of melancholy, to a convent in Genoa where she had a sister, a nun. The latter advised her to go to confession to the nuns’ confessor, and Catherine agreed. No sooner, however, had she knelt down in the confessional than a ray of Divine light pierced her soul, and in one moment manifested her own sinfulness and the Love of God with equal clearness. The revelation was so overwhelming that she lost consciousness and fell into a kind of ecstacy, for a space during which the confessor happened to be called away. When he returned, Catherine could only murmur that she would put off her confession, and go home quickly.

At length, enlightened by divine grace as to the danger of her state, she resolutely broke with the world and entered upon a life of rigorous penance and prayer. Having seen Jesus with His cross, and heard His reproaches, O love! she cried, I will sin no longer!

For twenty-three years she could take no nourishment but Holy Communion, and she drank only a little water mingled with vinegar and salt. Every day she prayed for six to seven hours on her knees, and never relaxed this practice. Her heroic fortitude was sustained by the constant thought of the holy souls of purgatory, whose sufferings were revealed to her, and whose state she has described in a treatise full of heavenly wisdom.

Of the saint’s outward life, after this great change, her biographies practically tell us but two facts: that she at last converted her husband who died penitent in 1497; and that both before and after his death — though more entirely after it — she gave herself to the care of the sick in the great Hospital of Genoa, where she eventually became manager and treasurer.

After her husband’s death in 1497, a terrible plague broke out in Genoa and lasted for four years, carrying off four-fifths of the population. Catherine heroically sacrificed herself for the sick, day and night. At the same time she continued her accustomed penances and religious exercises. Frequently she was lost in ecstasy; and even when she was busily engaged in work, her mind was occupied with the things of heaven. She succeeded in a marvelous manner in combining complete “other-worldliness: with the most capable “practicality.” She also wrote an excellent treatise on Purgatory and another which is a Dialogue of the soul and the body. The Holy Office declared that these works alone are proof enough of her genuine holiness. 

She died worn out with labors of body and soul, and consumed, even physically, by the fires of Divine love within her. She died on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14, 1510.The body of St Catherine was exhumed eighteen months after her death. Her body was found to be perfectly intact even through her burial shroud was damp and decayed. There were many miracles that occurred at this time. 

She was beatified in 1675 by Clement X, but not canonized till 1737, by Clement XII. Meantime, her writings had been examined by the Holy Office and pronounced to contain doctrine that would be enough, in itself, to prove her sanctity.

Image:  (5)

Research by REGINA Staff


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