St. Catherine of Siena was born in Siena on the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1347. She was the 23rd of 25 children, and her twin sister died in infancy.
As a child, Catherine was unusually independent, and embraced an intense prayer life. At the age of 7, she had her first mystical vision, where she saw Jesus surrounded by saints and seated in glory. That same year, she vowed to consecrate her virginity to Christ. When her parents wanted her to get married at 16, she cut off all her hair to make herself less appealing. Her father soon realized that she was resolved to live for Christ, and relented.
Catherine joined the Dominican Tertiaries, and for three years lived a deep, solitary life of prayer. She had constant mystical experiences, and at the end of those three years, she was granted an extraordinary union with God, known as “mystical marriage,” which only a few mystics have received.
Although she had many visions and mystical ecstasies, Catherine also suffered periods of intense abandonment and desolation where she felt that God had turned away from her.
After her mystical marriage experience, Catherine ended her solitude and began tending to the sick, poor, and abandoned, especially lepers. Her reputation for holiness drew a band of disciples, including two who became her confessors and biographers.
In her 20s, Catherine was called to a much more public life, establishing correspondence with many influential figures, often calling them to holiness and rebuking them when they failed, including the pope.
Catherine is credited with achieving peace between the Holy See and Florence, convincing the pope to return from his Avignon exile in 1376, and, on her deathbed in 1380, healing the schism between followers of the legitimate pope, Urban VI, and those who opposed him.
In 1375, while in Pisa, she received the stigmata. The marks never appeared on her body while she was alive, as she requested from God, but were visible on her incorruptible body after her death.
St. Catherine’s Dialogues are considered classics in Italian literature, and record her mystical visions, which she dictated in a state of ecstasy.
St. Catherine died in Rome on April 29, 1380, at the age of 33. She is the co-patron saint of both Italy and Europe.