Catherine of Siena lived her remarkable Christian life during the chaos and violence of the fourteenth century. While the medieval order was dying, she labored for peace, reform, and the renewal of the human spirit.

Following Christ’s instruction, Catherine believed it was her duty to reform the church, to evangelize, and to comfort the sick, poor, and condemned. She was an activist in an age when a woman’s religious vocation was supposed to be confined and apart from the world. Warmed by divine love from her intimate experience of God, Catherine proclaimed a personal faith in Jesus Christ that touches contemporary Christians with its conviction and immediacy.

Youthful Devotion

She was born Caterina di Icopo di Benincasa in the spring of 1347. Her home in Tuscany was torn by civil and ecclesiastical conflict. The great Italian city-states, including Catherine’s own Siena, were making an uneasy transition from feudal society and economy to early modern republicanism and commercial capitalism. Catherine and her generation of Italians endured frequent wars and threats of invasion.

Catherine’s birth into a middle-class wool dyer’s family caused scarcely a ripple; she was the twenty-fourth of twenty-five children. While still a small girl, about 7, Catherine was touched by the extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit in her community and saw a vision of Jesus with Peter, Paul, and John the evangelist. She announced her determination to live some sort of special religious life. Alarmed, her father Jacobo and mother Lupa tried to divert her into the customary preparation for marriage and children. In spite of coercion and punishment, during which she was forced to act as a maid in her parents’ house, she remained steadfast. At age ...

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