On this day: St. Catherine of Siena

On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, Dominican tertiary, mystic, advisor to popes, writer, Doctor of the Church.

Catherine Benincasa was born in Siena, March 25, 1347. She died at Rome, April 29, 1380. Her relics are enshrined at Siena and at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, in Rome. She was canonized in 1461 by Pope Pius II.

In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared that she is a Doctor of the Church. For an explanation of that process, see "Catherine of Siena, Justly Doctor of the Church?" In the article, which appeared in Theology Today, April, 2003, Suzanne Noffke, O.P., describes "The Letters of Postulation" written by hierarchy, heads of orders, laity, etc., asking that Catherine of Siena be declared a Doctor of the Church.

"The reason they cite with the greatest frequency is Catherine's defense of the primacy and authority of the Roman pontiff. 'Bringing her back into the light by this declaration,' argues the Carmelite superior general, 'can be of particular benefit in this era of conflict and strife, this era in which the sense of God and of spiritual realities, and so of the church, is languishing.' Some of these petitioners also note Catherine's reforming role in the church, but usually in contrast to what they see as a misguided spirit of reform in the post-Vatican II church. Catherine, they point out, was a loyal promoter of peace and unity, not a sower of dissent."

Noffke goes on to describe the rest of the process: the opinions of the Censors, the response by the Informatio super Dublo, and the Declaration of the General Promoter of the Faith.

"He emphasizes that her obvious orthodoxy is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit, since she is 'uneducated so far as acquired knowledge is concerned.' Though he finds her letters 'like the sermons of any doctor of the church,' he is quick to remind the reader that she 'of course had no hierarchical authority to preach because of her feminine condition.'"

Sr. Noffke follows her description of the process with her own analysis of Catherine's right to the title of Doctor of the Church. It is interesting and compelling. If you have found Catherine's writings unreadable, her prayers unprayable, her anorexia pitiable, and aspects of her mysticism repellent, the article could mitigate your reservations. It may lead you to take a closer look at Doctor Catherine.


Suzanne Noffke, O.P., is a leading Catherine of Siena scholar. For a list of books she has written about St. Catherine and of the writings of Catherine she has translated, click here. Many have search inside features.

(To sample Sr. Noffke's "brutally honest" history of her own community, see The Dominicans of Racine, Wisconsin: Volume One, Embrace the Swelling Wave. Click on "Back Cover" to see her picture and read a biographical note.)

For an examination of St. Catherine's life and her fasting from food and drink, see Holy Anorexia, by Rudolph M. Bell, University of Chicago Press, 1985.

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Today is another Catherine's day, as well. The future Queen Catherine married the future King William. God save the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!


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