St. Catherine of Siena - Dominican tertiary and spiritual teacher
Saint Catherine of Siena was the 25th of the 26 children of a northern Italy wool dyer named Giacomo di Benincasa. She was born on 25 March 1347. The family belonged to the lower-middle class.
So, from an extraordinary family, came an extraordinary woman. From an early age, it was apparent that Catherine was different. At a very young age (before what is considered to be 'the age of reason') she began to practice austerities, to spend long periods of time in prayer, and to have mystical visions. She consecrated her viginity to Christ when she was seven.
At the age of twelve, her parents thought of arranging a marriage for her, but she begged them to allow her to remain single. To discourage her from this plan, her parents put her in charge of much of the household management, hoping that this servitude would change her mind. After some years, convinced by her steadfastness and patience, her father relented and Catherine joined the Third Order of Dominicans, and spend the next three years 'in the desert' in a small room in her parent's home. Sometime during this time, she underwent what is called a 'spiritual espousal', and she had a vision of the Infant Jesus offering her a wedding band.
She rejoined the world, and began to serve Christ in the sick, poor and ignorant. Many people were attracted to her by her charm, calm and wisdom. She served the poor, sick and to pray for the conversion of sinners. She still spend much time in prayer. Despite persecutions by the local clergy and others, she began to gather disciples. When another vision commanded her to enter the 'public life of the world', Saint Catherine entered into correspondence with the princes and republics of Italy, was consulted by papal legates about the affairs of the Church, and began working to repair the damage of civil war and religious factions in her country.
It was chiefly her letters, advice, and persistence that finally convinced Saint Gregory XI to leave Avignon and return to Rome, to reform the clergy and administration of the Papal States, and to call for a Crusade to regain Jerusalem from the muslim infidels. Catherine traveled to many cities (at a time when travel wasn't easy or comfortable, especially for women) working for peace in Italy and the Church. She wrote hundreds of letters to important people and ordinary people alike. All were treasured for their wisdom and clarity of thought. She also wrote a book, called the Dialogue a conversation between the Eternal Father and the human soul, discussing the whole of mankind's spiritual life. For this important body of work and her service to the Church, she was named a Doctor of the Church.
Saint Catherine died on 29 April 1380, when she was just 33 years old.