Catherine of Siena is the patron Saint of Italy, Europe, nurses, unmarried women, the ill, and fire prevention. Number 24 of 25 children, along with a twin who later died, Catherine grew up during the Black Death. Her parents nicknamed her “Euphrosyne,” Greek for “joy.” She once had a vision of Jesus giving her his heart. People standing next to her said they could hear her joyous heartbeat pound emphatically.
Against the will of her parents, Catherine devoted her life completely to God. Trying to marry her off, she responded by cutting off her hair, trying to pass herself off as unattractive. She aggravated her parents further by kneeling on each step of their stairs to pray and without asking, gave away much of their clothes and belongings to the poor.
She was a mystic, activist, and author who had many visions, became a lay member of the Dominican Order after having a vision of St. Dominic, obtained stigmata, and had a mystical marriage to Jesus who gave her a ring, all of which were only seen by herself. On her death bed, her miracles are said to have appeared on her body and everyone around her could see that she was telling the truth all along.
As an outstanding figure of medieval Catholicism, Catherine influenced political hierarchy, the papacy, Italian literature, and the course of history itself through her letter writing, activism, and love of Jesus. Along with Teresa of Avila, she was the first woman “Doctor of the Church.”
Catherine practiced extreme fasting and abstinence, only taking communion into her body for many years. This habit resulted in a great deal of sickness, culminating in early 1380 at the age of 33 with the inability to drink water, eat food, or use her legs. She died 2 months later after a massive stroke paralyzed her from the waist down. Her last words were “Father, into your hands I commend my soul and spirit.” Her home still exists in Siena, Italy. Her body is inside the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but her severed head and thumb reside in her home town of Siena at Basilica of San Domenico.