Parish Patroness -- Saint Catherine of Sienna

Our Parish was named after Saint Catherine of Sienna by the founding members of the parish.  Four men, their     wives -- all named Catherine -- and their families were instrumental in bringing Franklin Square residents that were Catholic together as a parish family.  Past down through the years was that their wives influenced the parish name; they chose Saint Catherine of Sienna as the patroness.  One may notice the spelling of our patroness is slightly different.  Our founders were German immigrants; the spelling of Siena would have been Sienna in German.  Now here is her story.

Caterina Benincasa was born in Siena, Italy on March 25, 1347.  Her parents were Lapa Piagenti, the daughter of a local poet, and Giacomo di Benincasa, a cloth dyer.  She was the 25th child born to her mother.  Catherine herself was a twin, but her sister Giovanna did not survive infancy. Her mother was 40 when she was born. Her father was a cloth dyer.

At the age of 16, Catherine's sister, Bonaventura, died, leaving her husband as a widower. Catherine's parents proposed that he marry Catherine as a replacement, but Catherine opposed this. She began fasting and cut her hair short to mar her appearance.  Her parents attempted to change her mind about marriage, but they were unsuccessful. Her fasting and her devotion to her family, convinced them to allow her to live as she pleased. Catherine once explained that she regarded her father as a representation of Jesus and her mother as Our Lady, and her brothers as the apostles, which helped her to serve them with humility.

Despite Catherine's religious nature, she did not choose to enter a convent and instead she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, which allowed her to associate with a religious society while living at home.  Fellow Dominican sisters taught St. Catherine how to read. Meanwhile, she lived quietly, isolated within her family home.  St. Catherine developed a habit of giving things away and she continually gave away her family's food and clothing to people in need. She never asked permission to give these things away, and she quietly put up with their criticisms.

Something changed her when she was 21. She described an experience she referred to as her "mystical marriage to Christ."  Mystical experiences are said to change people, and St. Catherine was no exception. In her vision, she was told to reenter public life and to help the poor and sick. She immediately rejoined her family and went into public to help people in need.  She often visited hospitals and homes where the poor and sick were found. Her activities quickly attracted followers who helped her in her mission to serve the poor and sick.

Saint Catherine was drawn further into the world as she worked, and eventually she began to travel, calling for reform of the Church and for people to confess and to love God totally. She became involved in politics, and was key in working to keep city states loyal to the Pope. She was also credited with helping to start a crusade to the Holy Land. On one occasion, she visited a condemned political prisoner and was credited with saving his soul, which she saw being taken up to heaven at the moment of his death.

Saint Catherine allegedly was given the stigmata, but was visible only to her. Her confessor and spiritual director was Raymond of Capua.  From 1375 onwards, St. Catherine began dictating letters to scribes. She petitioned for peace and was instrumental in persuading the Pope in Avignon to return to Rome.  She became involved in the fractured politics of her time, but was instrumental in restoring the Papacy to Rome and in brokering peace deals during a time of factional conflict and war between the Italian city states.

She established a monastery for women in 1377 outside of Siena. She is credited with composing over 400 letters, her Dialogue; a book published of her works and prayers. These works are so influential that Saint Catherine would later be declared a Doctor of the Church. She is one of the most influential and popular saints in the Church.

By the time she was 33 years of age she had become ill, possibly because of her habit of extreme fasting. Her confessor, Raymond, ordered her to eat, but she replied that she found it difficult to do so, and that possibly she was ill.  In January of 1380, her illness accelerated her inability to eat and drink. Within weeks, she was unable to use her legs. She died on April 29, following a stroke just a week prior.

Saint Catherine's feast day is April 29.  She is the patron saint of our Parish, the United States and Italy.  She also is patroness against fire, illness, miscarriages, sexual temptation; and for people ridiculed for their faith and nurses.  She is often pictured with a book representing her spreading the Word of God in scripture, her faith and her writings; she holds lilies which repesent purity.