Little Lives of the Great Saints – Saint Catherine of Genoa, Model of Christian Love and Heroism

Saint Catherine of GenoaArticle

Died A.D. 1510.

It was in 1447, about a dozen years after the birth of the great Columbus, that another distinguished person was born at A Genoa. At baptism she received the fair name of Catherine. Her family was illustrious. Giacopo Fieschi, her father, was viceroy of Naples, and her mother, Frances di Negro, belonged to a noble house.

The little one grew up lovely in person, and in ways winning, gentle, and remarkable. She seemed to be exempt from anger and other petty passions of childhood.

Catherine’s favored mind early grasped the grandeur of religion. At the time when thought scarcely dawns upon other children she had already penetrated the beauty of piety and virtue. She loved prayer, was a model of obedience, and had a tender devotion to the sacred Passion of Jesus Christ. She despised pride of birth, hated luxury, and practised penance. It should never be forgotten that the most tender age is capable of making great advances on the path of solid virtue.

At thirteen she desired to enter the religious state. She thought that a life of prayer and contemplation was best suited to her inclinations. But in this she was overruled by obedience to her parents, and for other reasons.

Three years after by the advice of her father, she married Julian Adorno, a gay young nobleman of Genoa. He was a person of reckless habits and stubborn temper, and was soon reduced to poverty. Catherine, as became a noble Christian lady, bore her husband’s follies and eccentricities with gentle, heroic patience. But it was all an up-hill struggle, and told fearfully on her delicate constitution. To satisfy him she lived alone for a time in a solitary house, never went out except to attend Mass, and then returned as quickly as possible.

By Catherine’s prayers and persuasive example her husband, before it was too late, repented of his wild ways. Adorno was visited by a severe illness. He was very inpatient. His end was approaching. Our Saint, in deep distress, withdrew to a retired apartment.

“O Love! O Lord,” she exclaimed with tears and sobs, “I beg this soul of Thee. I implore Thee to grant my request, for Thou canst do it.” Thus she prayed for the space of half an hour, and an interior voice assured her that she was not unheard.

Catherine returned to her husband’s chamber and found him calm and completely changed. He was now submissive to the decree of Heaven. He prepared for the end, and soon passed away in holy peace. It was something truly wonderful.

“My son,” said our Saint one day to a very dear friend, “Julian is gone. You knew his eccentricities, from which I suffered so much; but before he passed away my sweet Lord assured me of his salvation.”

One of her great trials was over. The ten years of her married life were gloomy, sorrowful years, which, however, aided our Saint in the work of her more perfect sanctification. But she was now free to devote herself to good works.

Catherine resolved to serve Christ by ministering to suffering humanity. She took charge of the great hospital of Genoa. Nothing escaped her holy care. She served the sick with incredible tenderness. For them this sweet, highborn lady performed the meanest offices – offices that must have shocked the delicacy of nature and put her virtue to the test. She often dressed the most loathsome ulcers with her own hands. “It is also remarkable,” says her biographer, “that she never made the mistake of a single farthing in the accounts of large sums of money which she was obliged to keep; and for her little personal necessities she made use of her own small income.”

But her fasts and other austerities were countless. It was her constant study to deny her senses all unnecessary gratification. Her humility and self-denial were admirable. Even while living in the world with her husband she made it a rule never to excuse herself when blamed by others. It was her constant request of God that His pure and holy love alone might reign in her heart. She took as her chief maxim the words of the Lord’s Prayer – Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

“I see,” she would say, “that whatever is good in myself, in any other creature, or in the saints, is truly from God; if, on the other hand, I do anything evil, it is I alone who do it – nor can I charge the blame of it upon the devil or upon any other creature. It is purely the work of my own will, inclination, pride, selfishness, sensuality, and other evil dispositions; and without the help of Almighty God I could never do any good action. So sure am I of this that if all the angels of heaven were to tell me I had something good in me I should not believe them.”

Catherine often used the word purity in her conversation; and from her pure lips it fell with lovely grace. Her language was simple, noble, and beautiful. She wished that every conception and emotion of the mind should issue from it pure, undefiled, and without the least complexity. It was impossible for her to feign a sympathy which she did not feel, or to condole with others out of friendship, except, in so far as it really corresponded with her heart and affections.

In this blessed soul everything was so well ordered and beautiful that wherever she had control or could offer a remedy she could never endure any disorder. She would neither live nor converse with persons who were not very well regulated.

Her love for the Holy Communion was worthy of an angel. Once when at the point of death, so ill that she was unable to take any kind of nourishment, she said to her confessor: “If you would only give me my Lord three times, I would be cured.” It was done, and her health was at once restored.

For nearly nine years before her death Catherine suffered from a malady not understood by the physicians. It was not a bodily infirmity, nor did it seem to herself a spiritual operation. She was very weak. She ate little and suffered much.

Yet her calm, noble countenance was the mirror of happiness. Many persons came from a distance to see her and to recommend themselves to her prayers. They beheld a being more divine than human – a lady with “Heaven in her soul and Purgatory in her agonized body.”

“She saw the condition of the souls in Purgatory,” writes her biographer, “in the mirror of her humanity and of her mind, and therefore spoke of it so clearly. She seemed to stand on a wall separating this life from the other, that she might relate in one what she suffered in the other.”

“So far I can see,” says the Saint, “the souls in Purgatory can have no choice but to be there. This God has most justly ordained by His divine decree. They cannot turn towards themselves and say:

“‘I have committed such and such sins, for which I deserve to remain here.’ Nor can they say:

“‘Would that I had refrained from them, for then I should this moment be in Paradise.’ Nor again:

“‘This soul shall be released before me, or I shall be released before her.’

“These souls retain no memory of either good or evil respecting themselves or others which would increase their pain. They are so contented with the divine dispositions in this regard, and in doing all that is pleasing to God in the way which He chooses, that they cannot think of themselves, though they may strive to do so.

“They see nothing but the operation of the divine goodness, which is so manifestly bringing them to God that they can reflect neither on their own profit nor on their own hurt. Could they do so, they would not be in pure charity.

“They see not that they suffer pains in consequence of their sins, nor can they for a moment entertain that thought; for should they do so, it would be an active imperfection, and that cannot exist in a state where there is no longer the possibility of sin.

“At the moment of leaving this life they see why they are sent to Purgatory, but never again, otherwise they would still retain something private which has no place there. Being established in charity, they can never deviate therefrom by any defect. They have no will or desire except the pure will of pure love, and can swerve from it in nothing. They can neither commit sin nor merit by refraining from it.

“There is no peace to be compared with that of the souls in Purgatory, save that of the saints in Paradise, and this peace is ever increased by the inflowing of God into these souls. It increases in proportion as the impediments to it are removed.

“The rust of sin is the impediment, and this the fire unceasingly consumes, so that the soul in this state is continually opening itself to admit the divine communication. As a covered surface can never reflect the sun, not through any defect in that orb, but simply from the resistance offered by the covering, so if the covering be gradually removed the surface will, by little and little, be opened to the sun and will more and more reflect the rays of light.

“It is thus with the rust of sin, which is the covering of the soul. In Purgatory the flames incessantly consume it, and as it disappears the soul reflects more and more perfectly the true Sun, who is God. As this rust wears away the soul grows in contentment; it is laid bare to the divine ray, and as one increases the other decreases until the time is accomplished. The pain never diminishes, although the time does; but as to the will, so united is it to God by pure charity, and so satisfied to be under His divine appointment, that these souls can never say their pains are pains.

“On the other hand, it is true that they suffer torments which no tongue can describe nor any intelligence comprehend, unless it be revealed by such a special grace as that which God has vouchsafed to me, but which I am unable to explain. And this vision which God has revealed to me has never departed from my memory.”

The Saint’s long illness was a tedious martyrdom Day and night she was consumed by thirst, but could not swallow a drop of water. For the last two weeks of her life she took nothing except the Holy Communion. Her mind, however, was clear to the last. “Into Thy hands, O Lord! I commend my spirit,” she said, and gently expired at the age of sixty-three, on the 14th of September, in the year 1510.

At the final moment her faithful physician was asleep, but awoke just as she departed. A voice whispered to him: “Rest in God. I am now going to Paradise.”

It is related of the martyr Saint Ignatius that on opening his heart there was found inscribed on it in letters of gold the adorable name of Jesus. The same sweet name ruled the pure heart of Saint Catherine, was the inspiring motive of all her actions, and in heaven it was the reward of her bright and beautiful life.

MLA Citation

  • John O’Kane Murray, M.A., M.D. “Saint Catherine of Genoa, Model of Christian Love and Heroism”. Little Lives of the Great Saints, 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 September 2018. Web. 16 January 2019. <>