Stories of the Saints for Children – Saint Catherine of Siena

detail of the oil on canvas painting 'Saint Catherine of Siena', 17th century by Baldassare Franceschini; Dulwich Picture Gallery, Dulwich, London, England; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsOur Lord, Who always loved the poor so much, has often chosen His special servants and saints from amongst them, and Catherine of Siena was one of these, for her father was only a dyer in that city, and her home was small and mean. As a very little child she loved to pray, and would go up the staircase, saying a Hail Mary at every step, coaxing her playmates to join her; yet her face was always so merry and bright, and her temper so sweet, that those who saw her called her “Euphrosyne,” which means “gladness.”

At six years old, she was one day passing by the church of Saint Dominic, in charge of her little brother, when happening to look up, she saw clearly our Blessed Lord, Who smiled sweetly upon her. The surprise was so great, that she stood motionless, with her eyes fixed upon the Divine figure, until her little brother, who, after trying to drag her on in vain, had left her side, came running back, and managed to rouse her by pulling her hand. During the moment she turned to speak to him, the beautiful vision disappeared, but the memory of it rested always in her heart, and filled it so full of the love of God, that from that time she cared for nothing except how to please Him most.

It always seemed to her that nothing would be so joyful as to be all alone in a wilderness with God. Perhaps this thought came to her mind from hearing of the holy fathers of the desert, but with constant brooding over it, her desire grew so strong, that one morning she took a loaf of bread, and set out to see if she could not reach some desert place. On and on she walked till noon – past the houses, past the city gates, and at length she came to a cave by the road side, which she imagined must be the wilderness, so she went in, and falling on her knees, began to pray.

For two or three hours she was so happy, that she never thought of the uneasiness of her parents when they missed her, but when she remembered them, she was both sorry and afraid, for she feared it had been the evil spirit, instead of God, who had inspired her to go there. However, she rose up to return, but feeling weak and trembling, she could not stir, so she begged God to help her, and found herself at the gates of the city directly, and her parents had not been alarmed, for they supposed she had been all day with a married sister in the town. Catherine had a great love for Saint Dominic, and as she grew older, she wanted very much to become a nun in one of the convents of that order, but her father and mother were displeased, and, as they fancied she would not have this desire, if she was not so often praying in the church, they determined to prevent it altogether, by having her married.

Catherine had always been a most obedient daughter, but in this case she felt sure that God’s Will was not the same as theirs, so she refused to marry, and begged them not to speak of it again. Her mother was determined to prevent her having much time to pray, so the thought struck her that she would send away the servant, and force Catherine to spend the day in cooking and cleaning. But her patience and good-humour gained the victory at last, after a great many sorrows and trials, and when she was eighteen years old, her mother gave her consent to Catherine receiving the Dominican habit.

Much as she had always tried to please and serve God, she tried harder now, surrounded by all the helps and graces of religion, and her generous determination to follow whereever He might lead her, and to hold back nothing from so good a God, made her advance in holiness every day. The first three years were spent in great retirement, in which God gave her many strange and beautiful visions, making known to her what he wished her to do; then he called her to leave her quiet life and give herself up to work for Him in the great busy world, where so many souls were living and dying in sorrow and sin.

Catherine was quite ready to obey the voice of God, and as a great and terrible plague was raging in so many of the cities of Europe, she spent her time in waiting upon the sick and dying, and besides helping many to make their peace with God, she received the power of healing others miraculously.

Everything was not easy for Catherine; great graces were given her, but terrible trials came too, for God permitted her often to be tempted and assaulted by devils, yet she always put them to flight by saying, “I trust not in myself, but in my Lord Jesus Christ.”

In 1375 a good many of the cities of Italy rebelled against the Pope, and as the town of Florence was the leader, it was placed under the displeasure of the Holy Father.

Catherine heard of this, and it filled her with sorrow, because she felt sure it was only the beginning of troubles, so she wrote letters to the different cities, begging them to be faithful to the Church. But the citizens of Florence venerated Catherine so much, that they begged her to go and speak for them, to Pope Gregory XL, at Avignon. She was admitted to his presence several times, and by reminding the Holy Father of a vow he had privately made to return to Rome, she was the means, in God’s hands, of bringing him back to his own city. Both Pope Gregory and Urban, who was the next Vicar of Christ, treated Catherine with great esteem. She remained there during the rest of her life, which was full of wonders and miracles, and died on the 30th of April, in the year 1380.

– from Stories of the Saints for Children, by Mary F Seymour