Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Catherine of Genoa

Saint Catherine of GenoaArticle

Saint Catherine was born of noble parents at Genoa, in 1447, and derived her surname from her native place. Her father was a descendant of the house of Fieschi. She was hardly eight years of age, when she already gave distinct signs of her future holiness. It is related of her, that even at that age she was filled with intense devotion, and with a desire to suffer for the love of Christ Hence she would not use a soft bed, but rested on straw, with a block of wood for a pillow; she also sought other means to give pain to her body. At thirteen, she desired most ardently to enter a convent, and to remain there her entire life; but on account of her tender age, she was not admitted. She then continued her pious life until she was sixteen years old, when her father gave her in marriage to Julian Adorno, a youth of a noble and rich family, but unhappily not in the least suited to Catherine. He treated her, from the first day of their marriage, with so little consideration, that every one pitied her. She left nothing untried to soften his disposition, but all was useless. Julian was a slave to gaming, eating and drinking, and seeking only the comforts and pleasures of life; he hated and persecuted the pious Catherine, who falling a prey to deep melancholy, shunned all society, and lived secluded in her room. At the end of five years, her relatives advised her, in order to divert her mind somewhat, to visit her friends, and give a part of the time, now employed in prayer, to innocent amusements. She followed this advice, but was very careful, so as not to offend God by doing wrong. Thus she passed five more years; but the more she gave herself up to the pleasures of the world, the more distasteful they became to her, and her melancholy increased to such a degree, that she became tired of life, and was harrassed with fears and scruples. Not knowing how to find relief, she went to her sister, who led a very edifying life in a convent, and who advised her to make known the whole state of her mind to the Confessor of the convent. Catherine, after a severe struggle with herself, went into the confessional. Hardly, however, had she knelt down, when the thought of God’s mercy filled her soul with such love, whilst at the same time, the remembrance of her faults oppressed her with such bitter grief, that, sinking down, she could only cry. “O Lord, I will renounce the world and sin: I will sin no more, O Lord, I will sin no more.” When she was somewhat more composed, she went home with the resolution to prepare herself for a general confession. Grief and love accompanied her and increased in such a manner, that, as she afterwards said, she thought she would die under their violence. Soon after, it appeared to her as if Christ were standing before her, carrying His heavy cross, and bleeding from His holy wounds, and said to her: “Behold all this blood has been shed for thee, and to redeem thee from thy sins.” The feelings which this awakened in Catherine’s heart it is impossible to describe: it was truly a miracle of divine mercy that the greatness of her pain and love did not immediately deprive her of life. “O love!” she cried aloud, “O Love! No more sin; no more sin!” After her mind had become more quiet, she prepared herself with great care for a general confession, which she made, amid a flood of tears, on the eve of the feast of the Annunciation. On the day of the festival, she partook of holy communion, and from that moment conceived an intense desire to receive this holy sacrament as often as possible.

She was not satisfied, however, with having repentantly confessed her faults, but to atone more effectually for them, she exercised herself continually in penances. In regard to her fasting, suffice it to say that she henceforth abstained from all those viands which were agreeable to her. For twenty-three years she touched no food during Lent, and, on the ember days, only took sometimes a little water and even with this she mixed vinegar or salt. The Blessed Sacrament, which she daily received, sustained her most miraculously. Although fourteen months after her general confession she received from God the assurance that her sins were expiated, she continued her penances as long as she lived. In works of Christian charity she evinced equal perseverance. At first she nursed the sick at their homes; afterwards, she went into the large hospital, where she remained as long as her strength permitted. She had by nature a great aversion to wounds and ulcers, and the mere sight of them caused her nausea. To overcome this she frequently kissed the wounds and ulcers of the sick, and dressed them with the most tender care. In attending to the sick, she thought not only of their bodies but also of their immortal souls. Speaking gently to them, she encouraged them to bear their suffering patiently, exhorted them to repentance, and did all that Christian charity can do for the salvation of souls. For many who would have despaired in their sufferings, she obtained from God patience by her prayers. Among these stands foremost her own husband, who was laid low by a very painful malady which tormented him a long time. No remedy soothed his suffering; day and night he had not a moment’s peace, and hence often gave way to expressions of the greatest impatience. Catherine’s utmost endeavors were bestowed in comforting him. She exhorted him most kindly to submit to divine Providence, to exercise Christian patience, and other virtues; seeing, however, that all was fruitless, and fearing that he would go to eternal destruction, she addressed most fervent prayers for him to the Almighty. One day, while she was thus praying for his conversion, in a room adjoining his, she was heard to say: “O love! I pray Thee for this soul. Give it to me, for Thou hast the power.” After this, a complete change came over the sick man. He repented of his impatience, submitted to the will of the Almighty, confessed his sins, and prepared himself earnestly for his last hour. Catherine received, from God Himself, the assurance of his salvation. Her prayers effected several similar conversions.

In her widowhood she redoubled her zeal in the practice of good works, and her life affords a perfect example of all the Christian virtues, especially the most fervent devotion to God. The fire of love which burned in her heart frequently inflamed her whole body to such a degree, that she seemed to glow with heat, like iron in the fire. One day they laid her hands in cold water, which soon began to boil as if it had been long standing over the fire. It happened several times that the fire of divine love in her heart almost suffocated her, and addressing God, she cried: “O Love, come to help me!” God sent to this holy widow in the last years of her life, the most singular and painful maladies, which no remedies alleviated; she had desired to suffer for Christ’s sake, and God complied with her request. Her patience was heroic, and her cheerfulness forsook her not during the greatest pain.

Her life and suffering ended on 15 Septemper 1510, in the sixty-third year of her life, after she had spoken to those around her of the love of God. Her last words were those of the Saviour – “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Several holy persons saw, at the moment of her death, that her soul, arrayed in heavenly brightness, ascended to eternal bliss. Her holy body remains incorrupt to this hour, and is greatly venerated. The miracles that God wrought by her intercession, fill several volumes. Saint Catherine herself wrote two books which prove that she was not only graced by God with visions and revelations, but that she also possessed truly heavenly wisdom. Illuminated by God, she gave to many persons most wholesome advice. To one who went into a convent and desired to receive an instruction from her, she said: “Let Jesus be in your heart, Eternity in your mind, the world under your feet, and the divine will in all your actions: but above all this, let the love of God shine in your whole being.” She commended nothing more earnestly to those who came to discourse with her, than the love of God, and the avoidance of the least sin for love of Him. God once showed her the horror of a venial sin, and she acknowledged that she would have expired with fear, if she had been obliged to regard this horror one moment longer. Hence it was that she guarded herself most carefully from the least shadow of sin, and admonished others so earnestly to keep their conscience unspotted.

Practical Considerations

• Did you understand the lesson that Saint Catherine gave to a person who went into a Convent and after which she herself moulded her life? “Let Jesus be in your heart, Eternity in your mind, the world under your feet, etc.” Ah! how far are you from observing these directions! Can you say that Christ lives in your heart? Jesus does not dwell in a heart possessed by vanity, pride, envy, impure love and other sinful inclinations! Is eternity in your thoughts? How seldom you think of it! Is the world under your feet? You are devoted to all that is temporal; a proof that the world is not under your feet but in your heart! Is the divine will in all your actions? Where our own will reigns, the will of the Almighty is put aside! Does the love of God shine out in your whole life and being? You offend God so often, if not by mortal, yet by venial sins, which you do not dread! Ah, this is no sign of love to the Almighty. Those who truly love God, carefully avoid everything that is displeasing to Him. If you wish to manifest a sign of true love to God, make today the resolution to shun even the smallest venial sin. Impress this deeply into your innermost heart, and let it inspire you with horror of all that can offend the Majesty of God. Make the resolution that Saint Catherine made: “I will sin no more, O Lord, I will sin no more!”

• From her tender youth, Saint Catherine exercised herself in severe penances. She sought everywhere to give pain to her body. This same body God glorifies now before the world by not allowing it to corrupt. How He will exalt it one day in heaven! Had Saint Catherine treated her body as the children of the world do in our time, it would neither be so greatly honored now in this world, nor could it ever expect great glory in heaven. What have you to say to this? All you seek after, all you aspire to, is the well-being of your body. Hence all your care is directed towards its health, and its enjoyments, even if God should be offended by them. But this is not the right way to preserve the real well-being of the body. If you desire this, be solicitous for its eternal welfare, which can be secured only by attending to the salvation of your soul, and therefore by not allowing your body anything that is forbidden, but by bridling it and mortifying it with penances. “If we neglect the salvation of our soul, we cannot even make our body happy,” writes Saint Chrysostom; and Saint Bernard says: “Time is given us to take care of our soul, not of our body. These are days of salvation, not of pleasures. Now we have to work for the salvation of our soul; for, upon it depends the happiness of our body. Nothing is more beneficial to the body than to be solicitous for the salvation of the soul. At present the body must be the soul’s companion in suffering and doing penance, that it may also be one day its companion in the glories of heaven.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Catherine of Genoa”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 5 May 2018. Web. 24 March 2019. <>