Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa was born on March 25th, 1347. Catherine was the 23rd child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa, and was an intensely religious child. Her early years were overshadowed by the Black Death, which decimated Italy and Europe at this time. Catherine was given a room of her own for prayer and meditation by her family when she was only a young child.
She entered the Dominican Third Order at 18. Her holiness was such that a group of followers gathered around her—men and women. There were many instances when, during prayer, Catherine would levitate. Her letters, mostly containing spiritual instructions, became widely known and increased her reputation for holiness. Over time, her letters became more concerned with public affairs. This was very unusual for a woman of the time. This brought her to the attention of the Church, and she was falsely charged with hypocrisy. Catherine was able to prove her innocence.
After proving her innocence, she bravely continued to engage in public affairs. She worked tirelessly for a crusade against the Turks and for peace between the warring Italian city-states. In 1378, the church was divided. There were three different ‘Popes’ claiming leadership of Christendom. Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading, for unity in the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony. She died surrounded by her "followers" and was canonized in 1461.
Catherine was buried in Rome. Soon after her burial, miracles were reported by those visiting her tomb. So many people came to the small church where she was originally buried that the Pope had her remains moved to a Basilica. Catherine is especially associated with healing those who were sick with plague.
The Saint urged humility in worship, and warned that "No one should judge that he has greater perfection because he performs great penances and gives himself in excess to the staying of the body than he who does less."
She also believed that love was essential in all her writings:
"Merit consists in the virtue of love alone."
St. Catherine was recognized in the twentieth century as the co-patron saint of Italy, along with St. Francis.