St. Catherine of Siena (1347–1380)
Catherine Benincasa, born in Siena in 1347 into a politically active lower middle class family, refused her parents’ plan for marriage when she was 15, affiliated to the Dominicans when she was 18, and until she was 21 stayed in seclusion at home practicing austerities. Her visionary experiences then brought her out into the community to work for six years with the victims of the plague and famine in and around Siena. She gained a reputation for sanctity and had a small circle of followers.
In 1374, attending the Dominican general chapter in Florence, she was assigned a confessor - the priest Raymond of Capua. This marked the start of Catherine’s participation in politics, in particular her attempt to reform the church, sort out the mess the Papacy was in – it had been in Avignon for 70 years – and mediate between the feuding Italian city states. The pope did return to Rome in 1377, but this was soon followed by another schism resulting in two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon. Catherine moved to Rome to support Urban V1. Overall Catherine’s attempts at political reform and her endeavour to unify the Church had little success. She died in Rome in 1380.
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