St. Catherine of Genoa
Italian Roman Catholic saint and mystic
Saint Catherine of Genoa (Caterina Fieschi Adorno, born Genoa 1447 – 15 September 1510) is an Italian Roman Catholic saint and mystic, admired for her work among the sick and the poor. She was a member of the noble Fieschi family, and spent most of her life and her means serving the sick, especially during the plague which ravaged Genoa in 1497 and 1501. She died in that city in 1510.
Catherine Fieschi was the youngest of five children born in Genoa to an aristocratic family. Her father, a former viceroy of Naples, died when Catherine was 14; two years later, for political and financial reasons, her brother arranged her marriage to Giuliano Adorno, a member of a rival family. The marriage was not a happy one, and for ten years Catherine alternated between seclusion and social activity; there were no children (although her husband had at least one child by a mistress).
When she was 26, Catherine experienced a religious conversion. At about the same time (it's not clear which came first), her husband became bankrupt. Catherine began a life of social work --- going into Genoa's slums to help the sick and poor. For the first few years of this work, the sheltered aristocratic woman had great difficulty in overcoming her physical repugnance at dealing with the very poor and the very ill.
By 1477, Catherine's husband had begun to help with her work. He later became a Franciscan tertiary (a lay person affiliated with the order); Catherine herself never became associated with any religious order. In 1479 the couple moved into rooms near the large Pammatone Hospital for the poor of Genoa and worked there, without pay.
In 1490, Catherine became the director of the hospital, and worked successfully to improve the institution's financial situation. In 1493, the plague came to Genoa, killing up to 80% of those who stayed in the city. Catherine supervised those Genoese who, like her tertiary husband, cared for the dying. In 1496 her husband died and she resigned her position as director, although she continued working full time until 1499, when her health began to fail.
During the ten years before her death, Catherine wrote Trattato del Purgatorio, describing her beliefs about Purgatory: she saw a place of joy rather than a place of physical suffering. She also wrote what would become the first part of Dialogo Spirituale: a witty conversation embodying the internal conflict she had undergone between her spiritual goals and her bodily desires. It was also during this period that she accepted, for the first time, a spiritual director, her successor as head of the hospital; it was he who would write her Vita.
A group of disciples gathered around her in the last years of her life; some wrote down her words when they were with her, others recorded what they remembered after her death. Her closest disciple, the young nobleman Ettore Vernazza, whom she had met during the plague, gathered these notes, which would become the last two parts of Dialogo. Some years after Catherine's death, her writings, with those of her confessor and her disciples were published together; it is this that you will find online as her Life and Doctrine.
Works by St. Catherine of Genoa
The Life and Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa tells the powerful story of fifteenth century mystic and humanitarian, St. Catherine of Genoa. It begins with her biography, which depicts both her great pain over various difficulties and her great love for the poor and the sick as she helped them in the hospital of Genoa. But the Life and Doctrine doesn't simply tell the story of St. Catherine's life; it also contains her two important treatises. The first--Spiritual Dialogue--is a dialogue that emphasizes love and devotion to God and fellow human beings. The second--Treatise on Purgatory--is her extended reflection upon suffering, death, purgatory, and the afterlife. Together, all three works illustrate the power and meaningfulness of a life dedicated to God; further, The Life and Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa can help nurture such a life of dedication.
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