October: Get to Know Your Saints

By Kelly Legg

A canonized saint that is honored as a special protector is known as a patron saint. A patron saint may also be a benefactor of persons in a certain occupation or a guardian of those who bear the saint’s name. A patron saint may be invoked to intercede with God for help in a time of special need.

This month we are learning some interesting history about St. Catherine of Bologna.

Catherine was born in1413, in Bologna, Italy to an aristocratic family. Her father was a diplomat and decided to send Catherine to the City of Ferrara, a cultural mecca. Catherine received an excellent education in music, literature, painting and dancing, but she particularly excelled at miniature painting, Latin and the viola.

Catherine felt the calling to be a servant of God at an early age. At 14, she became a Franciscan Tertiary, an order of laywomen who followed the ways of St. Francis. In spite of her noble background and education, Catherine willingly served in the more humble roles at the convent, including laundress, baker and caretaker to the animals.

She continued in her artistic pursuits, playing the viola (even on her deathbed), painting religious pictures and writing spiritual guides and poetry.

Throughout her life St. Catherine experienced mystical visions, which she documented. On one Christmas Eve she had a vision of the Blessed Virgin, who placed the infant Jesus in her arms. She was also tormented by visions of Satan, but she was able to overcome these after many years of prayer.

At age 49, she became ill and died a few months later. As was the custom, she was buried without a coffin. She was exhumed 18 days later after visitors noticed a sweet perfume-like smell coming from her grave and some experienced healing miracles. Her body was found to be flexible and uncorrupted. One of the nuns noticed a bit of skin, which seemed to hang from one of Catherine’s feet, and when she touched it, fresh blood flowed, as if she were still alive.

Six hundred years later, her body has remained incorrupt and retains its quality of flexibility like that of a living body. Her skin has darkened from exposure to oil lamps and candles that have been burned over the centuries, but she is clothed in her nun’s robes on a golden throne behind a glass case in the Church of the Saint in Bologna. She was canonized by Pope Clement XI in the year 1712 and is considered the patron saint of artists.

Stay tuned next month while we explore the life of Saint Gregory The Great.