St Catherine of Bologna

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Italian Poor Clare nun, writer, teacher, mystic and artist.

Born in Bologna on 8 September 1413, Catherine came from an upper class family,the the daughter of Benvenuta Mammolini a diplomat who worked for the Marquis of Ferra. Catherine received a good education in reading, writing, singing and drawing while being raised at the court of the Duke of Ferrara. She excelled in painting, Latin and the viola. She served as lady-in-waiting to the wife of the Marquis and became lifelong friends with his daughter Margaret. At the age of 13 Catherine felt called to religious life and entered the convent of Corpus Domini at Ferrara, becoming a Franciscan Tertiary.

By the age of 19, in 1432, Catherine and other young women of Ferrara founded a monastery of the Order of Poor Clares. Catherine was happy to serve the more humble roles in the convent. She worked as a laundress, a baker and a caretaker for the animals. Eventually she was appointed Superior of the community.

In 1456, Catherine returned to Bologna with her superiors and the governors there asked her to found a second monastery and be the Abbess.

Catherine continued to paint and to write beautiful spiritual guides and poetry. One of her books is the Treatise on the Seven Spiritual Weapons Necessary for Spiritual Warfare. Her painting of St Ursula can still be seen in Venice.

Throughout her life, Catherine experienced visions of both Jesus Christ and Satan, which she documented in her treatise. In one instance, she had the baby Jesus placed in her arms by the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was known for her piety, charity and kindness.

During Lent in 1463, Catherine became seriously ill, and on 9 March she died.

She was buried without a coffin and her body was exhumed eighteen days later because of many cures attributed to her at her graveside and the sweet scent coming from her grave. Her body was discovered incorrupt and remains so today. Catherine is dressed in her religious habit seated upright on a golden throne behind glass in the chapel of the Poor Clares in Bologna. Her skin appears blackened due to exposure from oil lamps and soot.

Saint Catherine was beatified in 1524 by Pope Clement VII and canonised on May 22, 1712 by Pope Clement XI.

Pope Benedict said: "From the distance of so many centuries she is still very modern and speaks to our lives. She, like us, suffered temptations, she suffered the temptations of disbelief, of sensuality, of a difficult spiritual struggle. She felt forsaken by God, she found herself in the darkness of faith. Yet in all these situations she was always holding the Lord's hand, she did not leave him, she did not abandon him. And walking hand in hand with the Lord, she walked on the right path and found the way of light."

She is the patron saint of artists, the liberal arts, against temptations and of Bologna.

Note: St Dominic Savio's feast day was kept on this day until recently. It has now moved to 6 May.

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