Catherine of Siena was born Catherine Benincasa in Siena, Italy in 1347. She was the youngest of 25 children. Her father, a prosperous wool dyer, was active in the politics of the Tuscan republic. The daughter of a poet, her mother was an able manager of the large household. From early childhood Catherine showed a strong interest in religion and devotion to prayer. Attracted by the mission of the Dominican friars preaching in Siena, Catherine took the familiar black and white habit of a Dominican Tertiary at the age of 16. For the next three years she remained in seclusion and mystical prayer. At the end of this formative period, she began an active ministry in her family, city and church.
Catherine tended the sick, served the poor and shared her religious insights with a growing company of friends and disciples. She intervened as peacemaker in the frequent wars in the region. Sought out for advice, she developed an extensive correspondence with people of every strata of society. In 1376, she was instrumental in persuading Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome from Avignon, France, ending a period of demoralization for the Catholic community.
Catherine traveled to Rome in 1380 to resolve a schism caused by rival claimants to the papal office. She died there on April 29. Catherine was remembered as a happy woman with extraordinary personal charm, one who shared her spiritual insight and practical wisdom with all who needed her. She maintained the mission she was called to despite fragile health and the constant carping of critics.
Catherine's extraordinary theological insight is evident in her writings, which include nearly 400 letters, a collection of prayers and a theological work called the Dialogue. Catherine was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970.
Because of her tireless effort to bring justice to her community, relief to the poor and suffering, and reform to the Church she loved, Saint Catherine is a fitting patron of Dominican University's Siena Center.