Great Ladies
of the
Poor Clares

Saint Catherine of Bologna

(1413 – 1463)

The Teacher

Lord God, You endowed the virgin Catherine
with gifts from heaven.
By imitating her goodness on earth
may we come
to share her joy
in heaven. Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

      T

         She’s a born teacher, people said of the eldest daughter of the wealthy, cultured, Italian patrician, John of Vigri.  Indeed, Catherine of Vigri was endowed with all the gifts which enable a person to transmit great ideals to others.

Born on September 8, 1413 , Catherine was raised by her devout mother in the home of her grandparents in Bologna .  At the age of ten, her father took her to the court of the Marquis of Ferrara, where Catherine served as a lady-in-waiting to the Marquis’ daughter.   There Catherine received an education befitting her station. She studied music, poetry and dance; she learned to write poetry and play the viola; she was instructed in the arts of painting and copying; she became an accomplished Latinist and an avid reader of the Fathers of the Church.

In the eyes of the world, Catherine seemed to “have it all.”  She was lovely, intelligent, witty and modest.  Several young noblemen sought her hand in marriage.   Yet, for all the pleasure which living at court afforded, it could not supply the one thing she desired – a life totally consecrated to God.

When she was fourteen, Catherine joined a group of young women seeking to live a dedicated community life.   Her solid virtue and deep prayerfulness were known to all.  But no one knew of the searing interior trials that Catherine was undergoing, trials which anchored her even more firmly in faith and in total abandonment to God.

In 1430, Catherine and some of her companions formally established their community under the Rule of St. Clare.   Inside the monastery, Catherine’s teaching talents began to shine, first through good example and then when she was appointed mistress of novices.   She was able to use everything – her aptitude for music and painting, her literary talents and knowledge of Latin, her deep penetration of the patristic writers – to teach her Sisters how to live for God alone.   With her, commented Pope Benedict XVI, the monastery became an increasingly prayerful place of self-giving, of silence, of spiritual endeavor and of joy.    

In 1456, Catherine set out for Bologna , to found another Poor Clare monastery where she served as abbess for several years.  The community flourished under her wise guidance and, though she suffered many trials, Catherine served God and her Sisters faithfully until her death on March 9, 1463.

What is the lesson this accomplished Clarian teacher would have us learn?  Pope Benedict XVI gives this reply:  St. Catherine suffered temptation; she felt forsaken by God. Yet she was always holding the Lord’s hand.  So it is that she also tells us:  take heart, do not let go of the Lord’s hand.

 

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