Saint Catherine should give mothers with large families, or moms contemplating the pros and cons of having another baby, some encouragement and hope. St. Catherine was the youngest of a very large family. She went on to become one of the most respected women in the church and of the middle ages! What a loss to the world it would have been if her parents opted not to have her.
Catherine Benincasa, born in 1347, was the youngest (one of my sources says the 23rd) of twenty-five children of a wealthy dyer of Sienna (or Siena). At the age of six, she had a vision of Christ in glory, surrounded by His saints. From that time on, she spent most of her time in prayer and meditation, over the opposition of her parents, who wanted her to be more like the average girl of her social class. Eventually they gave in, and at the age of sixteen she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic (First Order = friars, Second Order = nuns, Third Order = laypersons), where she became a nurse, caring for patients with leprosy and advanced cancer whom other nurses disliked to treat.
She began to acquire a reputation as a person of insight and sound judgement, and many persons from all walks of life sought her spiritual advice, both in person and by letter. (We have a book containing about four hundred letters from her to bishops, kings, scholars, merchants, and obscure peasants.) She persuaded many priests who were living in luxury to give away their goods and to live simply.
She made peace between worldly princes. The heads of Church and State bowed to her words. She weaned Italy away from an anti-pope, and made cardinals and princes promise allegiance to the rightful pontiff. She journeyed to Avignon and persuaded Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome. Even though she barely reached the age of thirty-three her accomplishments place her among the great women of the Middle Ages. The virgin Catherine was espoused to Christ by a precious nuptial ring which, although visible only to her, always remained on her finger.
Catherine went to Rome at the request of Urban VI to organize spiritual help towards ending the schism. Before leaving Siena for the last time, she dictated a book called The Dialogue of St. Catherine; this and her four hundred Letters comprise a great treasury of spiritual writing.
Once again in Rome she pitted herself against the powers of evil that threatened to engulf the church. For a whole year she lived corporally on the Blessed Sacrament and took less than an hour's sleep every night while she sent her zealous letters all over Europe, beseeching help for the restoration of unity and for peace, as daily she offered her life for this cause. One evening in January, 1380, while dictating a letter to Urban, she had a stroke. Partially recovering, she lived in a mystical agony, convinced that she was wrestling physically with demons. She had a second stroke while at prayer in St. Peter's and died three weeks later on April 29th, 1380, aged thirty-three. She was buried under the high altar in the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but her head was afterwards removed and taken to Siena, where it is enshrined in the Dominican church. She was canonized eighty-one years after her death.