Saint of the Day – 4 September – Blessed Catherine of Racconigi OP (1486-1547) – Third Order Dominican, Mystic, Stigmatist – born as Caterina Mattei in June 1486 in Racconigi, Cuneo, Italy and died on 4 September 1547 at Caramagna Piemonte, Cuneo, Italy.
Most of the information regarding Catherine Mattei is derived from a ‘vita’ written by her friend, John Francis Pico, Prince of Mirandola. Catherine Mattei was born in the Piedmont region of Northwest Italy in 1487 into an impoverished household in the Province of Cuneo. Intermittent conflicts in the area brought widespread poverty. Her parents were Giorgio and Bilia de Ferrari Mattei. Her father, an unemployed locksmith, became despondent and quarrelsome as so many do when they lose their livelihood. Her mother supported the family by weaving coarse cloth at home. Catherine and her brother grew up in an atmosphere that was absent of the peace of Christ.
Surprisingly, God reached the heart of little Catherine when she was only five. It was then that her mystical experiences began. Our Lady appeared to her while the tiny child was praying alone in her tiny room and told Catherine that Jesus wished to make her His spouse. Then, as a child her own age, Jesus Himself appeared, accompanied by many other saints including Catherine of Siena and Peter Martyr and the Blessed Mother placed the ring of espousal on her finger. Like the ring of Saint Catherine of Siena, it was visible to today’s saint but could not be seen by others.
Thereafter Catherine had frequent ecstasies and visions. Jesus always appeared to her as a man her own age, whatever that was at the time. He talked with her, taught her how to pray and several times took her heart away to cleanse it. When He appeared with His Cross, she offered to help Him. He let it rest on her shoulder a moment and it left a wound for the rest of her life. She also received the stigmata, though it too remained invisible to others and, at her request, it was only revealed by her confessor after her death.
And, of course, Jesus worked many miracles on behalf of His friend – made a broken dish whole again and provided money and food when the family’s poverty was extreme. In times of trial, the heavenly hosts came to comfort the girl who received great consolation from the aspiration, “Jesus, my hope!”
Because her family opposed her becoming a Dominican, she took the habit of a tertiary. Her mystical experiences roused a storm of gossip among her neighbours, who were terrified at the lights and sounds that came from her home. The devil stirred up more trouble to mitigate her influence over other souls. Even the Dominican fathers ostracised her and eventually she was forced out of town and settled in Racconigi.
There rich and poor sought out Catherine for her wise counsel, prayers and material assistance. She was almost continually in ecstasy. The particular object of Catherine’s prayers was the salvation of soldiers dying in battle and the holy souls in Purgatory. Numerous miracles occurred before and after her death and a cult arose at her tomb almost immediately. Even her persecutors were aware of her sanctity and retracted their bitter words.
Pope Pius VII confirmed her holiness and cult in 1810 by naming her Blessed.