Saint of the Day – 13 February – Saint Catherine de Ricci OP (1522-1590) Virgin, Tertiary of the Order of Preachers, Mystic, Stigmatist, Ecstatic, Counsellor to many in both secular and spiritual matters, a highly admired Administrator and Advisor,blessed with many mystical charism including visions of Christ, both as a Baby and Adult, bilocation and miracles. Born as Alessandra Lucrezia Romola de’ Ricci in Florence on 23 April 1522 and died on 2 February 1590 (aged 67) at Prato, Grand Duchy of Tuscany, of natural causes. Patronage – the sick. Her body is incorrupt.
The Roman Martyrology states of her today: “At Prato, in Tuscany, St Catherine de Ricci, a Florentine Virgin of the Order of St Dominic, replenished with her heavenly gifts, whom Pope Benedict XIV inscribed on tbe catalogue of holy Virgins. She died in virtues and merits, on the 2nd of this month but her festival is celebrated on this day, 13th.”
The Ricci are an ancient family, which still subsists in a flourishing condition in Tuscany today. Alessandra was born in Florence to Pier Francesco de’ Ricci, of a patrician family and his wife, Caterina Bonza, who died soon after the birth of Alessandra. At age 6 or 7, her father enrolled her in a school run by a Monastery of Benedictine Nuns in the Monticelli quarter of the City, near their home and the City gates, where her Aunt, Luisa de’ Ricci, was the Abbess.
Catherine was a devout and pious child and it was here, in the Convent of her Aunt, that she developed a lifelong devotion to the Passion of Christ. After a short time back at home and after finally persuading her father,, at the age of 14, she entered the Convent of St Vincent in Prato, Tuscany, a cloistered community of religious sisters of the Third Order of St Dominic, disciples of the noted Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola, who followed the strict regimen of life she desired. In May 1535 she received the religious habit from her uncle, Timoteo de’ Ricci, who was Confessor to the Convent and the religious name of Catherine, after the Dominican tertiary, St Catherine of Siena.
Her novitiate was a time of trial. She would experience ecstasies during her routine, which caused her to seem asleep during community prayer , dropping plates and food, so much so, that the community began to question her competence, if not her sanity. Eventually, the other Sisters became aware of the spiritual basis for her behaviour. By the age of 30 she had risen to the post of Prioress.
After the recovery of her health, which seemed miraculous, she studied more perfectly to die to her senses and to advance in a penitential life and spirit, in which God had begun to conduct her, by practising the greatest austerities which were compatible with the obedience she had professed; – she fasted two or three days a week on bread and water alone and sometimes passed the whole day without taking any nourishment and chastised her body with disciplines and a sharp iron chain which she wore next her skin. Her obedience, humility and meekness were still more admirable than her spirit of penance. Much of penitential practice and oblation of her sufferings, were directed to the succour of the Souls in Purgatory.
It was by profound humility and perfect interior self-denial that she learned to vanquish in her heart, the sentiments or life of the first Adam – that is, of corruption, sin and inordinate self-love. But this victory over herself,and purgation of her affections, was completed by a perfect spirit of prayer. By the union of her soul with God and the establishment of the absolute reign of His love in her heart, she was dead to and disengaged from, all earthly things. Her visions became most vivid allowing her to hold Baby Jesus dressed in swaddling clothes and to be mystically married and united with adult Jesus. Catherine’s meditations on the Passion of Christ were so deep, that she spontaneously bled, as if scourged. She also bore the Stigmata. During times of deep prayer, like Catherine of Siena, her Patron Saint, a coral ring representing her marriage to Christ, appeared on her finger.
Crowds gathered to witness her prayer and ecstasies and it began to distract from the life of the Convent. Catherine herself was embarrassed by all the attention. The community prayed that her wounds and experience would lessen in intensity so that they could go about the work of their common life together in peace and in 1554 the visions ceased.
As the Prioress, Catherine developed into an effective and greatly admired administrator. She was an advisor on various topics to Princes, Bishops and Cardinals. She corresponded with three figures who were destined to become Popes: Pope Marcellus II, Pope Clement VIII and Pope Leo XI. An expert on religion, management and administration, her advice was widely sought. She gave counsel both in person and through exchanging letters. It is reported that she was extremely effective in her work, managing her priorities with great zeal and efficiency.
One of the miracles that was documented for her Canonisation was her appearance many hundreds of miles away from where she was physically located, in a vision to St Philip Neri, a resident of Rome, with whom she had maintained a long-term correspondence. St Philip, who was otherwise very reluctant to discuss miraculous events, confirmed the event.
Catherine lived in the Convent until her death in 1590 after a prolonged illness. Her remains are visible under the Altar of the Minor Basilica of Santi Vicenzo e Caterina de’ Ricci, Prato, which is next to the Convent associated with her life..
Catherine was Beatified by Pope Clement XII in 1732 and Canonised by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746 in a spectacular ceremony for which a magnificent ‘canopy’ was constructed. In celebration of the Saint’s Canonisation, Domenico Maria Sandrini wrote an authorative biography of the new Saint.