The early testimony to St. Catherine’s sanctity is quite striking. Her biography was written by F. Seraphin Razzi, a Dominican friar, who knew her, and who was fifty-eight years old when she died. The nuns of her monastery gave an ample testimony that this account was conformable partly to what they knew of her, and partly to manuscript memorials left by her confessor and others concerning her. Printed in Lucca in 1594, it is therefore considered highly reliable. Her life was again compiled by F. Philip Guidi, confessor to the saint and to the Duchess of Urbino, and printed at Florence in 1622. Fathers Michael Pio and John Lopez, of the same order, have given abstracts of her life. Since St. Catherine died in 1589, we can see how quickly the story of her life was told.
The Ricci are an ancient family, which still subsists in a flourishing condition in Tuscany. Peter de Ricci, the father of our saint, was married to Catherine Bonza, a lady of suitable birth. The saint was born at Florence in 1522, and called at her baptism Alexandrina, but she took the name of Catherine at her religious profession. Having lost her mother in her infancy, she was formed to virtue by a very pious godmother, and whenever she was missing she was always to be found on her knees in some secret part of the house.
When she was between six and seven years old, her father placed her in the Convent of Monticelli, near the gates of Florence, where her aunt, Louisa de Ricci, was a nun. This place was to her a paradise: at a distance from the noise and tumult of the world, she served God without impediment or distraction.
After some years her father took her home. She continued her usual exercises in the world as much as she was able; but the interruptions and dissipation, inseparable from her station, gave her so much uneasiness that, with the consent of her father, which she obtained, though with great difficulty, in the year 1535, the fourteenth of her age, she received the religious veil in the convent of Dominicanesses at Prat, in Tuscany, to which her uncle, F. Timothy de Ricci, was director.
God, in the merciful design to make her the spouse of his crucified Son, and to imprint in her soul dispositions conformable to His, was pleased to exercise her patience by rigorous trials. For two years she suffered inexpressible pains under a complication of violent distempers, which remedies themselves served only to increase. These sufferings she sanctified by the interior dispositions with which she bore them, and which she nourished principally by assiduous meditation on the passion of Christ, in which she found an incredible relish and a solid comfort and joy. 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 practicing the greatest austerities which were compatible with the obedience she had professed; she fasted two or three days a week on bread and water, 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. The least shadow of distinction or commendation gave her inexpressible uneasiness and confusion, and she would have rejoiced to be able to lie hid in the center of the earth, in order to be entirely unknown to and blotted out of the hearts of all mankind, such were the sentiments of annihilation and contempt of herself in which she constantly lived. 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; for 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. And in one act of sublime prayer she advanced more than by a hundred exterior practices in the purity and ardor of her desire to do constantly what was most agreeable to God, to lose no occasion of practicing every heroic virtue, and of vigorously resisting all that was evil. Prayer, holy meditation, and contemplation were the means by which God imprinted in her soul sublime ideas of his heavenly truths, the strongest and most tender sentiments of all virtues, and the most burning desire to give all to God, with an incredible relish and affection for suffering contempt and poverty for Christ. What she chiefly labored to obtain, by meditating on his life and sufferings, and what she most earnestly asked of him, was that he would be pleased, in his mercy, to purge her affections of all poison of the inordinate love of creatures, and engrave in her his most holy and divine image, both exterior and interior–that is to say, both in her conversation and her affections, that so she might be animated, and might think, speak, and act by his most Holy Spirit.
The saint was chosen, very young, first, mistress of the novices, then sub-prioress, and, in the twenty-fifth year of her age, was appointed perpetual prioress. The reputation of her extraordinary sanctity and prudence drew her many visits from a great number of bishops, princes, and cardinals-among others, of Cervini, Alexander of Medicis, and Aldobrandini, who all three were afterwards raised to St. Peter’s chair, under the names of Marcellus II, Clement VIII, and Leo XI.
Something like what St. Austin relates of St. John of Egypt happened to St. Philip Neri and St. Catherine of Ricci. For having some time entertained together a commerce of letters, to satisfy their mutual desire of seeing each other, whilst he was detained at Rome she appeared to him in a vision, and they conversed together a considerable time, each doubtless being in a rapture. This St. Philip Neri, though most circumspect in giving credit to or in publishing visions, declared, saying that Catherine de Ricci, whilst living, had appeared to him in vision, as his disciple Galloni assures us in his life.1 And the continuators of Bollandus inform us that this was confirmed by the oaths of five witnesses.2 Bacci, in his life of St. Philip, mentions the same thing, and Pope Gregory XV, in his bull for the canonization of St. Philip Neri, affirms that whilst this saint lived at Rome he conversed a considerable time with Catherine of Ricci, a nun, who was then at Prat, in Tuscany.3
Most wonderful were the raptures of St. Catherine in meditating on the passion of Christ, which was her daily exercise, but to which she totally devoted herself every week from Thursday noon to three o’clock in the afternoon on Friday. After a long illness she passed from this mortal life to everlasting bliss and the possession of the object of all her desires, on the feast of the Purification of our Lady, on the 2nd of February, in 1589, the sixty-seventh year of her age. The ceremony of her beatification was performed by Clement XII in 1732, and that of her canonization by Benedict XIV in 1746. Her festival is deferred to the 13th of February.
1 Gallon. apud Contin Bolland. Acta Sanctorum, Maii, t. 6, p. 503, col. 2, n. 146.
2 Ibid. p. 504, col. 2.
3 In Bullar. Cherubini, t. 4, p. 8.
— Excerpted from Vol. II of “The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints” by the Rev. Alban Butler, the 1864 edition published by D. & J. Sadlier, & Company