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Saturday, May 19, 2018
Book Review: Saint Catherine of Siena by Alice Curtayne

This past week I picked up the book "Saint Catherine of Siena" by Alice Curtayne.  Ms. Curtayne wrote this book back in 1929. While not a writer by trade, she became so immersed in the life and works of St. Catherine of Siena that she wrote this fantastic book after years of researching and compiling notes on St. Catherine.  Interestingly, this book was her first notable book.  After the success of this one, she went on to write A Recall to Dante, The Catholic Literary Revival, St. Brigid of Ireland, and The Irish Story.

"Saint Catherine of Siena" is an easy and inspiring read.  As a Dominican Tertiary, I am well acquainted with the life of St. Dominic.  But St. Catherine, who was a Dominican tertiary herself, is the patroness of the Third Order today.  Yet, I did not truly know her life's story.

What Ms. Curtayne has done is summarize the wonderful effect of her life.  Despite all of her struggles, she had a way of bringing many souls back to Christ.  The book describes the band of followers who assisted her in her mission of writing letters and defending the Church in the midst of the Avignon Papacy.  I had previously heard of St. Catherine's role in bringing the Pope back from Avignon to Rome but I had no idea the drama and tumult that centered around the Avignon Papacy.  I also had no idea of the depth of her involvement and the amount of time, effort, suffering, and prayers it took for to help the Holy Father return to Rome.

The book also describes her life's work of promoting the interests of the Church in the calling for a Crusade (which she never saw happen), her role in bringing peace to Tuscany and Italy after a Revolution of sorts against the Church, her relationship with the Popes of the time, and finally her efforts to defend Urban VI after the Western Schism occurred and the anti-Pope Clement VII was elected.  I had no idea of the magnitude of these events and how it seemed that all hope had been lost for Christendom.  Yet, the Church prevailed and she did not sink from the attacks from without and within her ranks.  It was inspiring to read this book during this trying time with modernism reigning throughout the Eternal City.  It's also inspiring to think that despite many seemingly earthly failures, she nevertheless did so much for souls.

Ms. Curtayne really brings the personality and devotion of St. Catherine to Christ Crucified to life.  St. Catherine was a prolific writer (who dictated her correspondence but who nevertheless determined what was said), and Ms. Curtayne's book quotes these letters extensively.  The book is a wonderful tapestry of the letters of St. Catherine supplemented and explained with stories of her follower's lives and commentary on the Church at the time.

I'm happy to recommend this book to anyone looking for a book on the life and the writings of St. Catherine

Truly, if she could have done so much in only 33 years of life, we need to ask ourselves if we are truly doing enough each day and doing that which the Holy Ghost wishes us to do for the honor of God and the good of souls. 

St. Catherine, pray for us!

The Body of St. Catherine under the main altar at Santa Maria Minerva in Rome.  The photo was taken during my April 2016 visit to the Eternal City.


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