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Dominican Saints 101: Bl. Raymund of Capua

Among the many saintly Masters of the Order, Bl. Raymund of Capua (1330-1399, feast – Oct. 5) holds a special place. Not only was he tasked to be the spiritual director of St. Catherine of Siena, but he was also elected Master of the Order in a time when the Church was suffering through the Great Schism, and the Order was going through its own trials as it stood on the verge of rupture.

Bl. Raymund of Capua, Church of San Domenico, Siena

While still a young priest, Bl. Raymund came to Siena to be the lector of the Dominican priory in that city. Soon after,  he met St. Catherine who heard these words while assisting at one of his masses:

This is my beloved servant; this is he to whom I will give thee.

Siena, at the time, was in the midst of the Black Plague. St. Catherine and Bl. Raymund both worked tirelessly to aid the sick, and eventually Bl. Raymund  contracted the plague. Yet, thanks to the intercession of St. Catherine, he was miraculously healed.

A few years later, Bl. Raymund was called to Rome, and with St. Catherine, he labored for the restoration of the Church to be one fold. At the time, the Great Schism had just erupted, and Bl. Raymund was asked by the Holy Father to try and reconcile the Church. After being prevented from discussing the matter with King Charles V, Bl. Raymund was asked to preach against the schismatics in Genoa. It was at this time that he learned of the death of St. Catherine.

This experience of trying to reconcile the Church proved to be incredibly important for Bl. Raymund who, only weeks after St. Catherine’s death, was elected Master of the Order. Not only had the Church been suffering through a schism, but the Order too was undergoing is own divisive period. Bl. Raymund strove to unite the two factions in the Order, and with the help of holy friars, such as Bl. John Dominici, he was able to reestablish the regular observance in the Order and restore peace and concord. For this, he was referred to as the “Second Founder” of the Order. Thanks to Bl. Raymund, the Dominican Order never split.

O God, who wouldst have Blessed Raymund, thy confessor, to be a distinguished master of evangelical perfection and a faithful supporter of the Apostolic authority, graciously grant, that, living after his example on earth, we may deserve to be crowned with him in heaven.  Through Christ our Lord.

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Dominican Saints 101: Bl. Catherine of Racconigi

Just as the Carmelites have their many famous Teresas so too do the Dominicans have their Catherines: St. Catherine of Alexandria (by adoption as patroness of the Order), St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine de Ricci, Bl. Catherine Jarrige, and Bl. Catherine of Racconigi (1486-1547, feast – September 4). Most of these Catherine’s were espoused to the Lord. Many of them received crowns of thorns. They all showed the greatness of God’s grace to draw hearts close to Him.

Tomb of the incorrupt body of Bl. Catherine, with the words Jesus spes mea on the pillow under her body

Aside from being espoused to the Lord at the age of five and aside from receiving the stigmata and a crown of thorns, Bl. Catherine of Racconigi is a prime example of Christ drawing hearts close to Him. Several times the Lord appeared to her and took her heart so that He might cleanse and beautify it. Moreover, as the tradition holds, the words Jesu, spes mea–“Jesus, my hope!”–were inscribed on her heart in letters of gold.

Christ loves His virgin brides. The tokens that He has given them, especially to the saintly Dominicans cloistered nuns and active sisters, shows that He desires nothing but union with souls. Sometimes this means sharing in the hardships of His Passion. For Bl. Catherine, this meant a life of destitute poverty, abandonment by many friends at death, and even the challenge of being deprived of her confessor before she died. Yet, through it all, her Hope–Christ the Lord, drew her to Himself, where she is now in perfect happiness in heaven.

O Lord, our Hope, who didst enrich with an abundance of celestial gifts the heart of Blessed Catherine, already filled with Thee, grant, through the intercession of that glorious Virgin, that He may be wholly fastened to our hearts, who for our sakes was wholly fastened to the cross, Christ our Lord. Amen.


Stumbling Blocks to Wisdom: Overcoming Obstacles to Belief with St. Catherine of Siena and St. Rose of Lima

In the two videos below, Brs. Joachim Kenney, O.P. and Raymund Snyder, O.P., wrap-up their series on how the wisdom of the Dominican saints can be used to respond to some of the contemporary problems associated with belief in God.  Using the lives and writings of eight of the greatest saints of the Order of Preachers, the brothers address topics such as the meaning of life, the nature of the soul, the power of prayer, and the relationship between faith and science.  In these two lectures, the brothers present the following topics: Does Prayer Work? St. Catherine the Intercessor and How could a Good God Allow Evil? St. Rose of Lima and the Cross.

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Dominican Saints 101: Bl. Osanna of Mantua

Sacred Heart of Jesus with Sts. Catherine of Siena and Margaret Mary Alacoque

The revelation of the heart of Jesus goes back to before St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Christ revealed His heart to St. Catherine of Siena. He also revealed it to Bl. Osanna of Mantua (1449-1505, feast – June 18).

Bl. Osanna had a profound relationship with Christ. When she was only six, He appeared to her as a child wearing His crown of thorns and carrying His cross. Because of this vision, she consecrated her whole life to following Christ, and He guided her all along the way, often giving her great consolations. Yet, she wasn’t satisfied, and so she pleaded with Him:

O my only Love! Must the thorns then be for Thee alone; for Thee alone the nails and the cross; and for me sweetness and consolation? Ah! not so. I will not share Thy glory unless Thou make me also share Thy pains.

After two years of pleading, the Lord gave her a crown of thorns and then the stigmata, first in her head, then her side, and finally her feet.

Nevertheless, Bl. Osanna desired to be even more conformed to Christ. She desired to share the sufferings that took place in the heart of Jesus.  One day, Christ answered her prayed and plunged a large nail into her heart, which divided her heart into four parts.  The agony of this would have consumed her if it had not been for the grace of God holding her in His love. For the rest of her life, she continued to suffer from these wounds of love.

Her death was prophesied by another contemporary Dominican, Bl. Columba of Rieti, and her body was found to be incorrupt three years after her death.

Graciously hear us, O God our Savior, that, as we rejoice in celebrating the memory of Blessed Osanna Thy Virgin, we may be instructed likewise in all feelings of tender devotion.  Through Christ our Lord.

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Dominican Saints 101: Bl. John Dominici

Bl. John Dominici (1350-1420, feast – June 10) owes a lot to St. Catherine of Siena.  Throughout his life, her intercession and her example assisted him on his path to sanctity.

As a child, Bl. John has a speech impediment and was refused entrance to the Dominican Order because of it.  After a second try, he was admitted to the Order.  Desiring to be faithful to the Order’s charism, he prayed to St. Catherine of Siena, and his speech impediment was removed.  He became such a good preacher, that even St. Vincent Ferrer turned down a request to preach in Florence because he said that the city already had a great preacher in Bl. John.

St. Catherine’s example also affected Bl. John greatly.  St. Catherine had attempted to bring about reform both in the Dominican Order and in the Church, and Bl. John followed her example in both of these ways.  He came to know her spiritual sons and was even assigned by Bl. Raymund of Capua, her confessor, to be Vicar Provincial of the Roman Province.  Afterward, Bl. John became prior of the reform house in Fiesole, where he helped to form St. Antoninus and Bl. Fra Angelico.

Most importantly though, Bl. John sought to end the Great Schism in the Western Church.  Like St. Catherine and St. Vincent Ferrer, he sought to bring about an end to the anti-popes and the restoration of the papacy.  Going to the Council of Constance, he convinced Pope John XXIII to resign on the condition that Pope Gregory XII (who had made Bl. John a cardinal) would also resign.  Pope John agreed, and Bl. John showed him Gregory’s resignation, which he had been holding the whole time.  Pope Benedict XIII was then deposed, and Martin V was elected by the Council as the true Pope.

Bl. John Dominici lived at a time crucial both to the history of the Dominican Order and also to the Church.  May his example lead us also to give ourselves over to the service of supporting the Church, the papacy, and the Dominican Order.

O God, giver of love, you strengthened the blessed confessor and bishop, John, to keep the church’s unity and renew regular discipline; grant us, through his prayers, to be of the same mind with him and to act like him in Christ Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with you.

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Mary in the Life and Thought of St. Catherine of Siena

In her Dialogues, the Sienese Dominican St. Catherine of Siena, is famous for her deep mystical relation with Jesus Christ.  Much of her spirituality revolves around that intimate rapport that a life of prayer can bring.  Her great metaphor–the Bridge of Christ–re-casts the body of Christ as a great medieval bridge, beginning at his feet, resting in his heart, and hearing the truth from his very mouth.  And it is through Christ–the way, the truth, and the life–that one may enter into the eternal life of love that is the Holy Trinity.

But, what about the role of Mary in St. Catherine’s spiritual writings and teachings?  Certainly, as a Dominican she would have absorbed the great piety the Order had for the Mother of God.  But how does this manifest in her writings?  In his article, “Mary in the Life and Thought of St. Catherine of Siena“, Fr. Vincent Wiseman, OP, the former Student Master of the Province of St. Joseph and currently a missionary in East Africa, attempts to answer that very question.  Fr. Wiseman begins his treatment in this way:

“In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and of gentle Mary.”  With these words, Catherine begins her book, Il Dialogo, as well as all but a few of her three hundred eighty-two letters, indicating the close link that Catherine makes between gentle Mary and her crucified Son. Catherine’s birth on March 25 in 1347, a year in which the customary date of the Annunciation coincided with Palm Sunday, might seem to have anticipated the close relationship Catherine would draw between Mary and the Redemption. For Catherine, Mary is not a passive or peripheral figure to the story of salvation but one who is vitally involved in its decisive moments.

As has been seen, Catherine, unlike a number of medieval authors, emphasizes the Incarnation as the beginning of the redemption. Thus, she writes:

This Word was engrafted in her flesh, this blessed and sweet field of Mary, as the seed that is cast on the earth. Through the warmth of the sun, it germinates and draws out the flower and the fruit and the shell remains on the earth. So, truly, [it was] through the warmth and the fire of divine charity which God had for the human race, casting the seed of His Word in the field of Mary. O blessed and sweet Mary, you have given us the flower of the sweet Jesus! And when did this blessed flower produce the fruit? When He was grafted on the wood of the most holy cross. Then we received perfect life. [Letter 144]

For St. Catherine, Mary plays no mere passive role in the incarnation of her son.  As the Word was given to Mary, so Mary gives the Word to the world in bearing her Son.  Mary is united to Christ in his work of salvation, and so is united to us as that same salvation is worked in us.

To read the rest of Fr. Wiseman’s article, click here: “Mary in the Life and Thought of Catherine of Siena

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St. Catherine of Siena Church Celebrates Healthcare Workers

On April 30th, the traditional feast day of its namesake, the Dominican parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Manhattan honored three individuals with the St. Catherine of Siena award, for their activity in health care work and ministry.

The St. Catherine of Siena award is given typically given to an ecclesial leader, or a local doctor or chaplain for his work in healthcare ministry. The award was given to His Eminence, Donald Cardinald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, Sr. Elaine of the Congregation of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Br. Ignatius Perkins, O.P., upon the establishment of the St. Catherine of Siena chair in Catholic health care ethics at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception (PFIC) in Washington DC.

Dr. John F. Brehany, Ph.D., STL, of the Catholic Medical Association, stated that the “Dominicans really want to provide more and better education than ever to their own friars, so that they can bring Catholic wisdom to bear on people who teach about and those who provide and support Catholic health care.”

Rev. Jordan J. Kelly, pastor of St. Catherine’s church, explained that  “regardless of one’s political affiliation, we can readily observe that matters relating to medical care and life issues will impact each one of us now and in the future.”

Most Rev. Steven Boguslawski, O.P., president of the PFIC in Washington, explained that  “the friar must provide the immediate pastoral care that brings sacramental and personal solace – the cura animarum [care of souls] –  while simultaneously guiding patients and caregivers about moral and ethical obligation arising from the faith during their treatment.”


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Dominican Saints 101: St. Catherine of Siena

Trying to sum up St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380, feast – April 29, patron saint of many things but particularly of Europe and the sick) is a daunting task.  She was the recipient of an invisible stigmata, she convinced the Pope to return from Avignon to Rome, and she is one of the three female Doctors of the Church.  Each of these could merit its own post as they all reveal something special about Catherine.  Yet, I think that there are two things that come to mind, and which are related, that help us to understand Catherine better: being espoused to Christ and being an intercessor for men.

In his biography of St. Catherine, Bl. Raymund of Capua (her spiritual director) shows the clear connection between these two ideas.  He wrote this:

The Virgin Mother of God took in her own all-holy hand Catherine’s right hand, spread out its fingers, and held them towards her Son; then she petitioned him, in his goodness, to espouse Catherine to him in faith.  The only-begotten Son of God most graciously consented.  He drew out a gold ring set with four pearls and surmounted by a splendid diamond.  With his all-holy right hand he placed it on the ring-finger of Catherine’s right hand, saying as he did so: ‘Behold, I espouse you in faith to me, your Creator and your Savior.  That faith will be ever kept untarnished until the day when you will celebrate with me the everlasting wedding-feast in heaven.  So now, daughter, do manfully.  From now on you must never falter about accepting any task my providence may lay upon your shoulders.  Remember, you have been confirmed in faith, and will prevail over all your enemies.’ (The Life of Catherine of Siena, part 1, ch. 12, para. 115)

Christ, then, joins Catherine to Himself in a mystical espousal so as to aid her in her task of persevering through any challenges that will befall her.

Behind this is the idea of charity.  It’s more natural to want to provide for the request of someone you love than for an enemy.  When Christ espouses Catherine to Himself, He joins her in such a way that this mutual giving and receiving can more fruitfully take place.  Christ asks a lot from Catherine in her life, and she is faithful to Him.  Likewise, Catherine asks a lot from Christ, and He too is faithful.  Miracle after miracle, Catherine turns to Christ and asks Him to assist those whom He has brought into her life.  Whether it’s pleading with criminals, assisting those at the hour of death, or healing the sick, Catherine’s love for Christ and His love for her bring about numerous miracles.  Thus, her intercession for men, founded on her espousal to Christ, brings about the healings of bodies and souls.

May Catherine’s intercession likewise lead Christ to heal our souls.

O God, you enabled the blessed Catherine, graced with a special privilege of virginity and patience, to overcome the attacks of evil spirits and to remain unshaken in your love; grant, we beseech you, that following her example by treading underfoot the wickedness of the world, and overcoming the wiles of our enemies, we may pass in safety to your glory.  Through Christ our Lord.