SAINT CATHERINE OF GENOA
Treatise on Purgatory
Saint Catherine of Genoa was born in the Vicolo del Filo in that city, in 1447. She was of the great Guelph family of Fiesca, being the daughter of Giacomo Fiesca, at one time Viceroy of Naples, and granddaughter of Roberto Fiesca, whose brother was Pope Innocent IV. Another Fiesca was Pope Adrian V; for this family gave several princes to the Church and many bold and skillful warriors and statesmen to the state. The saint’s mother, Francesca de Negro, was likewise of aristocratic birth.
Catherine, who was one of five children, was brought up piously. Her earliest biography, written by the priest Cattaneo Marabotto, who was her confessor in her latter years, and by her friend Ettore Vernazza, relates that her penances were remarkable from the time she was eight, and that she received the gift of prayer in her thirteenth year. When she was thirteen she declared to her confessor her wish to enter the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Genoa, a house of Augustinian Canonesses of the Lateran in which her elder sister Limbania had already taken the veil. He pointed out to her that she was still very young and that the life of a religious was hard, but she met his objections with a “prudence and zeal” which seemed to him “not human but supernatural and divine “. So he visited the convent of her predilection, to which he was confessor, and urged the mothers to accept her as a novice. But they were obdurate against transgressing their custom by receiving so young a girl. Catherine’s disappointment gave her “great pain, but she hoped the Lord Almighty would not forsake her.”
She grew up to be very lovely: “taller than most women, her head well proportioned, her face rather long but singularly beautiful and well shaped, her complexion fair and in the flower of her youth rubicund, her nose long rather than short, her eyes dark and her forehead high and broad; every part of her body was well formed.” About the time she failed to enter the convent, or a little later, her father died, and his power and possessions passed to her eldest brother Giacomo. Wishing to compose the differences between the factions into which the principal families of Genoa were divided–differences which had long entailed cruel, distracting and wearing strife–Giacomo Fiesca formed the project of marrying his young sister to Giuliano Adorni, son of the head of a powerful Ghibelline family. He obtained his mother’s support for his plan, and found Giuliano willing to accept the beautiful, noble and rich bride proposed to him; as for Catherine