Catherine of Siena: A Passionate Life

Written by Don Brophy
Review by Susan Cook

I have long been intrigued by what little I know of Catherine of Siena, one of only three women Doctors of the Church (the others, by the way, are Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux). In this new biography, aimed at a general audience, Don Brophy more than sated my curiosity.

Catherine presents an enigma to our post-medieval minds. We applaud the young dyer’s daughter who rebukes popes, acts as a peace envoy for families and states, and preaches with confidence to crowds of noblemen and commoners alike. Yet we shift uneasily at the mention of the ecstatic mystic who starves and tortures herself, burning herself out for God like her compatriot, Saint Francis of Assisi. Brophy does an excellent job of bridging this cultural gap between the 14th and 21st centuries, presenting Catherine in the context of her times, and often through her own words (she was a voluminous letter-writer). His biography left me infected with a little of Catherine’s own fire and eager to explore her writings.

Recommended for those interested in the young saint, or the lives of the great medieval mystics.