Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510) was an Italian mystic. Born Caterina Fieschi, she was a simple, quiet, intelligent girl and a person of deep piety and prayer. At thirteen she tried to enter the convent but was denied due to her young age. When she was sixteen, her parents prearranged her marriage to Giuliano (Julian) Adorno, a nobleman from the area. They were unsuited for each other, and the marriage was a disaster. Her husband proved to be a scoundrel, making Catherine’s life miserable and leaving her feeling depressed and weary. She tried involving herself in high society, but this attempt left her feeling empty too.

After ten years of marriage, while continuing to pray for divine guidance, she received an answer to her prayers: an inner experience of herself as overwhelmingly loved by God. From this moment on, she found new meaning and purpose for her life. Having exhausted their financial resources through extravagant living, Catherine and Giuliano moved into a simple home. Giuliano underwent his own conversion, and the couple devoted themselves to caring for the sick and suffering, especially in the hospital that Catherine founded in Pammatone. She eventually became the hospital’s director.

While tending to the unwell, Catherine nearly died from the plague in 1493. She spent much time in prayer, where she “experienced the burning flame of God’s presence in her heart.” Balancing the rhythm of action and contemplation, this laywoman practiced a spirituality in the workplace that emanated from her devotion to the infinite God. During the years between 1499 and 1507 Catherine shared her mystical experiences with a group of friends and followers. As mentioned in her works, while most of her life was lived in purgation, the last few years of her life were lived being purified in the depths of her spirit.


From The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, ed. Keith Beasley-Topliff.