Caterina Fieschi was born in Genoa, Italy in 1447 of an extremely prominent Genoese family. Her father, Jacopo, at one time served as the Viceroy of Naples, and two popes also hailed from the Fieschi family – Innocent IV and Adrian V.
Caterina, or Catherine, was an extremely devout and prayerful child, with a special devotion to Christ’s Passion and penitential practices. Quiet, simple and obedient, Catherine wished to enter the convent at the age of thirteen, but was rejected as being too young. Three years later, at the age of sixteen, her parents betrothed her to Giuliano Adorno, a nobleman whose own family was as prominent as the Fieschis. The marriage was troublesome from the outset, as Giuliano proved to be a quick-tempered spendthrift who was often unfaithful to Catherine as well.
After ten years in a difficult marriage that caused Catherine a great deal of pain and sorrow, Catherine’s life changed when she visited her sister, who was a nun in Genoa. When her sister urged Catherine to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation by confessing her sins to the convent chaplain, Catherine had a life-transforming mystical encounter with God – she was touched by Divine Light in such a way that she could visualize with clarity both her own sinfulness as well as the limitless Love of God. The experience was so powerful that Catherine lost consciousness in a state of spiritual ecstasy.
From this profound experience of the Presence of God, there was no turning back. Catherine began to write as she felt moved by the Holy Spirit, and spiritual texts such as Dialogues of the Body and Soul and Treatise on Purgatory were the result. Additionally, she began to spend more and more time cultivating the corporal works of mercy, including much volunteer time at the Hospital of Genoa, where she eventually became both administrator and treasurer. Perhaps inspired by her zeal, her husband Giuliano returned to her and confessed his infidelities, before dying in 1497.
Catherine continued her work with the ill and dying, before she succumbed on September 15, 1510. She was beatified in 1675 vy Pope Clement X, and canonized in 1737 by Pope Clement the V.