St. Catherine was born in Siena, Italy, in 1347.  Her twin sister and her were the youngest of twenty five children.  Her father, Giacomo Benincasa, a well-to-do dyer, lived with his wife Lapa, the daughter of a now forgotten poet in a spacious house that has been preserved to this day.  Catherine was a very happy young girl and sometimes on her way up or downstairs she used to kneel on every step to repeat a Hail Mary.  When she was six years old she had a remarkable mystical vision.

When Catherine was twelve, her parents urged her to devote more attention to her personal appearance.  They wanted her to grow up and get married to a handsome, rich man.  But Catherine decided that she would never merry.  When her parents persisted in looking for a husband for her, Catherine cut off her golden-brown hair – her chief beauty.  Catherine’s family was very upset.  She was scolded from morning to night and forced to do all of the menial labor about the house.  Because she was known to love privacy, she was never allowed to be alone, even her little bedroom was taken from her.  But no matter what her family did, they could not break Catherine’s resolve.  Finally her father realized that further opposition was useless. He allowed Catherine to fulfill her greatest desire – to turn away from earthly suitors and pursue God.  In 1361 she took on the habit of a Dominican nun.

After several years spent in seclusion, praying and meditating, Catherine had a vision.  Christ appeared before her and took her hand. He gave her a ring and espoused her to himself. The ring remained visible to her though invisible to others.  This spiritual betrothal marked the end of her years of suffering and preparation.