by Joel V. Ocampo
On November 25, the Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr. She lived in the 4th Century in Alexandria, Egypt. She is one of the most popular early Christian martyrs and one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. She is the patron saint of philosophers, students, teachers, unmarried girls, young women, as well as apologists.
The Life of Saint Catherine
Most of the existing records and books on the lives of the saints state that Saint Catherine belongs to a noble family. As a young woman, she was an extremely learned person. During her time, the Roman Emperor Maxentius violently persecuted the Christians. Thus, Catherine protested about this, presented herself to the emperor, upbraided him for his cruelty and strived to prove how morally wrong was the worship of false gods. Amazed of Catherine’s audacity, the emperor summoned his numerous scholars and commanded them to debate with Catherine in order for her to renounce her religious belief. However, several of her adversaries, even the empress herself who was smitten by Catherine’s eloquence, together with the head of the troops and his group visited Catherine in the dungeon. They yielded to Catherine’s exhortations, believed and were baptized, and eventually won for them the martyr’s crown in defiance to the emperor.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria images of Arayat (left) and Porac (right) Churches in Pampanga.
Emperor Maxentius made a final attempt to persuade Catherine to abandon her faith by proposing marriage to her. Catherine refused, saying she was married to Jesus Christ and that her virginity was dedicated to him. Thus, she was condemned to be executed on a breaking wheel. The breaking wheel is an ancient form of torture where a person's limbs are threaded among the spokes and their bones are shattered by an executioner with a heavy rod. It is a brutal punishment that results in a slow and painful death, normally reserved for the worst criminals. As she was led to her execution, Catherine touched the wheel and it shattered. The emperor then had her beheaded. (It was Maxentius who had Catherine beheaded but in Catholic iconography, it’s Catherine who triumphantly stands beside Maxentius’ head.) After her death, angels carried Catherine’s body to Mt. Sinai where a monastery, now a favorite place of pilgrimage, exists. The monastery was built in her honor.
Saint Catherine’s Intercessions
According to one of my spiritual fathers, who is also a member of the Priestly Fraternities of St. Dominic, “Saint Catherine’s intercessions is sought by theologians, apologists and philosophers before writing or preaching, to illumine their minds, guide their pens and impart eloquence in words. She is also the patron of philosophers because of the wisdom and reasoning with which she spoke in defense of the faith. Aptly, this is the main reason the Dominican Order has chosen her as its co-patroness. With her gift in the sciences, of theology, and philosophy, she became the co-patroness of the Order of Preachers.”
He also recalled that Sacred Tradition has it that Saint Catherine appeared twice in visions during the early days of the Order, plus again in the 16th Century. She was one of the Virgins, along with St. Cecilia who accompanied the Blessed Virgin Mary when she gave Blessed Reginald the scapular. She also accompanied the Blessed Virgin in the vision in which St. Dominic saw the Virgin Mary sprinkling the brethren while they slept. Lastly, she again accompanied the Blessed Virgin, along with St. Mary Magdalene (co-patroness of the Order), in preparation for the painting of the miraculous image of St. Dominic in Soriano.
The painting of the miraculous image of St. Dominic in Soriano
He concluded saying, “It might seem that not only has the Dominican Order chosen her as patroness, but you might even be able to say that she herself has chosen to watch over the Friars Preachers in a special way.”
St. Catherine and St. Dominic
In one of his homilies, another Dominican Priest and exorcist-priest, Rev. Fr. Ervin Ray S. Garcia, OP, narrated how St. Catherine of Alexandria became one of the patronesses of the Order of Preachers.
Once, when St. Dominic was passing the night at the church in prayer, about midnight, he went out and entered the dormitory. After checking on his brethren, he resumed his prayer at the entrance of the dormitory. While standing erect as he prayed, he chanced to glance to the other end of the dormitory where he saw three very comely ladies advancing towards him, of whom the central figure seemed to be a lady more dignified and of a higher rank than the others. One of the two attendants carried a beautiful and resplendent vessel of holy water, and the other a sprinkler, which she presented to the third who walked between them. This one sprinkled the brethren and blessed them, but as she passed along doing so, there was one friar whom she neither blessed nor sprinkled. St. Dominic observed this attentively, and noting whom it was, followed the lady as far as the lamp which hung in the middle of the dormitory: there he threw himself at her feet and began earnestly to beg her to say who she was, although he knew very well all the while. Now at that time the beautiful and devout anthem, the Salve Regina was not sung in the convents of our brethren and sisters in Rome, but merely said kneeling. Then the lady addresses Dominic and said: ‘I am she whom you greet every evening, when you say “Turn then our Advocate,” I prostrate myself before my Son for the preservation of this Order.’ St. Dominic then enquired who her companions might be, whereunto she made answer: ‘One of them is Cecilia and the other is Catherine of Alexandria.’ Upon this, St. Dominic made further enquiry touching the brother whom she had passed by, and why she had neither sprinkled nor blest him with the rest: at this she answered: ‘Simply because he was unworthy of it.’ Then she resumed sprinkling and blessing the remaining friars, and went away.” (Lives of the Brethren, part 3, ch. 7).
Saint Catherine and the Filipino People
Finally, Saint Catherine of Alexandria also played a big role in the formation of various Catholic communities in the Philippines. At least fourteen parishes in the country were placed under her patronage. Among these is the Saint Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Agno, Pangasinan. Another in the Municipalities of Porac and Arayat, Pampanga. There are also Saint Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Carcar, Cebu; Gerona, Tarlac; Glan, Sarangani; Luna, La Union; Mambusao, Capiz; Tayum, Abra (damaged by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on July 27, 2022); Bagac, Bataan, the Saint Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral Parish, also known as Dumaguete Cathedral in Negros Oriental, and many other parishes and chapels named after this beloved saint.
The arrival and solemn enshrinement of the bone relic of Saint Catherine of Alexandria at the Parish Church of Porac, Pampanga on October 28, 2017.
Prayer to St. Catherine of Alexandria
Glorious St. Catherine, virgin and martyr, help me to imitate your love of purity. Give me strength and courage in fighting off the temptations of the world and evil desires. Help me to love God with my whole heart and serve Him faithfully. O St. Catherine, through your glorious martyrdom for the love of Christ, help me to be loyal to my faith and my God as long as I live. Amen.
Retablo images of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in Bagac, Bataan (left) and Porac, Pampanga (right).
Special thanks to Rev. Fr. Ervin Ray S. Garcia, OP, for providing information about the role of St. Catherine of Alexandria in the Dominican Order.
Photos credit to:
Fra Dennis Duene Ruiz
St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish - Porac Church
Sta. Catalina de Alexandria Parish, Arayat, Pampanga
St. Catherine of Alexandria Shrine, Bagac, Bataan