St. Catherine of Alexandria
St. Catherine of Alexandria

If St. Catherine of Alexandria were alive today, she would no doubt be a member of her high school debating team! It was St. Catherine’s great wisdom, knowledge and debating skills that converted many to Christianity, but also led to her martyrdom.

St. Catherine was born in the second century A.D. to a wealthy family in Alexandria, Egypt. She studied science, philosophy and medicine, and was admired for her knowledge and her beauty. She had many suitors, but turned them all away, considering none of them her equal.

She was later introduced to Christianity, and became an ardent, articulate follower of Christ, with whom she fell in love. She would use the extraordinary gifts God had given her to teach others the truth greater than that found in any philosophy or science book – the truth of Jesus Christ.

It is said that as a strong-minded young woman of 18, St. Catherine confronted the anti-Christian emperor Maximinus for his cruelty and to prove the sinfulness of worshiping false gods. Maximinus called in 50 philosophers to debate Catherine’s Christian principles, but instead of proving her wrong, they were converted to the Christian faith and immediately executed by an angry emperor.

Several hundred others were converted as well, including some of the emperor’s guards and members of his family. They were martyred as well.

Maximinus was furious at the outcome of the debate, and worried about the power of the Christian faith.  It is also believed that he had tried to make Catherine his wife or mistress, and was angered when she refused him. Catherine would not forsake her faith, and so Maximinus ordered that she be put to death. 

The emperor tried to have Catherine tortured on a spiked wheel, but the story goes that the wheel miraculously fell apart. Determined she should die, Maximus then had Catherine beheaded.

According to tradition, “Angels bore her body to the highest peak in the Sinai range, where its presence was miraculously revealed to the monks following construction of their fortress monastery. Monks brought the holy relics of the Great Martyr to the sanctuary of the Monastery where they have exuded unearthly fragrance ever since. As a result of the saint’s many miracles, the Monastery of the … Mountain of Sinai gradually became known as St. Catherine’s” (Friends of Mount Sinai Monastery).

For many centuries, Catherine was among the most popular saints in Catholic tradition. She is included among the 14 Holy Helpers whose intercession was believed to be especially helpful, most often when there was a need for healing.  She shares the title with Saints Acacius, Barbara, Blaise, Christopher, Cyriacus, Denis, Erasmus of Formiae, Eustace, George, Giles, Margaret of Antioch, Pantaleon and Vitus.

In 1969, Pope Paul VI issued a revised liturgical calendar for the Church from which many beloved saints were removed, due mostly to the very sparse amount of actual biographical material that remained in existence. St. Catherine was among those saints.

However, after a visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in 2002, John Paul II restored St. Catherine to the Universal Roman Calendar. Her feast day remains on Nov. 25.

This young saint is venerated as the patron saint of students, lawyers, librarians and teachers, and is honored in France as one of the saints whose voices were heard by St. Joan of Arc, another young saint and military leader.

St. Catherine is a model for today’s youth, proving that wisdom, intelligence, knowledge and perseverance are gifts with which even the youngest of Christ’s followers are endowed. St. Catherine used those gifts to stand up for her faith in God and love of Christ, and to bring others to Christ so they could know the joy she knew in being loved by God.

St. Catherine of Alexandria is proof that sanctity does not require a long life or an early death — only a life, whatever its length, lived with and for the Lord.  For young people in today’s world, 19-year-old Catherine shows them that saints can and do look like them.  St. Catherine of Alexandria, pray for the youth of our Diocese and inspire them, like you, to love the Lord.