Blessed Catherine of Racconigi (1487-1540), whose feast day is celebrated on September 4, was a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic (O.P.). Catherine Mattei was born in the Piedmont region of Northwest Italy, in 1487, into an impoverished family. Her father was a locksmith and when he became unemployed, he became depressed and quarrelsome. Her mother a weaver. Catherine and her brother grew up in an atmosphere that was absent the peace of Christ.
At the age of five, Catherine had visions of Jesus, Mary, and other saints, including St. Catherine of Siena. Then as a child her own age, Jesus himself appeared, accompanied by many other saints, including Catherine of Siena, and Peter Martyr, and the Blessed Mother place the ring of espousal on her finger. Like the ring of Saint Catherine of Siena, it was visible to today’s saint but could not be seen by others. Thereafter Catherine had frequent ecstasies and visions. Many miracles would result from her visions: a broken dish was made whole again, and money and food would be provided when the family’s poverty was extreme. Jesus always appeared to her as a man her own age. He talked with her, taught her how to pray, and several times took her heart away to cleanse it. When He appeared with His Cross, she offered to help Him. He let it rest on her should a moment, and it left a wound for the rest of her life. She also received the stigmata, though it too remained invisible to others and, at her request, it was only revealed by her confessor after her death.
In 1499, she saw the Blessed Virgin "dressed in a robe of silver cloth" with a "diamond" on her forehead, accompanied by the Child Jesus. The apparition asked her to give her heart. "I don't know where it is," the little girl replied. "If you find it, I'll give it to you!" The Child Jesus said to her, "I espouse you in faith, hope, and charity." Because her family opposed her becoming a Dominican, she took the habit of a tertiary. Her mystical experiences roused a storm of gossip among her neighbors, who were terrified at the lights and sounds that came from her home. Even the Dominican fathers ostracized her and eventually she was forced out of town and settled in Racconigi.
Throughout these apparitions, Jesus as a child grew along with Catherine, who led a life of penance and expiation. Throughout her life, Catherine was visited by many people seeking spiritual advice and prayers. She was almost continually in ecstasy. The particular object of Catherine’s prayers was the salvation of soldiers dying in battle. Numerous miracles occurred before and after her death, and a cult arose at her tomb almost immediately. Rejected by many, she died in exile in Caramagna, Piedmont. Her gifts were revered by contemporaries, but at the same time envied and persecuted. She died alone. With her death, even her persecutors were aware of her sanctity and retracted their bitter words.
Bl. Catherine of Racconigi is a prime example of Christ drawing hearts close to Him. Several times the Lord appeared to her and took her heart so that He might cleanse and beautify it. In times of trial, she received great consolation from the aspiration, "Jesus, is my only hope!" Moreover, as the tradition holds, the words Jesu, spes mea–“Jesus, my hope!”–were inscribed on her heart in letters of gold. Christ loves His virgin brides. The tokens that He has given them, especially to the saintly Dominicans cloistered nuns and active sisters, shows that He desires nothing but union with souls. Sometimes this means sharing in the hardships of His Passion. For Bl. Catherine, this meant a life of destitute poverty, abandonment by many friends at death, and even the challenge of being deprived of her confessor before she died. Yet, through it all, her Hope–Christ the Lord, drew her to Himself, where she is now in perfect happiness in heaven. A prayer, inspired by Bl. Catherine, emerged; O Lord, our Hope, who didst enrich with an abundance of celestial gifts the heart of Blessed Catherine, already filled with Thee, grant, through the intercession of that glorious Virgin, that He may be wholly fastened to our hearts, who for our sakes was wholly fastened to the cross, Christ our Lord. Amen.
Most of the information regarding Catherine Mattei is derived from a vita written by her friend, John Francis Pico, Prince of Mirandola. Bishop John Juvenal Ancina (d.1604), bishop of Saluces, opened the process for her beatification, which took place in 1810. Pope Pius VII confirmed her holiness and cult in 1810.