St. Catherine of Siena: A Saint among Us

May 4, 2018

by Laurie Jasper

For a few hours on Sunday, a little bit of imagination was all it took to transport the crowd at Saint Kathryn Parish from present-day Hudson to 14th-century Italy; imagination, plus the dynamic portrayal of Saint Catherine of Siena by Sister Nancy Murray, O.P. Sister Nancy has brought her one-woman performance, “Catherine of Siena: A Woman for Our Times,” to 40 states and over 17 countries. A member of the Adrian Dominicans of Michigan, Sister Nancy comes from a large acting family; one of her younger brothers is actor Bill Murray.

Sister Nancy’s appearance coincided with the actual Feast Day of Saint Catherine of Siena, who was born Caterina Benincasa in Siena in 1347, the youngest of 24 children. She died on April 29, 1380, at 33 years old. Saint Kathryn Parish was named for Saint Catherine of Siena, but the spelling was changed. “I don’t care how they spell it, it’s okay by me. If it connects people to the lifetime of a Saint, it’s okay,” said the ancient visitor to the audience, complete with an Italian accent. Catherine explained that she devoted herself to God and joined the Third Order of Saint Dominic as a lay member at an early age, despite her parents’ objections.

Interacting with audience members helped Catherine set the various scenes. Since women did not receive formal education, Catherine, known for her holiness and wisdom, dictated letters to men who wrote them down. Over 400 of these letters remain. She did learn to write toward the end of her life.

Sister Nancy shared the message of Catherine, reminding everyone to love Christ above all and to love their neighbor. She also proclaimed one of Catherine’s most familiar quotes: “Be who you are meant to be, and you will set the world ablaze.” Catherine is credited with returning unity to the Catholic Church by convincing Pope Gregory XI to return the Papacy to Italy from Avignon, France. Saint Catherine is named a Doctor of the Church, one of only four women.

“We were so pleased to welcome Sister Nancy Murray, O.P. to Saint Kathryn’s,” said the Reverend Joseph Cooper, Saint Kathryn Parish pastor. “Her presentation not only gave us an insight into the ‘biography’ of Saint Catherine, but introduced us to the woman, the mystic, the saint. We were blessed beyond measure to come to meet Saint Catherine through Sister Nancy and to encounter her in a new way. It was a great blessing to us to actually ‘meet’ Saint Catherine, to hear her words, and to experience her joy and enthusiasm.”

To show appreciation to Sister Nancy, Father Joe presented a special Jubilee Rosary to her as a remembrance of her time at Saint Kathryn’s.

The performance was part of year-long parish preparations for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Saint Kathryn Parish (Oct. 4, 1968). Bishop Peter Libasci will celebrate the opening of the Jubilee Year at a 4 p.m. mass on Oct. 6. For more information on upcoming events, visit www.stkathryns.org.