Of the parents and ancestors of the blessed Catherine, and how at eight years of age she began to do penance; her gift of prayer, and of her desire to enter into religion, and her marriage against her will.
Catherine was born at Genoa in the year 1447. Her parents, Giacopo Fieschi and Francesca di Negro, daughter of Sigismund, Marquis di Negro, were both of illustrious and noble birth. On account of his merits, her father (a descendant of Robert, brother of Pope Innocent IV, who was uncle of another Pontiff, Adrain V) was created Viceroy of Naples, under King Regnier, in which office he remained until his death.
Although of very noble parentage, and very delicate and beautiful in person, yet from her earliest years, she despised the pride of birth, and abhorred luxury; so that when only about eight years of age, she was inspired with the desire to do penance, and beginning to dislike the soft indulgence of her bed, she laid herself down humbly to sleep on straw, with a block of hard wood under her head, in the place of pillows of down.
She had in her chamber that image of our Lord, which is commonly called “La Pieta,” and whenever she entered there, and raised her eyes to it, a violent pain seized her whole frame, caused by her grief and love at the thought of what our Lord had suffered for love of us.
She led a very simple life, seldom speaking with any one, very obedient to her parents, well skilled in the way of the divine precepts, and zealous in the practice of the virtues.
At the age of twelve, God in his grace bestowed on her the gift of prayer, and a wonderful communion with our Lord, which enkindled within her a new flame of deep love, together with a lively sense of the sufferings he endured in his holy passion, with many other good inclinations for the things of God.
At the age of thirteen, she was inspired with a desire for the religious life, and immediately communicated this inspiration to her spiritual father, who was also confessor to the devout convent of our Lady of Grace, in which she desired to become a nun, together with her pious sister Limbania. She earnestly begged the Father to make known her holy desire to the superiors of the convent above mentioned, and urge that they would deign to receive her into their company. When this prudent, spiritual father saw and heard such love for religion in one of so tender and delicate age, he began to represent to her the austerities of the religious life; the innumerable temptations of the enemy; the delicacy of her body, and many other things, to all of which Catherine answered with so much prudence and zeal, that the father was astonished, for her replies did not appear to him human, but supernatural and divine; and he therefore promised her that he would lay the matter before the superiors, which he did on the following day, at the same time communicating to them the prudent, remarkable answers of his spiritual daughter to his disclosures concerning the temptations and austerities of the religious life. After taking his proposal into deliberate consideration the superiors of the convent replied, that they were not accustomed to receive among them girls of so tender an age. To this the Father made answer that judgment and devotion not only supplied the want of age, but were better than years; still, they judged it inexpedient to receive her as it was contrary to their custom, which decision greatly afflicted the young girl who still trusted that Almighty God would not abandon her.
At the age of sixteen, she was married by her parents to a young Genoese of noble family, named, Giuliano Adorno; and although this step was contrary to her wishes, yet her great simplicity, submission, and reverence for her parents gave her patience to endure it.
But God, who in his goodness would not leave his chosen one to place her affections on the world and the flesh, permitted a husband to be given her entirely the opposite of herself in his mode of life, who caused her so much suffering, that for ten years, she could hardly support life, and by his imprudence she was at length reduced to poverty.
The last five of these ten years she devoted to external affairs, and feminine amusements, seeking solace for her hard life, as women are prone to do, in the diversions and vanities of the world, yet not to a sinful extent; and she did this, because, during the five first years, she suffered inconsolably from sadness; this was constantly increased by the opposition of her husband’s disposition to her own, which distressed her so much, that one day, (it was the vigil of St Benedict), having gone into the church of that saint, in her grief she exclaimed: “Pray to God for me, Oh, St Benedict, that for three months he may keep me sick in bed.” This she said almost in desperation, not knowing what to do, so great was her distress of mind; for during the three months before her conversion she was overwhelmed with mental suffering, and filled with deep disgust for all things belonging to the world; wherefore, she shunned the society of every one. She was oppressed with a melancholy quite insupportable to herself, and took no interest in anything.
But after these ten years she was called by God and converted in a marvelous manner, as will appear hereafter.
From the book Life and Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa written by herself.