St. Catherine of Alexandria
St. Catherine of Alexandria is patron saint of students of philosophy because she went toe-to-toe with the greatest minds of her age, and converted them to Christianity—and she was only 18 years old!
Very little of her life is known with certainty. The story that has been handed down to us tells us that she was from a well-to-do family in Alexandria, and dedicated her life to education. Her studies led her to consider the truth about Christianity, and when she received a vision of Mary holding the child Jesus, she converted to the faith.
When the emperor Maxentius began persecuting Christians, Catherine visited him and rebuked his decision, even though she was just a teenager.
Maxentius could not answer Catherine’s arguments, so he gathered 50 learned philosophers to oppose her. When her reasoning converted them, Maxentius was enraged. He tried to seduce her and make her part of his court, but she refused and was beaten and imprisoned.
She continued to convert people who came to visit her in prison, including the emperor’s wife, and so Catherine was condemned to die upon a spiked wheel. When she was placed upon it, her hands were miraculously freed and the wheel shattered. She was then beheaded.
She is often depicted with the broken wheel, as in this portrait that hangs in the Snite Museum of Art. This copper relief from the chapel in the Fischer-O’Hara Grace graduate student housing complex shows Catherine with her wheel as well. Her relics rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica.
When Joan of Arc received messages from heaven, it was Catherine’s voice that she heard. St. Catherine of Alexandria is patron saint of philosophers, preachers, female students, and those who work with wheels or mills.
St. Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of female students and Christian philosophers, pray for us!
Bernardino Luini (Italian, ca. 1480-ca. 1532), St. Catherine of Alexandria, late 15th/early 16th century, oil on panel. Snite Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Fred J. Fisher, 1951.004.004.