Parish Mystics Course – September/October 2013


Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)   Catherine who was the twenty-fifth child of a wool dyer in northern Italy started having mystical experiences when she was only six seeing guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected.  She became a Dominican tertiary when she was sixteen and continued to have visions of Christ, Mary and the saints. Although she had no formal education, Catherine was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day.  She died when only 33 and her body was found incorrupt in 1430.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)   Teresa had no degree and little formal education in theology.  She was a great reformer of the Carmelite order and had a range of mystical experiences one of which was an extraordinary experience where she felt as if her soul was being repeatedly touched with a gold tipped arrow.  Teresa discovered that Christ was dwelling in the depth of her soul.  She called this ‘a castle’.  Teresa felt grounded in Christ and felt safe and at peace there.  Her reflections and explanations on her own mystical experience earned her the ecclesiastical title “Doctor of the Church”.

John of the Cross (1542-1591)   John was a major figure of the Counter-Reformation, a Spanish mystic, a Roman Catholic saint and a Carmelite friar.  He is also known for his experiences of the ever-near, yet ever-elusive God expressed in his writings.  Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of Spanish literature. John believed that within each human being there are three great caverns that are infinitely deep: the intellect, the will, and feeling. Our intellect wants to know about everything.  Our will longs for infinite goodness.  Our feelings have an infinite longing for God. He speaks of the dark night of the senses, in which we let go of attachment to sensible things and the dark night of the soul, where we let go of attachment to the concepts of the mind.  John of the Cross was canonised in 1726.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) Dietrich was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, dissident anti-Nazi, spiritual writer, musician, founding member of the Confessing Church and the author of both fiction and poetry.  The integrity of his Christian faith and life has received broad recognition and admiration.  His book, The Cost of Discipleship, is considered widely influential and a modern classic.  His beliefs and convictions cost him his life in a Nazi concentration camp.


Dorothy Day (1897-1980) Born in California, Dorothy was a woman of contradictions, an American journalist, social activist, politically radical, theologically conservative and a devout Catholic convert.  She advocated the Catholic economic theory of distribution.  In 1932 Dorothy with Peter Maurin intending to found a newspaper, The Catholic Worker, ended up starting a movement with the dream of building a world rooted upon Matthew Chapter 25, “a world where it would be easier to be good”.  The most important monuments to her are the centres which today provide places of welcome for many who have been treated as throwaways and groups who work for a non-violent sharing society.


Pedro Arrupe (1907-1991)   Pedro was born in Spain and undertook medical training before entering the Jesuits in 1927.  The Republican Government expelled the Jesuits in 1932 and Arrupe continued his studies in Belgium, Holland and the United States. He was ordained and sent to Japan in 1938. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour he was arrested on suspicion of espionage and suffered solitary confinement.  Here he experienced a special moment of grace.  After being released he moved to Nagasaki on the outskirts of Hiroshima where he witnessed the consequences of the atom bomb.  He became 25th Superior general of the Society of Jesus.