The Saint Who Saved the Church from Schism—Or Died Trying

Ezekiel 22:30 tells us of God’s search for a single man who would stand in the breach of the wall—someone to stand between the Lord and his destruction of Jerusalem, which had become morally and spiritually dilapidated. None was found.

But Church history offers us up examples of saints who stood in the breach, so to speak—saints who seemed to be all that there was that stood between the Church and spiritual disaster. One of the best examples of this is St. Catherine of Siena. It’s no exaggeration to say that her labors to end the Western Schism—in which the Catholic world was torn between two popes between the late 1300s and early 1400s—sent her to her deathbed. At one point, while praying for the divided Church, St. Catherine felt as if the entire bark of St. Peter— a term for the Church—was resting on her shoulders as she was praying at his grave. Here is how one of her biographers describes it:

She kneels there, a little, thin, white-robed figure; the two great black eyes are burning, the deadly pale face is luminous, the delicate lips of the slightly protruding mouth move softly in prayer, like leaves quivering in a slight puff of wind. The tiny folding hands are like the motionless flame of a candle upon the altar; her whole figure is white and luminous and aflame like a blessed candle. Her women friends are kneeling by her side; they are praying too, but always watching anxiously over their beloved spiritual mother, la dolce venerabile Mamma. Suddenly they see her collapse, as if crushed beneath a burden that is too heavy, see her sink into herself like a building tumbling into ruins. They try to raise her up, but it is almost impossible, she has become like one palsied, for Jesus has laid la Navicella upon her slight, weak girl’s shoulders, laid upon them the whole ship of the Church with all the sins that it has on board.

That was in January 1380. Three months later, St. Catherine was dead.

In a secular world, how can we, in own ways, small or great, be men (or women) who stand in the breach?


Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on and A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at

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