The Dominican sister Catherine de Sienne Cottin was a creative and forward-thinking leader of the Roman Congregation of Saint Dominic (CRSD) in Sweden. Through her clarity and vitality she brought about both an internal and external renewal of the order.
Catherine de Sienne Cottin was born in Lyon in 1914, just a few months after the outbreak of the First World War. Her mother was a housewife and her father, who was away on military service during the war, was a stockbroker. After the war her family grew to include two brothers. Catherine de Sienne Cottin completed her education at a school in Lyon run by the Sacré Coeur sisters, graduating from the school in 1932. She then studied the humanities at the Faculté catholique in Lyon where she gained her Licence ès Lettres in 1936. After the collapse of the stock market in 1929 her family fell into economic difficulties. In order to support her family, Catherine de Sienne Cottin already started teaching history and Latin at Cours Belmont in 1933 while she was still studying.
In 1938 Catherine de Sienne Cottin felt certain of her calling to become a Dominican sister and planned to apply to become a novice in the academic year 1938/1939. However, due to the outbreak of the Second World War and the resultant difficulties this caused for her family, she opted to remain in Lyon in order to support her parents and carried on working as a teacher. It was not until 1941 that she made her way to the Dominican sisters training convent in Voreppe, near Grenoble. There she took her temporary vows in 1943. Her training continued in Lourdes, where the sisters ran a small boarding school, and in Pensier near Fribourg in Switzerland.
Catherine de Sienne Cottin’s intellectual talents and spiritual depth soon became apparent. Shortly after she completed her training she was appointed head of novices, tasked with guiding the new sisters in the ways of Dominican convent life and what it entailed in terms of prayer, communal life, studies and promulgation. She was highly treasured in this role and several generations of sisters benefitted of being mentored by her, first in France from 1946 to 1955, and then in Sweden from 1972 to 1986. She also provided spiritual guidance and mentoring long past their period as a novice.
The congregation of Dominican sisters which Catherine de Sienne Cottin joined had been active in Sweden since 1931. She applied to be sent to Sweden soon after joining the order because she wanted to be near Lutherans. In 1956 her request was accepted and she was placed in the Stockholm Dominican community. Along with other sisters there she taught French. After a few years she was appointed prioress of the community.
During almost 50 years of active life as a Dominican sister in Sweden Catherine de Sienne Cottin was entrusted with central roles. She was the prioress of the Stockholm community until 1969. She also held this position from 1991 to 1994 for the community which was responsible for Stiftsgården Marielund at Ekerö. Twice, in the years 1969-1972 and 1988-1991, she served as the head of the Swedish vice-province within the international community called the Roman Congregation of Saint Dominic (CRSD). In Sweden she lived and worked in the following communities: Stockholm (Sankta Ingridshemmet, Villagatan 21), Stiftsgården Marielund at Ekerö, Märsta, and then again in Stockholm (Västmannagatan 83). Various attributes coalesced in Catherine de Sienne Cottin and came to good use in her adopted homeland. She was a French intellectual with a capacity for critical analysis and she enthusiastically read contemporary French theology, which in the decades immediately following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was marked by new thinking and a dialogue with the surrounding world. She interpreted these new ideas, which confirmed her own understandings, for her fellow sisters and through her influence convent life was updated. Catherine de Sienne Cottin was also interested in developments in Swedish ecclesial and social life. Having spent more than 20 years living in the country she decided, in 1978, that it was time to become a Swedish citizen, partly in order to be able to vote in her country of residence.
Catherine de Sienne Cottin avoided public appearances due to her shyness. Her only written work was the book I kyrkans mitt. Kloster, ordnar och kongregationer, written in collaboration with her fellow sister Catharina Broomé and published in 1989.
By the end of the 1980s, when Catherine de Sienne Cottin led the vice-province and was well over 70 years old, she initiated some changes which came to have a lasting impact on the future of the Dominican sisters’ lives and activities. By selling the order’s house on Villagatan in Stockholm in 1990, resources made it possible for the sisters to start new activities. The sisters moved to smaller and more easily-managed dwellings, some within Stockholm city centre, others in Märsta. They were now able to better focus on tasks such as parish work, writing, researching and teaching, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue and working for justice and peace.
Toward the end of her life Catherine de Sienne Cottin suffered from an eye disease which prevented her from reading, and she subsequently suffered a stroke which affected her general physical condition. Before she died in 2006 she was able to enjoy some of the concrete results of her initiatives to shake up and refresh the order.
After the deaths of both Catherine de Sienne Cottin and sister Catharina Broomé, in 2006 and 2007 respectively, Samfundet Dominikansystrarna set up the CRSD fund “Tradition and Renewal” in their memory. The aim of the fund is to finance lectures by contemporary female theologians who have become internationally famous through their path-breaking research.
Catherine de Sienne Cottin died in 2006 and is buried at the Catholic cemetery in Stockholm.