The Life of St. Monica
"Nothing is far from God." -
Day - August 27th
Patron of Wives and Abuse Victims
Monica, was the eldest of three children of
Christian parents, and was raised in a strict disciplined home.
According to one story, the children were never allowed to drink between meals
because, "It is water you want now, but when you become mistresses of your own
cellar, you will want wine—not water—and the habit will remain with you.
Nevertheless, when as a young girl she was given the duty of drawing wine for
the family, she ignored the rule and indulged in wine until the day an angry
servant caught her drunk and called her a "winebibber." From that day she made
a vow that she would never drink anything but water.
She married Patricius, a pagan who had a violent temper.
Her mother-in-law, also a pagan, usually sided with Patricius and told lies to
the servants about Monica, who met all their insults with silence. Although he
felt some contempt for her devoutness and generosity to the poor, Patricius
respected her. Over time her meekness, humility and prayers transformed
Patricius, who became a catechumen, and her mother-in-law. The formerly formal
relationship of the couple developed into a warm, spiritual devotion. He died
a happy death soon after his baptism in 370 A.D.
The marriage produced three children that lived:
Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Her eldest, Saint Augustine, was born in
354 A.D. He was inscribed as a catechumen in infancy, but was not baptized. He
was gifted with a mother who spoke often of God's love and her faith.
When widowed about 371 A.D., at the age of 40, Monica
vowed to belong wholly to God, renounced all worldly pleasures, and ministered
to the poor and orphaned while still fulfilling her maternal duties,
especially the conversion of her wayward son.
The family was relatively poor, but a rich citizen of
Tagaste met Augustine's educational expenses at the university in Carthage.
Monica hoped studying philosophy and science would bring back her wayward son
to God, but she did not realize Carthage was a seething mass of
In Carthage, Augustine joined the heretical Manichees
and persuaded others to follow suit. The Manichean doctrine that bodily
actions had no moral significance brought relief to Augustine's troubled soul.
He returned to Tagaste for his vacation and Monica threw him out. When Monica
heard that Augustine had become a Manichean and was living a dissolute life,
she refused to allow him to live in her home.
Monica had a vision in which she seemed to be standing
on a wooden beam. Monica was desperate despairing of Augustine's
life, when a shining being asked her the reason for her lamentation. She
answered and he told her to stop crying. Looking toward the spot he indicated,
she saw Augustine standing on the beam next to her. She repeated the vision to
her son, and he replied playfully that they might easily be together if Monica
renounced her faith.
After completing his studies, Augustine opened a school
of oratory in Carthage and instructed his disciples in the principles of
Manicheism. In doing so, he discovered that the Manicheans were more adept in
attacking Catholicism than in establishing the truth of their own theories.
Augustine tells us that Monica shed "more tears for my
spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son." Monica
prayed for her son's conversion for 17 years. To add power to her prayers, she
fasted, making Holy Communion her daily food. An unnamed bishop comforted her
that her son was young and stubborn, but that God's time would come because
"The son of so many tears cannot possibly be lost."
At the age of 29, Augustine finally tired of the
frivolity of Carthage and moved to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was
determined to accompany him, but he tricked her and sailed alone. Soon after
his arrival he became deathly ill. He recovered and opened his school. Monica
followed him after selling her few remaining possessions. In the meantime,
Saint Symmachus offered Augustine a chair in rhetoric in Milan, after he won a
competition. When she arrived in Rome, he had already left, but she hurried on
Upon arrival in Milan, Augustine had paid a courtesy
visit to Bishop Saint Ambrose. Augustine came to love the bishop as a father
and went every Sunday to hear Ambrose as he preached. At the age of 30,
Augustine began to see the folly of Manicheism and its gross misrepresentation
of the Church, but he still did not believe. When Monica arrived in Milan, her
first visit was also to Ambrose and they understood one another at once. She
became his faithful disciple and Ambrose's "heart warmed to Monica because of
her truly pious way of life, her zeal in good works, and her faithfulness in
worship. Often when he saw [Augustine] he would break out in praise of her,
congratulating [the son] on having such a mother." And Augustine wryly notes:
"He little knew what sort of a son she had."
Monica and Augustine began to attend Mass together and
to discuss the bishop's sermons afterwards. Monica had deeply studied
philosophy and theology so that she might be able to deal intelligently with
Augustine. He began to realize how many things he believed that he could not
prove, but accepted on the testimony of others. Saint Monica used every
possible wile to bring her son into contact with the bishop.
At his conversion, Augustine went at once to Monica and
told her what had happened. Her agony was ended! He attributed his conversion
primarily to her. When his instruction was over, he was baptized by Ambrose on
Holy Saturday, 387.
Monica's faith purchased for the Catholic Church its
keenest philosopher, most comprehensive theologian, most persuasive apologist,
and most far-seeing moralist, a wise administrator, a powerful preacher, and a
penetrating mystic. Countless now live under the Augustinian rule.
Four years after their arrival in Milan, during a stop
at Ostia en route back to Tagaste, Monica told her son: "What I am still to
do, or why I still linger in this world, I do not know. There was one reason,
one alone, for which I wish to tarry a little longer: that I might see you a
Catholic Christian before I die. God has granted me this boon, and more, for I
see you his servant, spurning all earthly happiness. What is left for me to do
in this life?" Saint Monica died about two weeks later at the age of 56,
Augustine was then 33.
Saint Monica's relics are enshrined at Saint Augustine's
Church in Rome near the Piazza Navona; other relics are at Arrouaise
(Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, S. Delany, White).
She is venerated at Ostia (near Rome), Italy, and in all
Augustinian houses. She is the patron saint of married women, mothers and