Saint Monica

Saint Monica (Memorial)

Monica was of Berber descent. She was born in 332 AD at Tagaste (located in modern-day Souk Ahras, Algeria). Her parents brought her up as Christian and married her to an older, pagan man named Patricius. He was a man of great energy, but also had a violent temper and was sexually promiscuous. However, their son Augustine reports that, although domestic abuse was common at the time, because of Monica’s submission to her husband, he never beat her. Her almsgiving and habit of prayer irritated him yet led him to respect her. It was said that by her sweetness and patience, she was able to exercise a good influence among other abused wives and mothers. They knew she suffered as they did and so were moved by her example.

Monica was very devout and attended church daily which helped her cultivate the virtue of patience. She would say to other women who had difficult marriages, “If you can master your tongue, not only do you run less risk of being beaten, but perhaps you may even, one day, make your husband better.” And, in fact, she won over her mother-in-law in a short time. She also converted her pagan husband to Christianity and calmed his violent tendencies.

Monica and Patricius bore three children: Augustine the eldest, Navigius the second, and a daughter, Perpetua. Augustine made her happy because of his successes as a scholar and teacher, but she was also ashamed of his debauched lifestyle. Augustine lived for 10 years with his mistress and also became a Manichaean. Although Monica asked a bishop to convince Augustine of his errors, he was not able to change the young man. He told the mother to keep praying for her son. He told her, “It is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

When Patricius died, Monica went to Italy to join her son. He had been in Rome, but when she arrived he had already gone to Milan so she followed him there. Through St Ambrose, bishop of Milan, she had the joy of seeing Augustine, aged 28, converted after 17 years of her prayers. Mother and son spent six months at Cassiacum, after which Augustine was baptised in the church of St John the Baptist in Milan. They then decided to return to Africa, stopping at Civita Vecchia and Ostia. It was here that Monica died. The year was 387 and she was 56 years old. Her last words to her son were: “There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life and that was that I might see you a Christian before I died. My God hath answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now his servant spurning all earthly happiness. What more have I to do here?”

After her death, her son wrote extensively of her virtues and his life with her in his Confessions. Her relics were later removed from Ostia to the Church of Sant’Agostino in Rome.

As part of the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, Monica’s feast was moved to August 27, the day before the feast of her son Saint Augustine. Saint Monica is the Patron Saint of patience, wives, mothers, and victims of abuse.

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