Little Lives of the Great Saints – Saint Monica, Mother of the Great Saint Augustine

detail of the painting 'Saint Monica', by Luis Tristán de Escamilla, 1616, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, SpainArticle

Died A.D. 387.

Monica, whose name is one of the glories of the Church in the fourth century was born in Numidia, in the year 332.

A She belonged to a good Catholic family. From her early life we may learn the power of habit, and the golden value of prudence and temperance. The promising girl by degrees contracted a liking for wine, as she took a sip now and then when sent to the cellar by her mother to draw some for the use of the family.

Though this sipping became habitual, it never grew excessive. It is not hard to see, however, where it might have terminated had not God mercifully checked Monica. A servant-maid was His instrument. One day a curious glance into the cellar revealed her young mistress in the act of drinking. It was not forgotten; and some time after, on words arising between them, the servant taunted Monica by calling her a “wine-bibber.” This pointed rebuke acted like the lancet in a happy surgical operation. The future Saint reflected, prayed, and was cured for ever.

Not long after this moral change Monica received baptism, and henceforth her life was that of a true Christian. On reaching the age of womanhood her parents gave her in marriage to a citizen of Tagaste named Patricius, a man of honor, but, unhappily, a heathen. Here was a new field of labor. Monica served her husband with matchless amiability, and toiled to gain him to God. But it was, in truth, a tedious and most difficult undertaking.

As a pagan, Patricius was the slave of vices both nameless and countless. Monica’s chief argument to reclaim him was the sanctity of her own conduct, backed by those kind, affectionate manners which could not fail to inspire his love, respect, and esteem She bore all his sallies of passion with angelic patience. He was a man of hasty and violent temper, but his prudent wife never annoyed him by the least word or action while she saw him in anger. When, however, the fit was over and Patricius was calm and sensible, she gave him her reasons in a way that was both gentle and impressive.

When Monica saw other women bearing only too visible marks of the anger of their husbands, and heard them bitterly blaming their rough tempers and vicious lives, she would simply reply: “Rather lay the blame on yourselves and your tongues.” It was a truth well said, and her own example was a convincing proof. In spite of the unhappy fact that Patricius was a man who often foolishly flew into a towering passion, yet he never forgot the sacred respect due to his wife’s person. The storm lasted but a moment And thus Monica, by silence and kindly tact, always had her home lighted up with the blessed sunshine of peace.

This illustrious lady had also the happy gift of making peace among quarrelling neighbors – often a very thankless task. On such occasions she spoke with a force, prudence, and tender charity that was truly wonderful.

It was her great delight to serve the poor. She assisted daily at Mass, and studied to imitate the actions of the Saints. But she never allowed any exercise of piety to stand in the way of the most careful attention in watching over the education of her children, in which, however, Almighty God gave her numberless occasions of merit and suffering – particularly in Augustine – that He might in the end more amply crown her holy toil.

Augustine was born in 354. As he grew up Monica was unceasing in her cares to plant the seed of virtue in his young soul. Still, she was, perhaps, immoderately fond to see him excel in learning, but she flattered herself that he might one day make a good use of it in promoting the honor and glory of God. Her husband desired the same thing, but merely that his son might one day raise himself in the world.

One of the happy fruits of Monica’s patience and prayers was the conversion of Patricius. Henceforth he became pure in his life and faithful to the duties of a good Christian. He died in 371 – a year after his baptism

Augustine, who was then seventeen years of age, was pursuing his studies at Carthage, where, unhappily, he was led astray by the Manichees and joined those vain heretics. His mother was informed of the misfortune, and her grief was inexpressible. Augustine had lost the precious treasure of faith, and to Monica the news was more heartrending than if he were laid in the silent tomb. So deep was her indignation that she would neither suffer him to eat at her table, nor even to live under the same roof with her.

“Thou hast heard her vows,” exclaims Saint Augustine in after-years, addressing himself to God, “and Thou hast not despised her tears; for she shed torrents in Thy presence – in all places where she offered her prayers to Thee.”

Nor were the prayers of the saintly woman unheard. An angel appeared to her in a dream and told her to wipe away her tears, adding: “Your son is with you.” She was comforted. She told this dream to Augustine, but he ventured to infer that she would come over to his sentiments in matters of religion. “No,” she said with energy, “it was not told me that I was with you, but that vow were with me.” Such a pointed answer made a great impression on Augustine, as he afterwards acknowledged. This happened in the year 377, and Monica again permitted her son to eat and live in her own dwelling.

Almost nine years, however, passed away before Augustine’s conversion; and during all this time Monica appealed to Heaven with sighs and tears and prayers. Once she engaged a learned prelate to speak to him. “The heart of the youth,” said he, “is yet too indocile; but God’s time will come.” On another occasion she urged him with renewed earnestness. “Go,” answered the good old bishop, “continue to do as you do. It is impossible that a child of such tears should perish.” Monica went home, bearing these words in her mind as a message from heaven.

When Augustine was twenty-nine years of age, he resolved on going to Rome to teach rhetoric. His mother opposed such a design, fearing it might delay his conversion. She even followed him to the sea-side, determined either to bring him back or to accompany him to Italy. He pretended, however, that he had no intention of going; but one night, while his mother was praying in a chapel, he secretly boarded a vessel bound for Europe.

“I deceived her with a lie,” writes Saint Augustine, “while she was weeping and praying for me; and what did she ask of Thee, my God, but that Thou wouldst not suffer me to sail away! But Thou graciously heard her main desire – that I might be engaged in Thy service – and refused to grant what she asked then, in order to give what she always asked!”

Next morning, on finding that her son had sailed, Monica’s grief was boundless. “God,” says Butler, “by this extreme affliction would punish her too human tenderness; and His wisdom suffered her son to be carried by his passions to a place where He had decreed to heal them.

This devoted mother followed her gifted but erring son, and found him at Milan, the city of the great Saint Ambrose, where she learned from his own lips that he was no longer a heretic. She now redoubled her tears and prayers for Augustine’s thorough conversion, which she had the joy to witness in the summer of 386. He was baptized at the following Easter, with several of his friends.

“My son,” said the illustrious Monica, “there is now nothing in this life that affords me any delight. What have I to do here any longer, or why I am here, I know not. All my hopes in this world are at an end. The only thing for which I desired to live was that I might see you a Catholic and a child of Heaven. God has done much more. I see you now despising; all earthly felicity and entirely devoting yourself to His service. Then what further business have I here?”

Soon after the Saint and her converted son set out for Africa; but on the road the great woman was seized with a fever. A friend asked her if she was not afraid of being buried so far away from her own country. “Nothing is far from God,” she replied. “Nor need I fear that he will not find my body to raise it with the rest.”

On reaching the port of Ostia, where they were to embark, she said to her two sons: “You will bury your mother here.” Augustine was silent; but Navigus expressed a wish that she might not die in a foreign land.

“Lay this body anywhere,” she said. “Be not concerned about that. The only thing I ask of you both is – remember me at the altar of God wheresoever you are.”

She grew weaker, and soon the beautiful spirit winged its flight to that happy abode where tears and sorrow and suffering are unknown. Saint Augustine, who was then thirty-three years of age, closed her eyes – those loving eyes which were so often raised to heaven, so often drowned in the floods of bitter tears that gushed forth for his conversion. And thus died the dear Saint Monica, model of all good mothers, at the age of fifty-six, in the year 387.

MLA Citation

  • John O’Kane Murray, M.A., M.D. “Saint Monica, Mother of the Great Saint Augustine”. Little Lives of the Great Saints, 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 24 September 2018. Web. 22 January 2019. <>