A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Saint Monica

Fr Mervyn Duffy SM

There is a church in Rome called S. Agostino (St Augustine’s). It is easy for a tourist to find because it is very close to Piazza Navona which is on all the tourist maps. At one end of this fascinating, beautiful piazza there is an passage way that leads out to the street and across the pedestrian crossing there is another archway beside a McDonalds leading into the narrow Via di S. Agostino. The church it is named for is only a few metres down the street. Many tourists visit it because there is a large Caravaggio painting on display – the Madonna of the Pilgrims. But I want to direct your attention to the altar at the front of the left aisle of the church. The Latin inscription declares “Here lies the body of St Monica.” I was fascinated to find her remains, because I had grown up in Nelson and had wondered at the stained glass window of Monica in St Mary’s Church, Manuka Street.

Monica was from Thagaste in North Africa. She was brought up to be a strong Christian. Her family arranged her marriage when she was quite young to an official of the town called Patricius. He did not share her faith; he followed the old Roman gods. Together they had two sons and a daughter – Augustine, Navigus and Perpetua. Patricius is described as a man with a violent temper, of dissolute habits, and not always faithful to his wife.

St Monica stained glass window from St Mary's in Nelson

When Augustine was ill as a child, Monica convinced Patricius to let her have Augustine baptized, but, when he recovered, Patricius would not let him be brought up Christian. As a young man, Augustine explored all sorts of religious ideas and led a lifestyle that horrified his mother. At one stage she banned him from the family home.

Monica told her local bishop of her fears for her son, and he remarked as she was leaving “Go in peace. The son of so many tears will not perish.” This assurance was a great comfort to Monica and she repeated it often enough that Augustine includes the story in his autobiography. 

Monica eventually saw her son grow from a rebellious teen into an influential Bishop. He was beside her deathbed at Ostia, the Port of Rome, which makes the remains in the Church of St Augustine likely to be genuine – something that cannot be said of every revered relic. Also genuine is the devotion to St Monica. It is usually women who pray before her tomb and light the devotional candles there.

I bought some of the holy pictures of St Monica to send to a friend of that name. I was struck by the prayer on the back. This is my translation from the Italian:

O exemplary wife and mother,
Saint Monica.
You have experienced the joys and troubles of married life.

You succeeded in bringing to the faith, your husband, Patricius, from being a sharp-cornered character and libertine.

You have cried many tears and you have prayed night and day for your son, Augustine.

You never abandoned this child of yours, not even when he misunderstood you
and fled from you.

Intercede for us, O great Saint,
in order that our families know to instil the Faith; 

in order that we may love always
and achieve peace.

Help us to know also how to generate in our children the life of Grace; 

Comfort us in the moments of bitterness, and obtain for us from the Holy Virgin,
Mother of Jesus and our Mother,
to reach the life of the blessed.

Church of Sant Agostino

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