Monica (or, spelled more accurately, Monnica) was born in 332
in the North African city of Thagaste in what is now Algeria. Most of what we
know of her we learn from her son, Augustine, who gives ample space to her life
in his classic work, Confessions.
Educated by a household servant, Monica cared for her father and
siblings until she married Patricius, a pagan landowner and minor Roman official
of the same town. Patricius seems to have been an arrogant man who was not always
faithful to his wife but, as Augustine says, unlike other husbands of the time,
never beat her, despite his volatile temper. Patricius was unhappy that his
wife raised Augustine as a Christian but, as an ambitious father, invested in
his son's education.
Before his early death, Patricius was baptized due to the good example
of his wife. She was a widow at 40.
Her Famous Son
Monica was 23 when Augustine was born (she had another son
and a daughter). She doted on him though she was unhappy with his lifestyle
and lack of maturity. When Augustine left for Rome after his studies in Carthage
(without telling his mother, who was quite wounded by his secret departure),
she followed him and lived in his household.
Augustine praised her deep piety and prayerful life. After Augustine
was baptized by St. Ambrose in Milan, Monica and her son lived a quiet life
in nearby Cassiciacum where she figures as one of the characters in her son's
dialogues On the Blessed Life (De Vita Beata) and On
Order (De Ordine).
At this time, Augustine decided never to marry formally, which freed
Monica from the onerous task of finding him a suitable bride. She was quite
close to Augustine's son, Adeodatus ("gift from God"), born to him from a common-law
While waiting at the port of OstiaŚnear RomeŚfor a ship to Africa,
she and her son had a conversation which Augustine famously describes in Book
IX of the Confessions. This exchange between mother and son about the
ascent to God was done in a fashion that some have described as mystical.
Before their ship departed, Monica became sick and died in the year
387 at the age of 55. She was buried in Ostia. In 1945, a fragment of an inscription
from her gravesite was discovered.
In the 15th century, her remains were reburied in the Church
of Sant'Agostino in Rome, where she is venerated today. Her
feast is observed, fittingly enough, a day before the feast
of her son, Augustine, on August 28.
Both Muse and Mother
In the closing part of Book IX of the Confessions, Augustine
has a moving tribute to both mother and father in a text where, for the first
and only time, he uses his mother's name.
Monica told her son that the only thing she wanted from
life was to see her son "a Catholic and a child of heaven."
She had seen him through his tumultuous adolescence, his flirtation
with the religion of the Manichees, his irregular sexual life
and his long search to find the faith which she had never