Every Mother’s Day we honor mothers for their selfless devotion to their children. This Mother’s Day let’s look at three mothers who share one thing in common: they were all mothers of saints.
Aleth, mother of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. It was the latter part of the 11th Century. The young girl Aleth, age 15, was intent upon becoming a nun. But when the handsome knight, Tescelin, Lord of Fontaines, asked for her hand in marriage, she accepted his proposal as the will of God for her. Aleth bore her husband seven children: six sons and one daughter. Because Tescelin was so busy with his work, Aleth was entrusted with the management of the household and the education of their children. She proved to be a very competent woman. Not only did she raise her children almost single-handedly, she found time in her busy day to care for the poor.
Aleth had a special fondness for her third son Bernard, named after her father. She felt he was destined for some service in the Church and had him educated accordingly. But she did not live to see this dream realized. When Bernard was only 14, Aleth became ill and died quite suddenly with her entire family gathered around her bed. Bernard took his mother’s death hard and lapsed into a period of depression, a depression eventually eased by the solicitude of his sister. A few years later, Bernard went through a wild and reckless phase. One day, amidst his revelry, he heard his mother’s voice telling him, “Be a man and complete the work God has begun in you.” A few years later, Bernard made the decision to become a monk. He became the primary reformer of the Cisterian order and was named a Doctor of the Church. It’s easy to see why his mother Aleth has been called “the greatest single influence” in the life of St. Bernard.
Lapa, mother of St. Catherine of Siena. Not all saints were close to their mothers. St. Catherine (who lived in the 14th Century) was often at odds with her mother, Lapa. As one biographer put it, “Catherine forever remained a riddle to her mother.”
By all standards, Lapa was an extraordindary woman. She gave birth to 25 children (that is not a typo), 13 of which reached adulthood. Her husband, Giacomo Benincasa, a wealthy wool dyer, was a quiet man. Lapa, in contrast, was a talkative and energetic woman. Catherine was the second youngest in the family. As someone said, “Lapa loved her dearly but understood her not at all.” When Catherine was 13, her mother encouraged her to pay more attention to her appearance so she might attract a favorable husband. But Catherine had already decided she wanted to be a nun. One day, when Catherine was 15, she chopped off her beautiful golden-brown hair. To conceal the deed, she donned a small white cap. Lapa, suspecting something, snatched off the cap, shrieked in horror, and cried to her daughter, “How could you do this to me?”
It took a few more years for Catherine to convince her parents to let her become a Dominican tertiary. As such, she lived at home, devoting herself to prayer, fasting, and charitable works. Her reputation for sanctity and wisdom grew until people of all kinds came to her seeking counsel. She also became a prolific letter writer advising noblemen, priests, bishops, politicians and even popes! Catherine died at age 33, but her mother lived to be 89. In 1970 Catherine was named a Doctor of the Church. The story of Catherine and her mother is a consolation for any mother and daughter who find the going rough.
Margaret, mother of St. John Bosco. Margaret Occhienna married the widower Francis Louis Bosco in 1815 in Turin, Italy. She raised three boys, including Francis’ son by his first marriage. When her son John was only two, his father died of pneumonia. Years later the saint said he could not remember his father. Buy he remembered his mother weeping at his father’s death. Margaret was a hard-working woman who supported her three sons and her invalid mother all by herself. Unable to read or write, she taught her boys their prayers and told them Bible stories from memory. Once at night she took the boys outside to view the stars saying, “All the stars are wonderful. It is God who put them there.”
Margaret made her boys responsible for helping with their small farm. Despite their poverty, they always had room at their table for a beggar or for deserters from Napoleon’s army. John expressed the desire to be a priest. When he left for the seminary in his clerical dress, she told him, “To see you dressed in this manner fills my heart with joy. But remember, I would rather have a poor peasant for a son than a lax priest.”
As a priest, John had a special love for neglected and orphaned children. When he opened a home for these children, his mother came to work there. In fact she gave the final 10 years of her life to helping her son care for neglected children. In time he founded the Salesian order. On the tomb of Margaret Bosco is a plaque that says, “Don Bosco’s march to sanctity began on the altar of Mamma Margaret’s knee.”
May is traditionally dedicated to Mary, our Mother. The song I chose is “Salve Regina” or “Hail Holy Queen.” This hymn dates back to the 11th Century. It is sung at the end of Compline, the last hour of the Divine Office. It is also often recited at the end of the rosary. This version is in the original Latin with English subtitles.
Does anything in the stories of these three mothers strike you?
Are there other mothers you love and admire?