Today I wish all mothers a belated Happy Mother’s Day! In honor of mothers everywhere, I’d like to focus on three mothers who are saints in the Catholic Church: Saints Monica, Zelie Martin, and Dorothy Day. (Dorothy is not formally canonized yet, but the process has started.)
St. Monica (331-387) St. Monica was born in what is now Algeria in North Africa. The daughter of devout Christians, she was given in marriage to Patricius, a Roman pagan with a violent temper and a penchant for adultery. He also had a cantankerous mother who moved in with them. Monica could have turned into a bitter and angry woman, but she didn’t. In fact, she exemplified Christian love and joy so much, both her husband and mother-in-law eventually become Christians.
Monica had three children who survived infancy: sons Augustine and Navigius, and a daughter Perpetua. It was her eldest son, Augustine, who caused her the most grief. He led a very wayward life, even fathering a son “out of wedlock.” For a while, Monica refused to let Augustine eat or sleep in her house. But one night she heard a voice in her heart say, “Stay close to your son.” So Monica changed her closed-door policy. Later, when Augustine secretly sailed to Italy, Monica got on a ship and followed him there. Once she visited a Bishop for advice, sobbing as she told him about her son. The bishop told her, “The child of such tears shall not perish.”
Monica found strength in his words. In time Augustine was converted and became one of the greatest saints, teachers, and writers of the church. For centuries Monica has been an example of persevering love and prayer. Like all good mothers she learned to entrust her children to God’s loving care.
St. Zelie Martin (1831-1877). Zelie was 26 when she passed Louis Martin, 34, on a bridge in her French town. She was immediately impressed by him, and later claimed an inner voice said to her, “This is the man I’ve prepared for you.” But it was Louis’ mother who actually met Zelie first in a lace-making class, and she introduced her to her son. The couple was married and began a happy life together–despite their trials. Zelie bore nine children, but four of them died before the age of six (the youngest was named Melanie.) The other five—all girls—eventually became nuns. Therese (the Little Flower) is canonized. Her sister Leonie’s canonization is in process.
Louis, a monastery “reject” (because he didn’t know Latin!), was a jeweler and watchmaker who loved nature, was drawn to prayer, and enjoyed fishing. His wife was also a remarkable woman. A skilled seamstress, she ran her own lace making business, eventually employing 15 other women who worked in their own homes. She was deeply devoted to Louis. Once he was gone for several weeks on a pilgrimage. Zelie’s letter to him includes these touching words: I am with you all day in spirit. I love you with all my heart, and I feel my affection doubled by being deprived of your company. I could not live apart from you. Zelie died in 1877 of breast cancer. She was 46. Louis died in 1894 after suffering two paralyzing strokes. Zelie and Louis were canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, the first married couple in history to be canonized together. (Hopefully, not the last!)
Dorothy Day (1897-1980). Dorothy Day, not yet a Catholic, was a Brooklyn journalist and social activist. As a young woman, she had several men in her life. Her first relationship ended with an abortion, a decision she later greatly regretted. She married her second boyfriend in a civil ceremony, but the relationship did not last. Then Dorothy fell in love with Forster Batterham, another social activist. The two of them had a daughter, Tamar. Dorothy was delighted. He was not. During this time Dorothy became very interested in the Catholic church. Her interest in religion angered Forster. When she was baptized in 1927, he refused to attend the ceremony.
Dorothy desperately wanted to marry Forster and wrote him many beautiful, passionate letters. But Forster refused and their relationship ended, leaving Dorothy a single mom. She tried to focus on her daughter, her newfound faith, and her love and action for the poor. Keeping that balance was not always easy. In time she co-established the Catholic Worker movement which combined direct aid to the poor with nonviolent direct action on their behalf. Today there are more than 200 Catholic Worker communities around the world carrying out her legacy.
Dorothy is a model for integrating personal prayer, service, and activism in defense of those who are forsaken in any way. Over the years she participated in numerous demonstrations and was arrested many times. She was deeply devoted to the Catholic Church while simultaneously challenging that Church to practice what it teaches. Her writings and actions were sometimes controversial. If you want to know Dorothy better, I suggest: 1) her autobiography, The Long Loneliness; 2) Dorothy Day: Selected Writings by Robert Ellsberg; and 3) Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty by her granddaughter, Kate Hennessy.
Did any of these stories strike you today? If so, which one?
Is there a particular mother you know who is “saintly”? Why do you think so?
If you are a mother, what has been your greatest challenges and your greatest joys?
Our video today is a virtual choir singing “Salve Regina,” a hymn to Mary, our Mother. Written in the Middle Ages, this ancient hymn will be sung in the original Latin by a choir of Carmelite nuns and friars from all over the world. I have included an English translation of the prayer below the video.
Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Hail our life our sweetness and our hope… To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve… To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this value of tears… Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us… And after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus… O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary.
Please write a response below if you wish!