May 11, 2020
Many of us looking back on our childhood and young adulthood are humble enough to admit “My mother is/was a saint.” We probably did not accord our mothers the high honor at the time but now in retrospect they should be canonized for their limitless patience, unflagging perseverance and unconditional love. Since we just observed Mother’s Day and since I have been on a roll recently writing about two saints, I got to thinking about saints – ancient and recent – who were mothers.
Probably the first to come to mind and the best known is St. Monica who by persevering prayer and many tears finally saw the conversion of her son, Saint Augustine. There is a tender passage in his great work, The Confessions, in which Monica tells her son that she knows she is dying. They were in Ostia, then the port city of Rome, waiting to sail to their native place in Africa. Her only request was that he remember her at “the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” No doubt he honored her request throughout his lifetime.
Someone much less familiar is a woman who has the title “The Mother of Saints,” Saint Emilia of Caesarea (d. 375). She was the mother of 10, six of whom are saints, including Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nyssa. It didn’t hurt that the husband and father of this family was Saint Basil the Elder. Now that’s a holy family!
The discovery that you are going to be a mother can at times cause distress and fear. Feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy are not uncommon. Take a look at Blessed Maria Quattrocchi (1884-1965). She and her husband, Blessed Luigi, had four children. She was terrified by the first pregnancy and was near despair by the second. In a letter to her husband Maria wrote: “Who will give me strength to think of two children? To endure the physical and psychological exhaustion of pregnancy and all the rest. Believe me, I am truly in despair.” If you’re a mom or a mother-to-be and you feel the need to scream to the top of your lungs over the stress of mothering, here is a holy lady who understands you and will pray for you.
Some saint mothers knew the profound sadness of seeing their children die before they did. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), the first American born canonized saint, married William Seton and they had five children. When her father-in-law died, they took in her husband’s six younger half-siblings. Widowed at age 29, Elizabeth had the care of 11 children, her own five children were all under 8 years of age. She converted from the Episcopal Church to Catholicism and founded the Sisters of Mercy of Saint Joseph’s. By the time of her death at 47, she had seen her two sons and two of her daughters die. Only Catherine, the first American to enter the Sisters of Mercy, was alive at her mother’s death. Saint Elizabeth Ann wrote: “Afflictions are the steps to heaven.” She knew those steps well.
Lately one of the names most frequently chosen by young women for their Confirmation is Gianna in honor of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-62). Saint Gianna is best remembered for her heroic sacrifice of choosing the life of her unborn daughter over her own. Additionally, she is a model for pregnant women experiencing a health crisis, for working mothers – she was a practicing physician – and for women who have lost children through miscarriage – she lost her fourth and fifth children to miscarriage. She remains a selfless witness to the sanctity of life.
So there’s a small sampling of some saint mothers whom the Church honors and who want us to be with them in our heavenly home. Each in her own way mirrored some of the virtues, some of the beauty, some of the graces of our Blessed Mother, Mary, to whose abundant love and protection we commend our own mothers.
Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer