St. Scholastica

Our source for the life of St. Scholastica is the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great. Presented as a conversation between Gregory and his deacon Peter, the Dialogues were written at the request of some of Pope Gregory’s friends around 593 A.D. Life was difficult for the Christians in Italy at the end of the sixth century: the Germanic Goths and Lombards invaded, the old Roman social order crumbled and people fell victim to the plague. Pope Gregory’s friends wanted to be assured that God had not abandoned the people, and asked him for stories of how God had acted in the lives of holy people in Italy in recent times.

Sts. Scholastica & Benedict
(Church Interior)

The second book of the Dialogues reports the miracles of St. Benedict of Nursia, a founder of Western monasticism, who had flourished some sixty years previously. After many tales of how divine power met Benedict’s needs, Peter asks whether holy men get everything they desire. Gregory responds with a story about St. Scholastica, Benedict’s sister, a nun who lived near her brother’s monastery at Monte Cassino. Gregory reports that Benedict and Scholastica used to meet once a year outside the grounds of his monastery.

On one occasion, they spoke for a long time and Scholastica said, "I beg you not to leave me tonight, so that we might talk until morning about the joys of heavenly life." Benedict, indignant, refused to stay away from his monastery. At that, Scholastica began to pray. A violent storm sprang up, preventing Benedict and the monks who accompanied him from leaving. "May the almighty God forgive you, sister," Benedict complained, "What have you done?" Scholastica replied: "Look, I asked you and you refused to listen to me. I asked my Lord and He heard me."

 

St. Scholastica
(Church Exterior)
So the two spent the whole night awake, "satisfying each other’s hunger for holy conversation about the spiritual life." Pope Gregory concludes the story by reflecting that it is not surprising that Benedict did not get his way in this case, seeing that Scholastica "had long desired to see her brother. For according to the words of John, God is love, and so it was by a very just judgment that her power was greater because her love was stronger."

There is little else to tell. Gregory reports that several days later, Benedict saw Scholastica’s soul heading to heaven in the form of a dove. He sent for her body, and had her placed in the tomb set aside for him. So eventually, Gregory relates, "the bodies of those whose minds had always been united in God were not separated even in the grave."

Two sculptures of St. Scholastica in our church remind us of her life. On the outside front of the church, St. Scholastica’s soul in dove’s form leaves her dying body. In the sculpture to the right of the tabernacle inside the church, Scholastica prays with her eyes fixed on heavenly glory while Benedict, in the background, is drenched with rain.

How can we honor the memory of our patron saint, and her present life of communion with God and the holy ones? We do so whenever we work to keep up relationships with those who are dear to us. We do so whenever we hunger for "holy conversation" with each other about our lives in faith. Most especially, we do so whenever we remember that God is love, and whenever we allow God’s love to live in our actions as individuals and as a church community.

--Andrew Bechman, September 2005

Sources:
"Life of Benedict by Gregory the Great," in Early Christian Lives, Carolinne White, trans. and ed. (Penguin, 1998), pp. 162-204.
"St. Scholastica" and "St. Benedict of Nursia" in The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien, ed. (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995).


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