Saint Scholastica

February 7, 1999
Brother John Raymond

For some reason sibling saints have always fascinated me. A few cited in the Gospels: just to mention a couple, the brothers James and John and the brother and sister trio of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Perhaps sanctity runs in certain families? Well, it certainly can't hurt to have a brother, sister, father or mother who is a saint. I believe the family of St. Basil, considered the greatest of the Greek Fathers of the Church, holds the record with six saints beside him. There were: St. Macrina , his grandmother; St. Basil the Elder, his father; St. Emmelia, his mother; St. Macrina the Younger, his sister; St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Peter of Sebaste, his brothers. Apparently I'm not the only one fascinated by sibling saints. There is a book called "Families Who Followed the Lord: Brother and Sister Saints" (now out of print) written by Fr. Martin Harney, S.J. What about twins? Have you ever heard of twin saints? I know of one such saintly pair.

St. Scholastica was the twin sister of St. Benedict. They were born around 480 to a Roman noble family in Nursia, a small town near Spoleto, Italy. Very little is know about the life of St. Scholastica. Her brother is much better known as he became the Patriarch of Western Monasticism. His life was written by Pope Saint Gregory the Great. Scholastica seems to have consecrated her life to God from her earliest youth as Pope Gregory mentions, "She had been dedicated from her infancy to Our Lord." The mother died at their birth. When Benedict was old enough he left home to study in Rome leaving Scholastica with her father to tend the Nursian estate.

At about seventeen years of age Benedict left Rome to live a solitary life, first in Enfide in the Savine Mountains and then in a cave near Subiaco. Soon his sanctity attracted disciples and he established several monasteries for them. The greatest of all was Monte Cassino, founded by Benedict in 529, where he wrote his monastic rule and died in 543.

When Scholastica learned of her brother's total dedication to the Lord, she determined to follow his example. It is not certain that she became a nun immediately, but it is generally supposed that she lived for some time in a community of pious virgins. I talked to a Benedictine nun at St. Scholastica Priory, appropriately enough, near our monastery. She said, "The tradition of St. Scholastica as a nun dates from the 11th century. Before that she was considered a devout and holy woman who lived in the vicinity of Monte Cassino." Some biographers believe she eventually founded a monastery of nuns there. The brother and sister communities were about five miles apart. St. Benedict seems to have directed his sister and her nuns.

After Benedict's initial help with forming his sister's community, his contact with her was limited. St. Gregory tells us that St. Scholastica "used to come once a year to visit her brother." (Book II of the Dialogues of St. Gregory) This once-a-year meeting took place at a house situated halfway between the two communities. Benedict went in company with some of his brethren to meet her at this house. These visits were spent in conferring together on spiritual matters.

A delightful story is told of such a visit three days before Scholastica's death on a clear day. They passed the time as usual in prayer and pious conversation. Scholastica begged her brother to stay the night, but he refused. She then joined her hands together, laid them on the table and bowed her head upon them in supplication to God. When she lifted her head from the table, immediately there arose such a storm that neither Benedict nor his monks could leave.

"Seeing that he could not return to his abbey because of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain, the man of God became sad and began to complain to his sister, saying, 'God forgive you, what have you done?'

"'I wanted you to stay, and you wouldn't listen,' she answered. 'I have asked our good Lord, and He graciously granted my request, so if you can still depart, in God's name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone.'" (ibid) St. Benedict had no choice but to stay and speak to his sister all night long about spiritual matters including Heaven.

Three days later in the year 543, in a vision Benedict saw the soul of his sister, departed from her body and in the likeness of a dove, ascend into heaven. He rejoiced with hymns and praise giving thanks to God. His monks brought her body to his monastery and buried it in the grave that he had provided for himself. St. Benedict followed her soon after and was buried in the same grave with his sister, "So death did not separate the bodies of these two, whose minds had ever been united in the Lord." (ibid) My neighborly Benedictine nun also informed me that Scholastica's "relics with those of her brother are beneath the altar of the abbey of Monte Cassino, although some of her relics may be at other monasteries. St. Scholastica's feast day is February 10th.