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Monica was born in northern Africa in 331, in the town of Thagaste, to a wealthy family with strong Christian traditions. She learned the teachings of Sacred Scripture and was active in the service of the Church community.
She married Patricius, an ambitious, pagan who was who was a drunkard and abusive, and unfaithful to her. Finding the right moment in dialogue, with her “method” of waiting, patience and prayer (which she suggested to friends who confided in her their own problems and misunderstandings with their spouses), she succeeded in winning over her husband and leading him to the faith.
At the age of 22, she gave birth to her firstborn, Augustine, who was followed by Navigius, and a daughter whose name has been lost. Monica reared them in a Christian household. Widowed at 39, she was left in charge of managing the family property. She also dedicated herself with love to her offspring. Monica was a thoughtful and careful mother but experienced great difficulty on account of Augustine, the “son of so many tears,” whose restlessness of heart would one day be known throughout the world.
Before his conversion, Augustine was an ambitious orator who, in search of truth, moved away from the Catholic faith and went from one philosophy to another. Monica never ceased praying for him and used all her energy in an effort to remain close to him. For this reason, she moved to Carthage and then to Italy, when her son, a professor of rhetoric, at the height of his career, went to live in Milan (then the seat of the Roman imperial government).
Her motherly affection and prayers accompanied Augustine’s return to the faith, who, having received baptism from Bishop Ambrose, decided to return to what is now called Algeria to found a community of God’s servants. Monica accompanied him.
To return to Africa, it was necessary sail from Ostia, the port of Rome. There, however, mother and son were compelled to stay and await the arrival of their ship. Waiting to take ship, Monica and Augustine enter into days of intense spiritual dialogue. One of these constituted the so-called vision at Ostia, narrated in the “Confessions” (IX.x.23-27). They bared their souls to each other regarding life, spirituality and salvation.
The dialog was intense. At its end, Monica said, “As far as I am concerned, this life now has no attractiveness for me. What I am still doing here and why I am still here, I do not know. My hopes on Earth are exhausted. There was only one thing that made me want to stay here … to see you as a Catholic Christian before you died. My God has greatly satisfied me, for I even see you despise earthly happiness to serve Him. Why do I tarry here?”
A few days later, Monica fell ill. She died at the age of 56. Augustine became one of the greatest Catholic saints. He is one of the Latin fathers of the church and, in Roman Catholicism, is formally recognized as a doctor of the church.
Monica’s body was buried where Ostia Antica stands today, in the church of Sant’Aurea. The relics of St. Monica were kept for centuries in Sant’Aurea. Today there is only a tombstone. In the 15th century Pope Martin V desired that her relics be moved to Rome and housed in the church of San Trifone — in the care of the Augustinian Friars — and then enshrined in the larger Basilica of St. Augustine. There they remain to this day, in a sarcophagus of green marble, in the chapel decorated by Pietro Gagliardi with frescoes in 1885.