St. Scholastica (c.480-547)
Feast day: February 10
One of the tragedies of our time is the decline in the number of
nuns. In 1965, the United States reached the high-water mark with approximately
180,000 women religious, 104,000 of whom were teaching sisters. According to a
2014 report released by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in
the Apostolate, the number of sisters in the United States has fallen to about
50,000. The loss of those good and dedicated women who were a constant presence
in our parishes, schools, hospitals and countless Catholic charitable
organizations is incalculable. On On St. Scholastica’s Feb. 10 feast day, let’s
pray to her for an increase in vocations to the religious life. St. Scholastica
and her twin brother St. Benedict set the standard for monastic and convent
life in the West by reacting against the way religious life was practiced in the
East. Throughout the desert regions of the Middle East and North Africa, bands
of hermits and loosely organized communities of monks hoped to become holy by
practicing extreme penances. They deprived themselves of food, water, sleep,
even clothes — to the point that many
became physical wrecks, and some went mad.
In response to these excesses, Scholastica and Benedict designed
an orderly, sane, yet spiritually concentrated way of life for men and women
seeking God. The Benedictines ate healthy meals that included bread, fresh
fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, even a little wine or beer. They wore
religious habits suitable to the local climate. They divided their days into
regular periods of work, study, prayer and recreation.
Brother and sister both founded communities on the slopes of
Monte Cassino south of Rome. Since men were not permitted in Scholastica’s
convent and women could not enter Benedict’s monastery, to visit each other the
sibling saints met at a small house halfway between their two establishments.
On one such visit, Scholastica brought a few of her nuns, and Benedict came
accompanied by a few of his monks. They all spent the afternoon in pleasant
conversation, dined together, and were chatting so happily after dinner they
forgot the time. Realizing the late hour Benedict rose to go, but Scholastica
begged him to stay and talk with her until morning. Benedict refused. His own
rule forbade his monks from staying away from the monastery all night. As the
men headed out the door, Scholastica bowed her head and began to pray.
Immediately a violent storm broke over the mountain, with tornado-force winds
and torrential rain. Benedict and his monks retreated back into the house.
“What have you done?” Benedict asked his sister.
“I asked you to grant me a favor and you refused. So I asked the
same favor of God and He heard my prayer. Go back to your monastery, if you
So Benedict stayed, and brother and sister talked until dawn,
when the storm stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
Three days later, Benedict was gazing out his window when he saw
his sister’s soul ascending to heaven in the shape of a white dove. Today St.
Scholastica and St. Benedict lie together in the crypt beneath the great abbey
church at Monte Cassino. As for the rule of life they created together, it has
become the basis for the rule of every religious order of nuns and monks in the
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of Saints Behaving
Badly and This Saint Will Change Your Life.