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St. Monica: A saint for parents whose children have left the Church

Lapsed Catholics are not a modern phenomenon — the life of St. Monica teaches us that. Her son, Augustine, rejected the faith she had taught him as a child and joined the peculiar Manichean sect.

Monica (332-387) was born into a Christian family in the town of Thagaste, now Souk Ahras, in Algeria. Her husband, Patricius, appears to have been religiously indifferent, but he did not interfere with Monica’s faith and permitted her to raise their children as Catholics.

When Augustine was born, Monica did not have him baptized. During the first centuries of the Church, many Christians put off baptism until they were on their deathbed. Nonetheless, Monica did have her priest mark the infant Augustine with holy oil in the sign of the cross and sprinkle blessed salt, a sign of exorcism, on his tongue. This ceremony would have made him a catechumen, one who was taking instruction in the Faith, and Monica was Augustine’s teacher.

Monica and Patricius were ambitious for their son. They wanted Augustine to receive a classical education so he could enter one of the professions. Before Augustine went off to the university at Carthage — the Harvard of Roman North Africa — Monica pleaded with him to remain chaste. In his “Confessions,” Augustine admits he treated her “womanish advice” with contempt. He was, as he says, “in the mood to be seduced”; in fact, soon after he arrived in Carthage he found a mistress, and they moved in together. A year later, the woman (in none of his writings does Augustine ever mention her name) gave birth to a baby boy whom they named Adeodatus, meaning “gift from God.”

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