One day, my friend and I were trying to find out who helped St. Jerome translate the scriptures into Latin…
I stumbled across this information while searching for a saint to write about, not while searching for an answer to our question!
Soon after this discovery, I found images of these saints in my friend’s photos.
Because there are so many connections, it seems this information was revealed for a purpose.
I believe that I’m meant to write about these saints.
This Saint Spotlight is dedicated to: Paula and Eustochium.
Paula was born into a noble Roman family in 347.
When she was a teenager, she married a Roman Senator named Toxotius.
The couple had an “ideal marriage.” They had four daughters and one son.
In 379, when Paula was only 32, she became a widow. While her husband was dying, Paula abandoned her comfortable lifestyle and renounced the world.
Following the example of Marcella, another future saint, Paula and her daughter Eustochium Julia decided to devote themselves to God and practice great simplicity, discipline and charity.
In 382 Bishops Epiphanius and Paulinus of Antioch, more future saints, traveled to Rome.
This visit had two major impacts on Paula and Eustochium:
First, they were inspired to follow monastic life in the East.
In the early church, monasticism was based on the identification of perfection with world-denying asceticism and on the view that the perfect Christian life would be centred on maximum love of God and neighbour. Monasticism emerged in the late 3rd century and had become an established institution in the Christian church by the 4th century. The first Christian monks, who had developed an enthusiasm for asceticism, appeared in Egypt and Syria (Britannica).
Second, they met Jerome, another future saint. The women placed themselves under his spiritual direction, which continued for the rest of their lives.
This meeting was a turning point for Paula and Eustochium, as well as Jerome.
Even though Paula felt called to monastic life after meeting the bishops, she didn’t abandon her role as a mother.
She was devoted to her children and fulfilled her duties. She arranged marriages for three of her daughters: Blaesilla, Paulina and Rufina.
Her son Toxotius was baptized in 385 and married a pagan. (His daughter, Paula the Younger, would later follow Eustochium and Paula to the East and dedicate her life to God.)
Since Eustochium was from a prestigious Roman family, she could have lived comfortably.
When she was still young, Eustochium’s relatives tried to persuade her to give up her simple, disciplined lifestyle, marry a Roman and enjoy the pleasures of the world.
Their attempts were useless; Eustochium knew God’s call for her.
Shortly after meeting Jerome, Eustochium made a vow of perpetual virginity. She “took the veil” and became a spouse of the Lord at the age of 14.
Blaesilla died in 384, followed by Rufina in 386. The death of Blaesilla was especially difficult for Paula.
In 385 Paula and Eustochium left Rome to meet Jerome in the East.
They were pilgrims in the Holy Land; then they went to Egypt to learn about the monastic life from hermits.
They soon returned to the Holy Land and settled permanently in Bethlehem. Jerome settled there as well, and they remained under his spiritual direction.
Work in Bethlehem
Paula and Eustochium immediately began their work in Bethlehem.
They founded several monasteries, a hospice and a convent.
One of the monasteries was for men and placed under the direction of Jerome. The other three were for women and placed under the direction of Paula and Eustochium.
Many virgins flocked to this mother and daughter from Rome. They formed monastic communities at the three monasteries, which gathered several times a day for prayer.
Even though Paula and Eustochium came from nobility, they were humble and performed whatever tasks were necessary.
Both women enjoyed learning and continued the studies they began in Rome.
Most of their time in Bethlehem was spent studying Sacred Scripture, under the guidance of Jerome.
Both women mastered Hebrew; Eustochium also mastered Latin and Greek. This proved to be helpful because Jerome was commissioned by the pope to translate the scriptures from Hebrew to Latin.
The women assisted Jerome with the translations. Eustochium helped a great deal with the Biblical commentaries.
The finished product is known as the Vulgate and is the official Latin Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church.
Even though Paula and Eustochium were devoted to God and performed many good works throughout their lives, they experienced many trials in Bethlehem:
- There was controversy over Church teaching which disturbed their interactions with the Bishop of Jerusalem.
- Jerome had many critics who tried to scandalize him by creating rumors about the nature of his relationship with Paula and Eustochium.
- The monasteries struggled financially because Paula gave away all of the money to the poor.
Paula died in 404, around the age of 56, leaving Eustochium in charge of their work.
In 417 a group of thugs attacked and destroyed one of the monasteries. They also injured and killed several people.
This was a painful event for Eustochium, and she died a few years later around the age of 51. Her niece, Paula the Younger, took over her duties after her death.
Jerome died soon after Eustochium at the age of 73. He was buried beneath the north aisle of the Church of the Nativity, near the graves of Paula and Eustochium.
Both women were considered to be saints before the Catholic Church created a formal canonization process.
St. Paula’s feast is celebrated January 26th. She’s the patron of widows as well as monks and nuns of the Order of St. Jerome.
St. Eustochium’s feast is celebrated September 28th.
Both women were early Desert Mothers: female Christian ascetics living in the Eastern deserts in the 4th and 5th centuries.
The Desert Mothers, also known as ammas, are honored as Christian leaders because of their spiritual teaching and direction.
Most of the information known about St. Paula and St. Eustochium comes from St. Jerome’s letters.
Even though St. Jerome is more widely known than the women, it’s clear these three holy people were connected and had a significant impact on the Church.
Jerome, Paula and Eustochium walked with each other as they walked with God and are now counted among the saints.
Saints Paula and Eustochium, pray for us!