Monica, the eldest of three children of Christian parents, was born about the year 332 in Tagaste, North Africa. Little is known of her childhood but when Monica reached marriageable age, her parents found her a husband, the pagan Patricius. He was a man of violent temper and their home could scarcely have been a happy one. Monica endured his outbursts with the utmost patience, although he was critical of Christians and their practices. The daily example of her gentleness and kindness finally had its rewards, and a year before his death, Patricius accepted his wife's faith. Monica and Patricius had three children, Navigius, who seems to have been an exemplary son, Augustine, and Perpetua, a daughter, who became a religious. Augustine's life of carousing and his espousal of the popular heresy of Manichaeism caused his mother great anguish. She disapproved so strongly of his loose-living that on his return, she refused at first to allow him to live at home, relenting only after having seen a vision. One day as she was weeping over his behavior, a figure appeared and told her to dry her tears. She heard the words, "Your son is with you." Monica related this story to Augustine, who replied that they might easily be together if she gave up her faith. Quickly she retorted, "He did not say I was with you: he said that you were with me." Augustine was impressed by the quick answer and never forgot it. Although his conversion was not to take place for nine long years, Monica did not lose faith. She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on his behalf. She implored the local bishop for help in winning him over, and he counseled her to be patient, saying, "God's time will come; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish."

Augustine was twenty-nine and a successful teacher when he decided to go to Rome. Fearing that his conversion would be indefinitely postponed, Monica followed him to the seaport. When he saw that she intended to accompany him, he outwitted her by a deception as to the time of sailing. Although this grieved her deeply, Monica continued on her own way to Rome, cheering those on board the ship, tossed about by a storm, by her serene confidence in God's mercy. On reaching Rome, Monica learned that her son had gone to Milan.

When Monica arrived in Milan, her first visit was to Bishop Ambrose and they understood one another at once. She became his faithful disciple; Ambrose's heart warmed to Monica because of her truly pious way of life, her zeal in good works, and her faithfulness in worship. Monica and Augustine began to attend Mass together and to discuss the bishop's sermons afterwards. Monica had studied philosophy and theology thoroughly so that she might be able to deal intelligently with Augustine's difficulties. When at last, the joyous day of Augustine's conversion came, and when Bishop Ambrose baptized Augustine, his mother's cup was full to overflowing.

Two weeks later, as they were to embark on their way back to Africa, Monica fell ill in Ostia. Knowing that her work had been accomplished and that life would soon be over, she said to Augustine: "I do not know what there is left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled. All I wished for was that I might see you a Catholic and a child of Heaven. God granted me even more than this in making you despise earthly felicity and consecrate yourself to His service." Augustine and his brother asked their mother if she did not fear to die so far from home. With beautiful simplicity, she replied, "Nothing is far from God." Monica's death plunged her children into the deepest grief, and Augustine, "the son of so many tears," in the Confessions implores his readers' prayers for his parents. It is the prayers of Monica herself that have been invoked by generations of the faithful who honor her as a special patroness of married women and as an example for Christian motherhood. Her relics have been transferred from Ostia to Rome, to rest in the Church of San Agostino.

Adapted from John Crawley, The Lives of the Saints.