The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th century were the original spiritual directors, sought out by pilgrims coming to them to explore their spiritual life. In this series, I’m introducing a few of these amazing people. Some you have heard of. And, some I’m guessing you have not.
One of the earliest of the desert mothers, Paula of Rome was born into great wealth and married a Senator. She lived a cushy life, donned in expensive silk clothing while slaves carried her through the streets of Rome. But, her life took a dramatic turn at 32 years of age when her husband–who she dearly loved–died, leaving her alone with her 5 children.
After his death, Paula became deeply religious and began a life-long friendship and work partnership with Jerome, a well-respected scholar and ascetic. She traveled the Holy Land with him and a large entourage, taking only one daughter with her—leaving the other children behind with relatives, even as they cried and begged her to stay.
Her Contribution to Scripture
In those days, religious men like Jerome rarely paid attention to women scholars. Yet Jerome worked with Paula and her daughter Eustochium to edit his translation of the bible from Greek into Latin, a translation known as the Latin Vulgate.
Much of what we know about Paula comes from a lengthy letter Jerome wrote to Eustochium after Paula’s death. He speaks of her in terms of spiritual perfection, making it seem as though the only words she ever uttered were quotes from scripture. He most admired her devotion to the poor — she spent all her wealth on people who were in need, didn’t leave a penny of inheritance to her children, slept on goats-hair mats, rarely bathed, and fasted nearly to the point of starvation.
Paula lived to be 59. In addition to her work on the Latin Vulgate, she and Jerome founded two monasteries—one for women and one for men in the desert of Bethlehem. Paula ran the women’s monastery while also serving as Jerome’s scholarly assistant.
Paula became a saint in the Latin church only one year after she died. She is the patron saint of widows.
Thank you for reading this blog. Feel free to share it with others by forwarding the online address. The artwork of Paula is by Trey Everett, a spiritual director and artist, who has created sets of cards with Desert Fathers, Mystics and Saints, and Stations of the Cross. These cards are made for coloring, and can be purchased at his store found at www.treyeverettcreates.com.