St. Paula of Rome, Patron Saint of Widows

A brief profile of St. Paula of Rome

Saint Paula, patron saint of widows (left). Detail from the painting "Saint Jerome with Saint Paula and Saint Eustochium" by Francisco de Zurbaran, circa 1640/1650. Photo © Samuel H. Kress Collection/National Gallery of Art

The Catholic Church venerates more than 10,000 men and women as saints so, not surprisingly, many unexpected objects, activities and even geographic areas, among numerous other things, are associated with specific patron saints. For example, St. Drogo is the patron saint of gallstones, St. Columbanus of motorcyclists, and St. Anselm of Lucca is the patron of Mantua, Italy (but not nearby Verona, apparently).

This article offers a brief profile of another Catholic saint, St. Paula of Rome, the patron saint of widows.

The Life of St. Paula of Rome

Born into an important and wealthy Roman family in the year 347, Paula was raised as a Christian. When she was roughly 15 years old, her family arranged for her to marry Toxotius, the son of another prominent family in Rome. (Families often arranged marriages for their children in those days in order to form politically and/or personally advantageous alliances.)

Despite the fact that her parents arranged the young girl's marriage, Paula loved her husband deeply and the pair was widely considered "an ideal married couple." Together, they had five children -- four daughters and a son -- and the family lived a live of privilege and comfort.

Embracing the Christian ideal, however, Paula used her wealth and position to help those less fortunate. According to a letter written by St.

Jerome in A.D. 404 to Paula's daughter, Eustochium, Jerome described the extent of Paula's charity and concern: "What poor man, as he lay dying, was not wrapped in blankets given by her? What bedridden person was not supported with money from her purse? She would seek out such with the greatest diligence throughout the city, and would think it a misfortune were any hungry or sick person to be supported by another's food."

When Paula's husband, Toxotius, died in the year 379, leaving her a widow at age 32, "her grief was so great that she nearly died herself," according to Jerome. She found new purpose at this time, however, by renouncing her wealth and privilege and dedicating herself to helping those less fortunate. A few years later (382), she met Jerome (the author of the letter mentioned above), a highly intellectual and scholarly Christian priest, who was studying and working in Rome.

In the following years, Paula assisted Jerome with his work in translating the Bible into Latin and embarked on a series of journeys throughout the Holy Land and Egypt with her daughter, Eustochium, before deciding to live in Bethlehem. There, she continued to dispense her fortune by establishing several monasteries/convents, a hospital and a school, as well as funding Jerome's work. Her financial generosity eventually created financial difficulties before her death on January 26, 404, which left a "large mass of debt" for her heirs.

According to Jerome, Paula's tomb in Bethlehem bore the following (partial) inscription:
Here rests the lady Paula, well-beloved
Of both her parents, with Eustochium
For daughter; she the first of Roman dames
Who hardship chose and Bethlehem for Christ.

"St. Drogo." Catholic Online. Retrieved November 22, 2014.

"St. Columbanus." Catholic Online. Retrieved November 22, 2014.

"St. Anselm of Lucca." Catholic Online. Retrieved November 22, 2014.

"St. Paula." Catholic Online. Retrieved March 21, 2015.

"Letter 108." Retrieved March 21, 2015.

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