Scholastica and Benedict were born into a wealthy Italian family in the town of Nursia in 480, and while twins are often close, the fact that their mother died in childbirth may have strengthened the bond between them even further. Little is known of the details of Scholastica's early life, but she and her brother were raised together in their father's house until Benedict left for Rome to pursue his studies.
In Scholastica's social class, young women often lived in their father's home until they either married or entered religious life. We do know, thanks to the writings of Pope St. Gregory the Great, that she was dedicated to God from an early age, and may even have gathered some like-minded young women around her while still living in Nursia. Whatever the circumstances, she remained in that house until her father's death.
When Benedict subsequently left the "worldliness" of Rome to live a more ascetic life at Monte Cassino (which is located between Rome and Naples), Scholastica relocated as well. Adhering to her brother's monastic Rule, she established what has become known as the first Benedictine convent either at Plumbariola, which is about five miles from Monte Cassio, or in a group of buildings at the foot of Monte Cassino itself.
Though brother and sister lived physically very close to one another, they only met in person once a year at a farmhouse near the monastery (the Benedictine Rule prevented Scholastica from entering the monastery building itself). During these rare meetings, they would spend the day praising God and discussing spiritual matters.
Very near the very end of her life, in 543, Scholastica and her brother were meeting as they usually did; when night drew on, however, she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day, as she sensed that her own death was imminent. Because the Benedictine Rule stipulated that a monk must not spend a night away from his monastery, her brother at first refused. It is said that, at that point, Scholastica folded her hands on the table, lowered her head, and began to pray. Suddenly, a thunderstorm broke out that was so severe that neither Benedict nor the monks accompanying him could safely leave the convent.
Benedict then cried out, "God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?" Scholastica replied, "I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and He granted it." Realizing that this was God's will, Benedict remained talking to his sister until the next morning, at which time they parted. It was the last time in this world that they saw each other; three days later, as he was praying, Benedict saw a dove rising to heaven and knew that it was his sister's soul returning to God. He announced her death to the other monks and instructed them to bring her body back to the monastery. There he laid her in a tomb that he had prepared for himself. He, in turn, died seven years later, in 550.
Scholastica, whose feast day is Feb. 10, is the patron saint of nuns; she is also invoked against severe storms and heavy rain.
- Published in Saints & Sacred