Saint Paula of Rome (347-404, feast day on January 26) was born in Rome to one of the richest senatorial families, which claimed descent from the mythical King Agamemnon. In her mid-teens, she was married to the nobleman Toxotius, with whom she had four daughters and one boy. According to contemporary St. Jerome, St. Paula had led a luxurious life with a great social status, dressing in silks, and was carried around the city by eunuch slaves. At the age of 32 she was widowed, and gradually felt more drawn to religious life. She became an enthusiastic member of the semi-monastic group for women founded by St. Marcella, and in 382 she met St. Jerome, who had come to Rome, and influenced her greatly.
St. Paula went on pilgrimage to Egypt and the Holy Land, before settling in Bethlehem where she established a monastery for men and a convent for women. There she led an ascetic life as a Desert Mother, before helping St. Jerome with his translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. It was St. Paula who had suggested him doing the translation in the first place, and she also edited his manuscripts and copied parts of his work for circulation. She is largely regarded as being formative in the manner in which nuns and sisters live in religious communities, and she insisted that the sisters wore a habit, which is the first record of this identifying style of clothing. St. Paula is also famous for explaining her construction of the hospice in Bethlehem with the words, “Mary and Joseph couldn’t find shelter when they came to town.”
St. Paula was martyred in Bethlehem at the age of 56. She is often seen in art together with St. Jerome, wearing a religious habit. She is also the Patroness of the Order of Saint Jerome.
Painting: The Martyrdom of St. Paula, by Gabriel Guay
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