The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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December 22, 2000 Issue
Saint of the Day

Almost like winning the lottery

St. Melania used inherited wealth to found monasteries and religious center

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

"If I win the lottery, I'll ..."

Common enough words and words that most of us will never have an opportunity to put into practice. But, in a manner of speaking, these words did come true for St. Melania the Younger. Her wealth came not from the lottery, but from her wealthy father.

Melania was born in 383 into a wealthy Roman Christian family. Her father was Publicola, a Roman senator, and her mother, Albina, the daughter of a pagan priest. Melania was named for her paternal grandmother, Melania the Elder.

When Melania was 14, she was married against her will to Valerius Pinianus. After the death of two children during childbirth - she almost died along with the second child - she convinced her husband to abstain from sex and they consecrated themselves to God.

Melania inherited her father's estate after his death. She and her mother and husband left Rome and moved to their country estate, which they turned into a religious center.

Despite some family opposition, she sold her property and gave her treasures to endow monasteries in Egypt, Syria and Palestine, to help church and monasteries in Europe and to help the poor, the sick and pilgrims, and to free 8,000 slaves.

In 406, Melania, her family and followers went to Messina to avoid an invasion by the Goths. They then decided to go to Carthage, but were shipwrecked. In 410, after she paid ransom to pirates, the group went to Tagaste in Numidia in North Africa, and she started a monastery for men and one for women, where she lived. Her friends included St. Augustine.

She and her mother and husband made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 417, including a visit to the desert monks in Egypt. They settled at Jerusalem where Melania met her cousin, Paula, who was a niece of St. Eustochium. Paula introduced Melania to a community at Bethlehem led by St. Jerome and the two became friends.

Melania began living a solitary life following the deaths in 431 of her mother and of her husband in 432. She built a cell close to their tombs, near the Mount of Olives.

Soon, others wanted to join her. She started a convent where she served as an abbess until her death in 439 on Dec. 31, the day on which we celebrate her feast. She died at Bethlehem, where she had gone to celebrate Christmas.

Melania has long been venerated as a saint in the Eastern Church, but has little following in the West, even though Pope Pius X approved the observance of her feast in 1908.

Most of us will not know the wealth St. Melania had. But no matter how rich or poor any of us are, we all have talent, time and treasure that we must decide how to invest. St. Melania gave us an example of how to do that.

Sources: All Saints, Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints II and Voices of the Saints

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