Helena vs. Monnica

The moment we've all been waiting for has finally arrived: Lent Madness 2016 kicks off RIGHT NOW! For those who thought "Ash Thursday" would, like a desert oasis, never arrive, your penitential dreams have come true.

In any case, we’re delighted to welcome you to this year’s Saintly Smackdown with a First Round battle between Helena and Monnica. Or as we like to call it, the Matronly Meltdown®, as we open with two famous mothers doing battle (of course motherhood isn't either one's full claim to fame, so read on).

If you’re new to Lent Madness, welcome! You may want to check out our recent Voting 101 post which includes a step-by-step how to vote video. You can also read through the Lent Madness Glossary which highlights all sorts of phrases and terms you'll encounter along this unique Lenten journey.

Be sure to sign up for e-mail updates on our home page so you never miss a vote, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and encourage your friends to jump into the fray. While you are on our Facebook page today, please “Check In” to Lent Madness so all your friends will know you have gone to Lent Madness.

We can assure you this will be a wild, joyful, educational, ocassionally gut-wrenching ride. Let the Madness begin!



During her long life, Helena gathered the most-sought-after relics in Christian history, including splinters of what is known as the True Cross.

Helena was born around 246 CE, somewhere in Asia Minor—most likely the city of Drepanum. She grew up as a stable maid, but her fortunes changed radically when she met the emperor, fell in love with him, was whisked away to Rome, and gave birth to Constantine in 272 CE.

Some describe Helena as the royal wife, some as the royal concubine, some as the royal consort. What is clear is that after Constantine was born, the emperor sent Helena away. Helena and Constantine were exiled from court in 289 CE.

This was not the end of Helena. Constantine became the Roman emperor by winning the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 313 CE, after being told in a vision that if he and his troops marked their shields with the Greek letters Chi and Rho—the first two letters of Christ, the battle would belong to them. Depending on the source, Constantine and his mother converted promptly after this victory was secured.

Upon being recognized as the emperor of Rome, Constantine sent Helena on an official mission: travel to Palestine to bring back relics of Jesus and the Apostles and to do whatever good she felt necessary in the name of Christ. To accomplish this, he put the entire imperial treasury at her disposal.

Helena (who was at the very least every day of seventy-five-years-old) set out with gusto and built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as well as the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives. She tore down the Roman temple that had been constructed on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and gave orders for the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. She unearthed fragments of wood that she believed to be the True Cross as well as the nails that were used on Jesus’ hands and feet and carried them with her back to Rome.

In all, she built over eighty churches in the Holy Land, including Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. Helena also preserved for generations the history of the Holy Land and the early faith of the Church. And she did it all in the second act of her life.

Collect for Helena
Almighty God, you caused Helena of Constantinople to seek the cross of Christ with energy and devotion; Grant that through her example we may be inspired to seek your face and bear your cross for the sake of your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

                                                                                             — Megan Castellan



Monnica, a model of the praying mother and wife, was the mother of Augustine—the father of Western Christian thought. Married to a pagan bureaucrat named Patricius, who would later convert to Christianity under her influence, Monnica was mother to several children; Augustine was the eldest. After her husband’s death, Monnica made fierce and tireless efforts to secure Augustine’s conversion, even going so far as to push the local bishop to track Augustine down and argue with him.

By the time he was twenty-nine, Augustine decided to journey to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monnica, while opposed to the plan, persisted in going with him. By fits and tricks, Augustine managed to embark for Rome, leaving his bereft mother behind. Yet Monnica could not be deterred, and she sailed for Rome, only to find him in Milan. In 386, she witnessed the event for which she longed: Augustine’s full acceptance of catholic Christianity, followed a year later by his baptism. Monnica had persisted, prayed, and worked nearly two decades to see Augustine’s conversion.

Monnica died in the port of Ostia, and when asked if she wished for her remains to be carried home, she replied, “Nothing is far from God; neither am I afraid God will not find me.” Her conviction that nothing is far from God has earned her devotion to this day. Monnica is the patron saint of married women and mothers and those battling alcohol addiction.

Collect for Monnica
O Lord, through spiritual discipline you strengthened your servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

 — David Sibley

Helena vs. Monnica

  • Helena (62%, 5,540 Votes)
  • Monnica (38%, 3,413 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,953

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Helena: Fresco of Helena of Constantinople; Piero della Francesca [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Monnica: By Ramon FVelasquez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons



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303 comments on “Helena vs. Monnica”

      1. I agree with Nancy. I voted for Monnica. I thought I would vote for Helena because her struggles seemed long.
        But I voted for Monnica because, to me, her struggles seems harder

    1. Having been to the Holy Lands a couple months ago I had to vote for Helena for so much of what we saw was due to everything that she did! Thank you Lord for your servant Helena!

      1. I agree. The magnificent churches built under her influence are reasons enough. But, this was a tough first decision.

      2. I have been in the Hcoly land too; & agree I voted for Helena for what she did & being 75 plus at the time.

      3. I was in Jerusalem last November and was amazed to see all she had built. A no-brainer this round for me.

    1. L E N T ????

      To whom? And for how long?

      I was intrigued by the matching of two so similar people. Both did their deeds at an age that inspires me not to slow down. I have a feeling that whoever wins, the other is saying, "How wonderful! I'm happy for you, dear."
      Monnica is the lesser known, so I thought she deserves the nod.

      1. I think Monnica exemplifies what Lent is about Recovery. She is certainly a great Saint to pray to during these times .
        Helena did great things and definitely had the monetary backing of her son to accomplish her deeds.
        I think Monnica definitely deserves the Golden Halo.

    1. I v9oted for Helena because she was so active in her "mature" years! Monnica was too much of a helicopter parent.

      1. Doing anything to secure your children's salvation is not helicopter parenting--its parenting. Read St Augustine's Confessions, or The City of God to get a glimpse of the brilliance of this man. None of this would exist without his conversion.

        1. Monnica's prayers for her son were admirable. However when I read about how she chased after Augustine to Rome and Milan, when he was 29 years old, I thought perhaps she should have been named the patron saint of helicopter parents. Good call, Donna!

          1. That was EXACTLY why I didn't vote for her - granted she's probably wholly responsible for Augustine's conversion, and all Christians everywhere owe her gratitude for that, but that poor woman had no boundaries whatsoever. Plus she didn't build a bunch of great churches.

          2. Still, I love Monnica as a metaphor for the God as Heavenly Parent "that will not let us go" in a more positive sense. And the beautiful relationship Monnica and Augustine come to eventually in his Confessions could bring tears to your eyes.

        2. I blame Monnica for many of our Christian issues today. She was so much of a helicopter parent that she insisted Augustine send his beloved "concubine" of ten years and son away so he would make a rich marriage that would secure him a socially advantageous position. Augustine loved his mother, but it was a "fraught" relationship. I vote for Helena.

        3. Yep, doing youth work I see what the helicopter parents do and it's not helpful for their children's maturation. Plus Helena had the energy to build churches as a senior citizen. Go Helena

          1. As I understand it, a helicopter parent is one who tries to run his child's life well beyond the age when it is appropriate, and to shield his child from the logical consequences of his actions. Over time, this delays or prevents the child from developing maturity, organizational skills and good judgment. We generally learn from our mistakes. Helicopter parents prevent that learning, and in the process send the message that they don't believe their children are capable of becoming responsible, mature adults. The net effect is that the children remain immature, dependent and lack self-confidence.

      2. I agree.
        I actually felt sorry for Augustine. She had no life but his.
        I admired him for going to Milan and not Rome, trying to get a little space from MaMa.

        1. What woman in those times had a life beyond the man they married (or consorted with) and the sons they bore and nurtured? (Not so different in my long lifetime, either.) Most of these comments are from the perspective of 20th/21st century hindsight and don't take account what may have been motivating either mother or son. Helicopter parent, indeed! As for me, I joined this free-for-all a day late ... but I wouldn't've voted for either one. Don't care much for their famous sons, either!

  1. Although I appreciate Helena I had to vote for Monnica. She mirrors my personal struggle to see my prodigal come to Christ. I have even asked my Bishop to pray for us and find all the prayer warriors he can to do so as well! The prayer of my heart is that all my sons become men of faith in Christ. Prodigals just really rip at your heart though.

    1. I agree 100% . Tough choice, but I also have five prodigals in my family, so I identify with you, Nancy!

    2. I also voted for Monica for similar reasons. She loved Patricia and Augustine, and she didn't give up. Such faith!

      1. I voted for Monnica because she is patron saint of alcoholics which I did not know. Many alcoholics and addicts have been converted and live better lives because of someone who cares

    3. She exemplifies the persistent tenacity we mothers have to see that our families come to know the love of Christ fully--and the confidence that God will answer prayers for our family members.

    4. Having been a prodigal whose family never stopped praying for her, and now a "meddling" mother myself, my vote goes to Monnica.

  2. Aarrggh.... Right out of the gate, a really hard decision! Oh Supreme Council, you are going to make this a heartbreak season.

    I too went to Helena, because the course of Christianity might have been radically different without her.

  3. Hello everybody. Welcome to Lent! I wore purple all day yesterday. I am looking forward to "journeying to Canterbury" once more with you this year. I would like to suggest, before the action gets heated (this vote being pretty much a snooze for me), that this year we have a "safe word" for when people's passions get aroused (someone doesn't vote for the Irish saint, say). The safe word I propose is inspired by Thekla's goldfish last year, who did an entire pilgrimage every time it circled its bowl. I recommend "Dude (or dudess), don't spill the goldfish." That would provide a gentle reminder to all that we are on our way (together) to heaven and not brawling our way down to the other place. This is for our souls' enlargement. May we all have a peaceful and enlightening journey together. Have a safe and rewarding Lent.

    1. Your message is important. Let Lenten Madness be a fun way to learn about past saints and just a little silly at times; not letting ourselves get too serious in battle! Peace Be With Us All.

    2. I think this is an unnecessary admonition. This site is one of the most polite forums on the web. I trust we still enjoy free speech.

      1. Free speech, certainly. Rude speech (such as what I happen to be hearing about the recent voting on my beloved NPR), no; please, no.

  4. Constantine issued the Edict of Milan to stop the persecution of Christians. Augustine said that if it feels good, it's a sin. Both mom's seem like good women, but I voted for Constantine's -- go Helena!

  5. Monnica all the way! She prayed for her family and realized that God can find you everywhere. Helena helped spawn the worship of relics.

  6. I voted for Monnica because I consider her the patron saint of nagging mothers, and as nagging mother myself, my vote was an act of solidarity with women everywhere who drive their children nuts with this whole Christianity thing.

  7. So EXCITED about LENT I still it fish X 2 a week. And keep my forehead with ashes last night at the grocery store the only person who did not tell me I had dirt on my forehead was a Jewish friend !

  8. Helena has that certain later-in-life appeal to me: a lovely illustration of coming into your own at an advanced age--maybe hope for me yet...also I just adore that hat she is wearing. It reminds me of the shaped metal on cathedral turrets and such...I want one just like that. I bet it even has some verdigris on it. I have trouble with the tenor of the attachment between mother and son in Monnica and Augustine. A little creepy--or a lot holy?

    1. I agree with the late-in-life appeal. Helena's life reminds us that it is never too late. In a youth-obsessed culture, it is good to remember that God's plan for us does not end when we get wrinkles.

  9. Way to go, SEC (and celebrity bloggers) for giving us a great matchup from the start! Loved both these women, and as a mother, related to both - although not so dramatically. I ultimately voted for Helena as I, too, am in the second act, hoping to make the most of it. If this start reflects the rest of the season, I am all in!

  10. Very tough vote to start the Madness! I admire both women immensely but I voted for Helena because she was an old lady ( i.e. "the second act of her life") when she started her work in the Holy Land. Good stuff!!!

  11. Lent Madness!! Vote for Helena because she preserved the artifacts and sites she could, even if some are questionable. This way we have some grounding for what we read in scripture. Admire Monica, but sheesh! The writer makes her seem like the worst "helicopter parent" ever!

  12. Tough decision! Do I vote for the senior citizen who had gusto or the mom who wouldn't give up? The mom won.

  13. Monnica all the way for me. Both of these women changed Christianity forever, and while I can do without people touting about splinters of the 'true cross,' I'm not so sure I could as easily give up on Monnica's son's contributions, nor the model of conversion through persistence, particularly when it comes to one's children, that she exemplifies.

    1. "how her journey to the Holy Land foreshadows Egeria’s, ..." Good point. I like that about St. Helena too.

    2. I, too voted for Monica, being a medium meddling mama with prodigal children and a lot of alcoholism in my family. I also do not care much for relics and worshiping objects, however holy.

  14. It's a tough call, but as an Associate of Holy Cross, I had to go for St. Helena. I think she was the more transformative figure for Christianity given the influence on her son at a time that allowed Christianity to come out from the shadows as well cementing more fully the public awareness of the historical foundations and tactile reality of our faith and its key moments. I also like how her journey to the Holy Land foreshadows Egeria's, which gives us our Holy Week liturgies.

  15. For everyone in the "second half" of their lives, Helena is an inspiration. We never know what God has planned for us.

  16. My vote goes to Helena, not least because the book Helena by Evelyn Waugh inspired a wonderful meditation by Rowan Williams about the limits of subtlety and intrigue. 'Space has been made in this world, the real world of politics and struggle, for God to make himself at home, and to welcome all of us and use whatever we bring him.' http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/rowan-williams-on-the-meanings-of-christmas-when-subtle-strategists-miss-the-obvious-then-the-137208.html

    1. Thank you for the references to the book and the meditation. The meditation may be about Christmas, but it speaks volumes for Lent. I am also looking forward to reading the book.

    2. What I have to bring to God and humanity now is a somewhat frail, though younger-looking, 78-year-old body. Currently recovering from foot surgery with complications, I couldn't get to the computer until today (Saturday, Feb. 13) but am now enjoying all your comments as usual in Lent Madness. I would have voted for Helena.

  17. Monnica. I've actually preached about her, and, having once been a wayward son myself, feel a connection to her.

  18. Not really wild about either of these women, so I will respectfully abstain today and wait for more intriguing matchups.

  19. With a shadow of my ashes still faintly present I am here to cast my vote for Helena. Helena's accomplishments are far greater than Monica's obsession with her oldest son. What of Monica's other children? Instead of leaving all else behind to follow her son, Helena followed her son's desires.

    1. What a good question. I'd like to assume that she felt secure that other children were good Christians. But her focus on her oldest son does raise questions of her parenting style.