Scholastica vs. Macrina the Younger

OF COURSE we finish up a full week of saintly action by ignoring the cultural phenomenon of St. Patrick's Day. No green beer for us -- we're all purple all the time anyway. No, today in Lent Madness it's Scholastica vs. Macrina the Younger with nary a shamrock in sight! This contest is chock-full of sibling rivalry as Scholastica was St. Benedict of Nursia's twin sister while Macrina had a plethora of saintly siblings. Read on for details...

Yesterday Amelia Bloomer yanked down Phillipp Melanchthon by a wide margin of 74% to 26% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen.

As you prepare for a full 48 hours of saintly voting deprivation, we wanted to point out that you don't have to wait until Monday morning to discover the results of this matchup. After the polls close in 24 hours, simply click on this post and scroll down to see the results. You can also click on the Bracket tab for all the current results.

We'll see you bright and early on Monday for the Battle of the Consonants aka Name-a-Geddon as Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky faces Nikolaus von Zinzendorf. Now go vote!


Double the pleasure; double the fun! Born in fifth-century Italy, Scholastica was the twin sister of Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Benedictine monasticism. Stories report that from an early age, Scholastica was dedicated to God. As a daughter from a wealthy family, she received an excellent education.

Learned, devout, and authoritative, Scholastica is considered the founder of the female branch of Benedictine monasticism. The historical record is not entirely clear about whether she began a convent or merely lived in a hermitage with other female monastics at the base of Mount Cassino, where there is an ancient church named after her.

Pope Gregory records the most well-known story of Scholastica, showing her to be a twin to her visionary brother in every way. She was believed to visit Benedict annually, and they would spend the day in prayer and discussion. When the evening drew near on one such visit, Benedict announced he needed to return to his cell. Scholastica asked him to stay so they could continue talking. Not wishing to break his own rule, Benedict insisted upon returning to his cell. In response, Scholastica brought her hands together in an attitude of prayer. Almost instantly a fierce storm rose up outside. Benedict asked, “What have you done?” She replied, “I asked you, and you would not listen; so I asked my God, and he did listen.” Benedict was unable to return to his monastery, and the twins spent the night in discussion, as Scholastica requested.

Three days later, while looking out the window of his cell, Benedict saw his sister’s soul ascending to heaven. He sent for her body and laid it in a tomb that he he had prepared for himself. Scholastica’s death from natural causes was recorded in 543. Scholastica is petitioned during storms and is also the patron saint of female monastics and epileptic children. Her feast day is February 10.

Collect for Scholastica 
God, giver of wisdom and ruler of will, we thank you for the gift of our sister Scholastica, who spent a life devoted to family, prayer, and spiritual discipline. Grant us a portion of that same spirit of conviction and tenacity, so that when faced with difficult conversations or partings, we might also remember the true joy and peace that is found in serving you, through Jesus Christ our Lord who, with you and the Holy Spirit, reigns now and for ever. Amen.

— Amber Belldene

Macrina the Younger

Born around 327, Macrina was the eldest of nine (or ten) children and was named after her grandmother (Macrina the Elder) who endured persecution under the Romans. Her parents Basil the Elder and Emmelia of Caesarea must have known something about raising children—half of their offspring are remembered as saints—Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa (two of the three Cappadocian Fathers), Peter of Sebaste, Naucratius, and Macrina.

Macrina was betrothed to a young man who died shortly before their marriage. Upon his death, Macrina took a vow of chastity, considering herself already married to the young man and expecting to be reunited at the resurrection. After the death of her father, Macrina convinced her mother to take vows, and they both became nuns. Some time later, a tumor began to grow on Macrina’s breast. Her mother begged her to see a doctor to have the tumor removed. Macrina refused, asking her mother to make the sign of the cross on her chest. Her mother did this, and the tumor miraculously disappeared with a faint, cross-shaped scar taking its place.

Upon her mother’s death, with the help of her brother Peter, Macrina turned the family home into a monastery and convent. Living an ascetic life, she worked with her hands and lived simply with the other monastics. She gave herself to the study of scriptures and continued to offer counsel and inspiration to her better-known, younger brothers.

In 379, shortly after Basil died, a still-mourning Gregory came to visit Macrina and found her on her deathbed—a rough plank of wood with a smaller piece of wood for a pillow. So extreme was her poverty and asceticism that they could not find even a cloth to cover her. Although she neared death, she offered words of comfort to her brother and encouraged him to remember the promise of the resurrection. Their conversation inspired Gregory’s treatise, On the Soul and the Resurrection. Gregory also wrote a biography of his sister, The Life of Macrina.

Collect for Macrina the Younger 
Merciful God, you called your servant Macrina to reveal in her life and her teaching the riches of your grace and truth: May we, following her example, seek after your wisdom and live according to her way; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

— David Creech

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Scholastica—Clarence Eugene Woodman; The Catholic Publication Society, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Macrina the Younger—By Unknown Artist, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


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230 comments on “Scholastica vs. Macrina the Younger”

  1. As a Benedictine myself, I think I'm required to vote for Scholastica--but I'll admit this was a tough choice!

  2. I loved Scholastic Books, too, Liz! This was a hard choice, though. Finally I decided I was put off by Macrina's unduly literal interpretation of room and board and I had to hand it to Scholastica.

  3. I voted for Macrina. I like that she was the woman behind her more known brothers.

  4. When I was little, I dreamed up alternative names for myself, designed around possible careers. My "actress name" was Danica Ray. My "nun name" was Scholastica Anne. (Clearly someone had given me a book of names...)
    I never became a nun but still think the name Scholastica rules - and sounds a bit like a nun who'd wield a ruler in class.

  5. Macrina for me. The eldest in a large family, she set an example of devotion to God and led four brothers to sainthood. Her brother Gregory's biography makes clear how much he owed to her, and how much he loved her. She seems to embody selflessness and energy - running a holy community in her home while helping raise all those siblings and fighting cancer! (I agree that her parents ought to have a place in a later contest, too.)

  6. All-in for Macrina the Younger c 330, half of her sibs remembered as saints: Basil the Great & Gregory of Nyssa (two of the three Cappadocian Fathers), Peter of Sebaste, Naucratius. Beats #breastcancer ! Renounces wealth, turns family estate into monastery/convent: founded the 1st monastic order for women at Annesi. Cares for the poor. Dies on 2 planks on the floor, teaching her brother Gregory about the Resurrection

  7. I love that Scholastica's story teaches us that sometimes love and compassion are more important than "The Rule". However, I ultimately went with Macrina the Younger as her story resonated with me more (and better documented.) She was the older sister of brothers (whom she basically raised after the deaths of her parents...and we see how well she did that)—as am I; she founded a community of women, many of whom were initially brought in to be clothed and fed; and it seems after the death of her betrothed, she was able to use that as an opportunity to live a life relatively independent from the influence and control of men.

    Some extra reading that helped me in my choice:
    Macrina the Younger
    Band of Angels:The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women

  8. Scholastica it is. Our women's book group is reading Sr. Joan Chittister's The Gift of Years so had to vote in support of our favorite Benedictine sister.

    1. Sister Joan has been my sort up teacher for many years. Thanks for helping me make a deceision.

      1. That's not what I meant. Change to "spiritual" teacher. Doing things in a hurry between classes is never a good idea.

        1. O, Nthathu, really no need to change your original post. There are times when I feel at a loss how to sort out the options in life, how to sift through the difficulties and uncertainties to find the best way through, how to "sort up" decisions without getting "out of sorts." I love your idea of a "sort up" teacher. You just may have invented a new career field!

  9. OK, had to vote for Macrina---sans the reference to the "dance". Her story embodied, for me, the will to make a way for herself and she encouraged her mother to come along (not all daughters get along with their mothers). And her family was quite "saintly" filled! Wow, how do you compete with that? Anyway, Scholastica--I love the name, but Macrina's story just won my heart!

  10. I am always amazed to realize how much these people of ancient times steered and perpetuated the Christian faith. Here we are in the 21st century thinking we know it all and read our bibles and prayer books, feeling really Christian. These brave souls kept the faith alive through the centuries so that we can do just that.
    Praise God for their lives !

    1. Good point. Without the Saints of old, there would be no saints today! -- capital/no cap intentional.
      My vote is for Scholastica. I think Macrina is also one who keeps the faith for us today. Perhaps in another few when she's eligible to run again, someone will put her on the bracket? Like Oakenhater who simply MUST get out of the first round.

  11. I'm inspired by both these women, who seem every bit as amazing as their brothers. But Scholastica's reply to her brother totally entranced me. And, even though I have no idea if there's a connection, I benefitted greatly from Scholastic books as a child, and they're still out there publishing excellent books for kids. So Scholastica it is.

  12. My vote was influenced by my admiration for the children's picture book "The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica"--a sort of fictionalized biography charmingly illustrated by Tomie dePaola. Hadn't realized until this morning that the author is Kathleen Norris.

  13. I'll have to do some research before I can vote. I'm tempted to vote for Scholastica because when I adopted my two cats I was thinking about calling them Benedict and Scholastica. I ended up naming them Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and AnnaLivia Plurabelle. Seeing as how neither of the cats are inclined to asceticism, that was probably a good decision.

  14. This one was a no-brainer for me! I owe the world to those wonderful well-educated Benedictine nuns who formed my values and nurtured my self-confidence as I eventually pursued a career as a professional woman. In our all-girls high school, St. Scholastica's statue occupied a place of honor opposite her brother Benedict's (tho she was the one who often found a cigarette lodged in her outstretched hand. Hopefully she also had a sense of humor and tolerance for the whims of teenage girls :):)) So go Scholastica!!!

  15. Voting today for Scholastica in fond memory of retreating at St. Gregory's Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan, and not-so-subtly offering a shout out for Benedictines of the Episcopal Church.

  16. I love them both, but have to go with Macrina. After having been today inspired to read more about her life: her belief in the equality of all the women in her convent: slave or rich; Her leadership with her younger siblings and the establishment of a convent; her intelligence and theological influence on her more famous brothers; she is the obvious choice for me.

  17. For eldest daughters (of which I am one) and breast cancer patients and survivors everywhere, I vote for Macrina. That she would be remembered at all in a family with such famous brothers as Basil and Gregory, and after all these male-dominated centuries as well, is quite remarkable.

    For those of you who don't get the "Hey Macarena" references, here's the link. Have fun!

  18. For me it was a toss-up, but what decided me for Scholastica was Macrina's determination to rely on faith healing instead of getting a physician. I'm in a state which finally had to crack down on faith healing, because children were dying. The parents refused to get medical care for their children, and as a result their children died. Now, Macrina may have made such a choice for herself, but given that healthcare is such a tendentious issue right now, I'm going to avoid supporting models that suggest that the poor should not insist on healthcare. Skepticism is a God-given attitude toward faith-based healing. Healthcare is a human right.

    1. Thank you for that comment, St. Celia.
      Macrina's decision to reject the medical option in favour of faith healing is not something any of us should encourage for anyone.
      This is what swung the decision for me, even though I was leaning in Scholastica's direction anyway.

  19. One of the things I so love about Lent Madness is the opportunity to learn about people I have never heard of before, such as Scholastica and Macrina, and two learn more about people I do know. Both are awesome women, but I choose Macrina partly because I, too, am a survivor of breast cancer, thanks to early detection and prompt treatment. Ladies, get your mammograms!

  20. Some thoughts on Macrina:
    I give her an F for intentionally refusing to learn the Classics. Reminds me too much of my days in a fundamentalist university listening to my fellow students debate whether or not learning Shakespeare was a waste of time or even sinful.
    I give her a big shining A+++ for espousing a robust universalism. Here's a quote of hers from her brother's book that I discovered on Matt Gunter's blog (
    To evaluate the way a person has lived, the judge would need to examine all these factors: how he endured suffering, dishonor, disease, old age, maturity, youth, wealth, and poverty; how through each of these situations he ran the course of the life allotted to him either well or badly; and whether he became able to receive many good things or many evil things in a long lifetime or did not reach even the beginning of either good or evil, ceasing to live when his mind was not yet fully developed. But when God brings our nature back to the first state of man by the resurrection, it would be pointless to mention such matters and to suppose that the power of God is hindered from this goal by such obstructions.

    He has one goal: when the whole fullness of our nature has been perfected in each man, some straightway even in this life purified from evil, others healed hereafter through fire for the appropriate length of time, and others ignorant of the experience equally of good and of evil in the life here, God intends to set before everyone the participation of the good things in Him, which the Scripture says eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor thought attained.

    This is nothing else, according to my judgment, but to be in God Himself; for the good which is beyond hearing, sight, and heart would be that very thing which surpasses everything. But the difference between a life of virtue and a life of wickedness will appear hereafter chiefly in allowing us to participate earlier or later in the blessedness which we hope for. The duration of the healing process will undoubtedly be in proportion to the measure of evil which has entered each person. This process of healing the soul would consist of cleansing it from evil. This cannot be accomplished without pain, as we have discussed previously.

  21. I love thunderstorms and always want to believe they "mean" something. I'll bet she was the elder of the twins. My mother always said she wished I had been twins instead of an only child. I would have loved a twin brother, especially one like Benedictine. What a gift to be able to control storms AND found the female branch of the Benedictine order. Hope you "scoop" the victory, Scholastica!

  22. Had to vote for Scholastica as I am friends with and highly respect the Benedictine Sisters of Florida.

  23. How interesting that at 70-some comments, most of the commenters have voted for Macrina (I did, too), but Scholastica is ahead by miles. This was a hard decision to make today, but this is EXACTLY the kind of match-up I've been asking the SEC for. Both women, both from more or less the same time period, both monastics, even both with famous brothers! This way one monastic woman from early in church history will advance to the Saintly 16. Thank you, SEC.

    1. I thought the same thing!! Also, wallowing in my depression... I had Macrina taking the Halo at the end! 🙁

  24. Neither of these spoke very strongly to me. I voted for Macrina because I'm a widow, too.

  25. I can't remember the source exactly, although it might have been Frederick Buechner, but a contemporary theologian has described St. Scholastica as "the patron saint of just being there for someone," a saint who understood so well "the ministry of presence." Sometimes just being there is all anyone can do, and it's enough.

    1. I like that too. Scholastica is awesome because she was Benedicts partner in crime and certainly and unsung equal. The patron of just being there for someone. Very nice.

  26. Although my eldest daughter lived at Scholastica House for 4+ years while working at Saint Anselm College, being a firstborn myself, I have always been partial to Macrina and her stalwart and faithful efforts to effect reconciliation between bossy Basil and

    So, Macrina it is!

  27. What two wonderful women! Scholastica got my vote....a deep respect for a Benedtince life well lived. But Macrina's deep trust that she would be reunited in the resurrection is a warm spot for all lovers. I'll tuck that one away.