Here’s a saint study about St. Jerome, complete with lesson ideas and activities. We celebrate his feast on September 30.
By Kate Daneluk
Often we feel that we are fighting the world for the souls of our students. They are so affected by the culture around them, while our Christian culture seems to become more and more watered-down. Surveys are showing that Catholics are losing faith in the Eucharist and the other sacraments, in the reality of hell and the devil, and in our apostolic faith. Relativism, consumerism, and materialism are overwhelming our society and seen as normal by many of our students. We are not immune to this influence either. It is easy to think we may be against impossible odds, but the life and work of St. Jerome gives us perspective and hope.
About St. Jerome
Born in 340 in a world not yet dominated by Christianity, Jerome became a Christian when he was about 20 years old, influenced by his good friend, Bonosus. He traveled to Rome to pursue his education and was baptized. Despite his conversion, he spent his education and free time focusing more on pagan concerns than on Christian ones. This caused him considerable guilt, but he wasn’t able to overcome these temptations.
In a dream, Jerome found himself at the gates of Heaven where he was made aware that he was not living a Christian life. He changed his lifestyle, abandoned Roman social life and earthly pleasures for a life focused on Heaven, including extreme ascetic practices. He pursued education in Church History, Theology and Scripture. He also studied languages in order to better understand Scripture and to translate works into a personal library. Jerome traveled throughout the Roman Empire to hear homilies and lectures and study under various teachers. He became close with Pope Damascus I and was considered the Pope’s protégé.
After years of travel and study, and time spent as a hermit and in deep ascetic practice, the Church authorities including Pope Damascus urged Jerome to receive Holy Orders. Reluctantly, Jerome agreed on the contingency that he would be permitted to continue his monastic pursuits.
At this time, there were several serious heresies arising. With this came discord among the theologians of the day and their followers. Jerome remained strong against heresy and extremely vocal in challenging the lavish, pagan lifestyles many Christians were living. This was due to his personal experience, but also because of close relationships with some wealthy Christian women in the community to whom he served as a spiritual director and confessor. Many of his works advised particularly on pursuing holiness as a Roman woman.
When Damascus died, Jerome no longer enjoyed the Pope’s protection and enemies pounced. He was criticized for his ascetic practices and advice which were so extreme, some of his followers suffered serious physical illness. He was accused of impropriety with Paula, one of the women he advised, who supported his work financially. His fight for orthodoxy amidst the rising heresies was dismissed. He had called out clergy for their opulence and politics and they retaliated as did the pagans for his promotion of Christianity. It took some time and the resolution of heresies before Jerome returned to good graces in the Church.
Ultimately, Jerome settled in Bethlehem where he spent his final years writing and translating. Jerome died in 420, leaving behind an immense body of work from his career ultimately earning him the title of Doctor of the Church. He is the second most prolific of the ancient doctors. As a linguist and grammarian, he was tasked with re-translating Scripture into Latin from the original, a work known as the Vulgate. These translations, translations of important homilies and his own exegesis are some of his most important works.
Jerome wasn’t perfect and his life wasn’t simple and without conflict. He succumbed frequently to temptation, but ultimately overcame it by truly living for Heaven in this world. He was passionate about defending the faith, especially the doctrine of the eternal virginity of the Blessed Mother. He was committed to assisting others to achieve salvation. So when we feel we are up against too great an obstacle to fight for our faith and that of our students in this culture, remember that Jerome did so through the Early Church, amidst paganism, politics, opulence, corruption and heresy. Who better to pray for us in our struggle?
Fun facts about St. Jerome:
Feast Day: September 30
St Jerome is the patron saint of:
- Bible scholars
You can identify St. Jerome by:
- cardinal attire*
- books and writing material
* There were no cardinals in Jerome’s time but his position with the pope compares to the secretary position typically held by a cardinal in later times.
St. Jerome in the classroom:
St. Jerome’s life and work cross the curriculum in various ways, offering opportunities to present the saint to your class:
- History/Social Studies – Roman Empire, Rise of Christianity, travel in the ancient world
- Geography – Syria, Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Croatia, France, Germany, Egypt, Palestine,
- Language – Greek, Latin, Hebrew
- Literature – Themes of conversion, temptation, battling the culture, guilt
- Science – Vitamin A deficiency (St. Jerome did some work in this area.)
- Religion – Mary Ever-Virgin, asceticism, heresies of Pelagianism and Origenism, different translations of Scriptures
- Reading and discussion (grades 3 and up): Either read aloud or have the class read an age-appropriate biography of St. Jerome. Follow up with discussion questions (Adapt as needed for comprehension and vocabulary. These questions are designed for older students.):
- Why did St. Jerome feel guilty about his life when he first moved to Rome? Do you think it is easy in our time to live an authentic Christian life? What kind of temptations do we face that challenge our faith?
- Why did St. Jerome feel so strongly about the ascetic life? What can we learn from this? What do you think about the kinds of practices from these times? Do you think there is a place for ascetic practices in our modern lives?
- Why do you think Jerome wanted to do a new translation of the Scripture? What kind of problems could happen with an incorrect translation?
- Geography Workout – (grades 5 and up) To prepare students for future map work in Scripture Studies and History, have students create a map of Jerome’s travels and superimpose a current map on transparent paper over the ancient map. Understanding that geography is dynamic and understanding how historical geography relates to modern boundaries is a learned skill.
- Asceticism – (grades 6 and up) Assign a paper or an option for paper or project on the history of asceticism in the Catholic Church. What were some of the practices, saints who practiced it, benefits and dangers? What is the Church’s current stance on asceticism?
- Patron Saint – (all grades) St. Jerome is the patron saint of students and school children. Passionate about learning and finding great teachers, he is a saint for our students to turn to for help throughout the school day. Remind students of this by encouraging them to pray to St. Jerome and with a simple, “St. Jerome, patron of students…..Pray for us.”
- Iconography – (all grades) Your class can collect pictures of St. Jerome in art and provide explanations of the identifying features and what they symbolize. For younger, students, you may provide the pictures. Another option for younger students is to assemble their own pictures by adding an identifying feature to a coloring page of the saint. Not only will students learn more about St. Jerome but about how identifying features work in iconography and other religious art.
Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic school teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music, Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.