Saint Benedict was born in Nursia, Italy in 480. His father was a Roman noble, and Benedict had a twin sister named Scholastica, who is also a saint. He moved to Rome with his family, and went to school there. Benedict wanted to live a simple life and serve God, so he moved out of the city where he met a monk who lived nearby. When the monk heard about how Benedict wanted to pray and praise God, he made Benedict a monk too. Benedict lived alone in a cave, praying, for three years. Then, the abbot (or leader) of another monastery died, and the monks who lived there came to Benedict and asked him to be their new abbot.
Eventually, so many people came to live at the monastery that Benedict had to keep building new places to fit them all. He built twelve new monasteries, and he wrote a book explaining the rules that they should all live by. Writing down these rules helped all of the monks understand what kind of life God had called Benedict to live. Some of his rules include what types of foods the monks should eat, what kind of habit they should wear, and how often they should meet to pray together. Many men and women began to follow these rules, including Benedict’s sister Scholastica, who became the head of a convent of nuns. Religious communities who follow these rules are called Benedictines, and they still follow Benedict’s rules today. Benedict died while praying in the year 547.
The motto of the Benedictines is Ora et Labora – pray and work. Saint Benedict organized the typical day of those in his monasteries with a balance of four elements: prayer, sleep, spiritual reading, and manual labor, each to be done with an equal love for God, that He would be glorified through all these activities. You can follow Saint Benedict’s example by living this balanced life.
You may also want to read an excellent picture book entitled The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica, by Kathleen Norris and Tomie dePaola.