A holy heritage upheld

Today, 16 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Eusebia, Benedictine abbess of Hamage. She grew up in a noble and saintly family, and made her own the choice to serve God in holiness.

St Eusebia was born around the year 637 to St Adalbald (a Belgian noble) and St Rictrudis (a French noble). Several of her siblings are also Saints. Living close to the border between France and Belgium, the noble families were often in dispute as to who owned which parcel of land. Together her parents gave generously of themselves and of their funds to holy projects like building monasteries and the relief of the poor. When her father was murdered around 651, her mother refused to marry and sought entry to the Benedictine monastery at Marchiennes. There her mother was in due time elected abbess.

In the meantime her great grandmother St Gertrude was abbess of the Benedictine monastery of Hamage, a place on the French side of the border. Upon her father’s death Eusebia was sent to live in this more established monastery. After only a few years St Gertrude entered into her happy eternity and a new abbess was selected. Eusebia, still only a young teenager was chosen. Whether this was because Eusebia had already proved herself to be a good model of religious life or because the nuns were concerned that the military border campaigns might get too close to them if they didn’t have an abbess of noble birth as a protectress, or both, we don’t know.

Her mother, St Rictrudis, could see problems with one so young and inexperienced running a monastery, so she merged the two communities and presided as abbess over the united group. It was a difficult transition for the Hamage nuns, especially since they had not been able to fully carry out St Gertrude’s wishes before the big move. The loss of the particular character, tradition and charisms of the Hamage monastery was at stake. After lengthy negotiations over a period of time, the Hamage nuns were permitted to return to their monastery of origin.

By this time Eusebia had sufficient age and experience to take on the mantle of abbess at Hamage. As her great grandmother and the nuns had suspected years before, Eusebia made an outstanding abbess. Around the year 680, when Eusebia was still nudging 40, the Redeemer she had served so well decided to bring her into eternity to be with Him for ever. The nuns honoured her with burial in the abbey church and with fruitful recourse to her intercession for personal and community needs.

So easily Eusebia could have totally rejected the example of holiness of her family and the demands of Benedictine life – as so many young people trying to find their own feet in life do – but she didn’t. Although we don’t have those precious details that help us judge her holiness for ourselves, this taking on of responsibility and commitment to preserving holy traditions at a young age speaks powerfully of the virtuous character she must have possessed. We can ask her to pray for the teenagers in our lives, that they may choose life, choose God and choose holiness for themselves.

St Eusebia, pray for us