Guest Post: Saints Perpetua and Felicity

Saints Perpetual and FelicityEditor’s Note: I know today is the feast of Saint Francis, but I don’t think he minds if I share Kathleen Basi’s guest post on Saints Perpetual and Felicity. 🙂 And Kathleen’s questions gave me pause. How would I react if I was in the same position as Saints Perpetua and Felicity? I hope I would have the same faith and strength as them!

Let me begin with a story, because it was one I didn’t know.

Perpetua was a 22-year-old Roman noblewoman with a nursing child, who became a Christian in the year 203 AD.

Felicity was her slave, also a convert, and eight months pregnant.

They, along with their Christian friends, were put in prison to await execution. Execution, in the Roman empire, was not pretty, even when it didn’t involve crucifixion. These two women were supposed to be fed to wild animals in the arena.

Something about their story stopped me dead in my tracks, made me question myself–really question. I think of myself as a faithful person. But if I found myself in their position, how would I react? How do you weigh the choice between renouncing faith or renouncing the children you love more than life itself?

In every way, the stakes are higher after you have children. I don’t think anything illustrates that fact quite as clearly as the story of these two women. Like us, they bore their children in love, caught their breath in wonder at the flutters and kicks, strained forward in time, eager to meet the tiny life they knew so intimately and yet not at all. Surely they cherished dreams for them, as we all do–dreams that are tightly, inseparably woven with the faith that makes us who we are. There would be little point in renouncing the faith to stay alive for the sake of their children, for if they did, what would be left to pass on? And yet, to choose martyrdom was to entrust their children to a future in which they couldn’t be sure the faith for which they’d sacrificed all was even being taught. Christ comes before all. Still, our children are entrusted to us, a holy and sacred vocation; they make us holy as we teach them holiness.

The difficulty with saints’ stories is that their biographers edit out the details that make them human, and leave only that which makes them saints. We know what Perpetua and Felicity did. We even know some of what they thought, because of a document called The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions. Felicity’s greatest fear, for instance, was that she wouldn’t give birth in time to be executed with her friends (pregnant women were not executed in Rome). But they weren’t immune to fear, to regret. Surely there was anguish in those final days, and surely they, like Jesus before them, prayed to let this cup pass them by.

There’s a telling detail in Perpetua’s story. When she went to prison, she went without her baby, and she was desolate. Eventually, her family was able to bring the baby to her in prison. (Anybody want to wager it was not out of compassion for the crazy hormonal condemned lady, but for the people forced to put up with a nursing child separated from his mother?) Once her son was with her, Perpetua considered prison to be a palace. I understand that. Death is inevitable, so much of its power is gone. From now ’til then, you have your little one by your side, and no other duties–nothing to distract you. And on the far side waits the One who makes it all worth it.

It’s a position I hope I will never be in, but it inspires me nonetheless.

What saint stories make you look at your life in a new way?

Kathleen Basi is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, flute and voice
teacher, liturgical composer, choir director, natural family planning
teacher, scrapbooker, sometime-chef and budding disability rights activist.
She puts her juggling skills on display at

(Photo Credit)


  1. I must admit; I’ve heard those saints’ names for years in the Canon of the Mass, but have never known the circumstances of their deaths. Thanks for sharing your insights in this column. As mothers of infants they were faced with a very difficult situation indeed.
    nancyo…recently posted…Quick Takes: Doctors, Lawyers, Actors, Saints, and KingsMy Profile

  2. I have always been inspired by their story. Thanks for sharing this!
    Colleen…recently posted…Thankful for Blessings – Gifts Galore!My Profile


  1. […] a Liguorian column on passing the faith to the next generation, and a guest post in which I identify (or not) with two saints who were mothers, and who chose martyrdom: Perpetua an…. If you, like me, have heard those names and never looked at their story, you should. It’s a […]

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