Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Helen, mother, c.250-c.330
As with many saints of this era of the Church, many conflicting stories of Helen’s life exist. Where most accounts agree is that Helen (or Helena) was married to Constantius Chlorus and was the mother of Constantine the Great. Sometime after their marriage, Constantius, for political reasons, divorced Helen in order to marry the step-daughter of the emperor of the Western Roman Empire who was his benefactor. Constantius eventually became emperor and, upon his death in 308, his son, Constantine, assumed the role.
Having remained loyal to his mother, Constantine called her to the royal court and conferred on her the title of Augusta. Under the influence of her son, Helen embraced Christianity and spent the remainder of her life working to spread Christianity. Among her good works were the construction of several churches in Rome and other cities in the Western Roman Empire. Her charities were also especially compassionate toward the poor of the empire.
Over the years, relations between Constantine and the emperor of the Easter Roman Empire, Licinius, had deteriorated and, in about 324, Constantine’s forces defeated those of Licinius and he became emperor of the whole Roman Empire. With the empire under her son’s control, Helen, nearing the age of 80, undertook another quest.
Traveling to the Holy Land, Helen followed the footsteps of Jesus and then had two churches constructed in Bethlehem at the Grotto of the Nativity and at the Mount of the Ascension near Jerusalem. Her group also found the cross on which Christ died, together with the crosses that held the thieves. Uncertain as to which was the true cross, Helen consulted St. Macarius. This saint suggested that she take the crosses to a woman who was suffering from an incurable disease. Touching each cross in turn, the woman was immediately healed when she touched the true cross. This event is celebrated on September 14, the feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Helen returned to Constantinople where her son had moved the seat of the empire following her pilgrimage. It was here that she died at the age of 80, in about the year 330.
St. Helen is the patron of archeologists, converts, divorced people, and the diocese of Helena, Montana. In many places in the Western Church, this saint is honored on August 18.
Helen's message today: Good people of whatever age can achieve much if they have to will to do so. In the last few years of her life, Helen, finally in a position to help those in need and to spread the Word of God, accomplished great things in Christ’s name.