Saint Jerome (345–420) is best remembered for translating Sacred Scripture into Latin, the language commonly used by the people of his day. As a master of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Jerome was uniquely qualified to do this work. His translation is known as the Vulgate, a word that means “common translation.” In revised form, the Vulgate is still the Bible officially recognized by the Church today. Jerome also wrote commentaries on Scripture that are still studied by contemporary Scripture scholars.
Jerome was also known for his fiery temper, especially when he encountered errors against the faith or someone whom he considered an enemy of God or of the truth. Jerome was born in Stridon in the Roman province of Dalmatia, present-day Croatia. As a youth, he studied in Rome and later went to Trier, Germany. He was always in search of the best teachers.
He traveled extensively in Palestine and spent five years in the desert where he devoted himself to prayer, penance, and study. In 378, he traveled to Antioch, was ordained there the following year, and then went to Constantinople to study under Saint Gregory Nazianzen. In 382, Jerome returned to Rome when Pope Damasus I asked him to serve as papal secretary. It was Pope Damasus who gave Jerome the task of translating a new version of the Bible.
During this time, Jerome became the spiritual adviser to a group of noble Roman women, including Marcella and Paula, who were interested in living a communal religious life. After Pope Damasus died, Jerome returned to Bethlehem, where he established a monastery for men and another for women. Paula and her daughter came to live in the monastery and spent the rest of their lives in prayer and study, helping Jerome with his work of translating and copying the Bible.
In a popular legend that is told about Jerome, he tames a lion. No one is sure, but the story may have originated because Jerome lived for years in the desert wilderness where lions roamed. According to the legend, a lion came to the monastery one day, limping, and held out his paw to Saint Jerome. Jerome discovered that the lion’s paw had a thorn in it, so he removed the thorn, cleaned the wound, and bound up the paw. In return, the grateful lion became a loyal companion, taking up residence at the monastery, and even doing his share of the chores. One of his tasks was to guard the donkey that carried firewood from the forest to the monastery.
One day, a passing caravan stole the donkey. All of the monks except Jerome believed that the lion had eaten the donkey. As a punishment, the lion now had to do the donkey’s work. One day when the lion was hauling firewood, he saw the caravan, including the donkey, returning on their trade route. The lion chased the thieves to the monastery, where they were forced to return the donkey. The lion had repaid Jerome for his trust and kindness.
Saint Jerome’s feast day is September 30, the day he died in Bethlehem. He is buried in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. Because of the importance of his contributions to the Church, he was named a Doctor of the Church.
SEEDS: Help Seeds children to recognize and honor the Bible as God’s book. Show children the age-appropriate Bible that you will be using during their classes. Explain that the Bible is very special because it is God’s book. In the Bible, God tells us how much he loves us. The Bible also teaches us how to love God.
Saint Jerome wanted people to read and love the Bible as he did. One way we can show our love for the Bible is how we use it.
Invite the children to give the Bible a place of honor in your gathering area. Have a small table cleared and ready. Assemble some of the following items so that there is one object for each child: cloth, book stand, unbreakable vase, silk flowers and greens, battery-powered candles, and, of course, the Bible.
Give the children their items to hold and have them stand in a semicircle facing the table. Choose a song such as “The Seed Song” from the Seeds Music CD, CD-1, #1).
Have the children come forward one at a time and reverently place their items on the table in this order: the cloth, the book stand, the vase, flowers and greens, the lighted candles, and the Bible. Keep a chart showing which item each child carried so that in the coming weeks, everyone will have a chance to place the Bible on the book stand.
PROMISE: Tell Promise children the story of Saint Jerome and the lion. Talk about the story with them. How did Saint Jerome help the lion? How did that make the lion feel?
Help the children make lion puppets using brown paper lunch bags. Provide yarn and pieces of felt for facial features and the lion’s mane. Have children glue the face and mane onto the bottom of the bag as it is folded flat. Show them how to make the lion talk with a hand inside the bag.
Ask the children: What could you do to help someone like Saint Jerome helped the lion? It could be something very small (like removing a thorn) that could make a big difference. Have some ideas ready to share to help the children get started (give Mom or Dad a hug when they are tired, share a toy or treat with a friend or sibling, play with someone who seems lonely, say a prayer for someone in need, put some of your allowance in the collection basket at church).
Now, on the front of their lion puppets, help the children write how they will help someone. Have children take their lion puppets home to remind them to do their good deeds. Also suggest that they use their puppets to tell the story of Saint Jerome and the lion to a parent, grandparent, friend, or sibling.
GOOD NEWS: Show Good News children art that depicts Saint Jerome and the lion. Print classic art of Jerome and the lion, show the art on a smartboard, or have the children go online to find the artwork themselves. Encourage the children to talk about the pictures. Point out that they were painted hundreds of years after Saint Jerome died. The artists painted Saint Jerome as if he were living in their own time and city. So what does that tell us? (Saint Jerome was, and is still, an important person in the Church.)
Ask the children to sit in a circle and tell them the story of Saint Jerome and the lion.
Then tell the children that Jerome also had a problem like the thorn in the lion’s paw. This problem hurt him, caused him trouble, and even crippled him. His problem was his bad temper. Jerome’s angry remarks made him a lot of enemies.
Ask the children to think about what their own “thorns” might be. What do they do that gets them in trouble or hurts them? Do they get angry quickly? Do they whine and pout? Do they say mean things? Distribute fine-tip washable markers and ask the children to use the markers to draw their own thorns on the palms of their hands. Then ask them to think about ways in which they could remove the thorns. Could they ask someone to forgive them? Could they do a kind deed for someone they have hurt? Explain that when they have fulfilled their plan, they should wash the thorns off their “paws.”
VENTURE: Explain to Venture children that in Saint Jerome’s time, many people didn’t think women should be educated, but Jerome respected the intelligence and ability of women. He trained Saint Paula, her daughter, and a small group of other women in scriptural studies. They worked closely with Saint Jerome and were devoted to Sacred Scripture.
Form small groups that include both boys and girls. Explain that they will work together to learn about the first disciples of Jesus, both women and men. Write the following Scripture citations on the board. Assign each group several citations. In their groups, children should find and read the citation, record the name of the disciple, and tell how the disciple followed Jesus. Ask each group to report what they learned to the class.
- Acts 16:1–3 (Timothy traveled with Paul to spread Jesus’ teachings.)
- Acts 9:36 (Tabitha spent her time doing good deeds and helping the poor.)
- Acts 11:22–24 (Barnabas encouraged others to remain firm in their faith.)
- Acts 16:11–15 (God opened Lydia’s heart to Paul’s teaching. She and her whole household were baptized. She invited Paul and Timothy to stay with her while they worked in Philippi.)
- Acts 17:1–7 (Jason, a Jew who became Christian, was arrested for welcoming Paul.)
- Acts 18:1–3 and 1 Corinthians 16:19 (Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla/Prisca, husband and wife. Their home became a Christian meeting place.)
- Acts 12:12–17 (Mary, John Mark, and Rhoda—Peter’s friends—gathered to pray at Mary’s house.)
- Romans 16:1–2 (Phoebe was a minister of the Church and a benefactor to Paul.)
- Colossians 4:15 (The Christian community met at the house of Nympha.)
- Ephesians 6:21–22 and Colossians 4:7–8 (Tychicus was a trustworthy minister and companion of Paul.)
- 2 Timothy 1:4–5 (Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s grandmother and mother, were women of faith who passed on their faith to Timothy.)
- Titus 1:4–5 (Paul left Titus in Crete to complete the organization of the Church there.)
VISIONS: Have Visions students solve a Scripture puzzle to discover something Saint Jerome said about Scripture: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Read the clues and ask the students to write down the words they find. Use the New American Bible (Revised Edition). Find it online at usccb.org/bible and biblegateway.com.
- The seventh word of Acts 17:30 (ignorance)
- The fifteenth word of John 6:69 (of)
- The second word of Matthew 1:16 (the)
- The last word of Luke 24:27 (scriptures)
- The third word of Luke 3:4 (is)
- The tenth word of Acts 3:17 (ignorance)
- The fifth word of John 6:48 (of)
- The eighth word of Mark 1:1 (Christ)
After the quotation has been deciphered, ask the students what they think Jerome meant. Discuss whether it is important for ordinary people to be able to read the Bible. Ask the students to explain and support their answers.
Have the students work in groups of two or three to find two passages from the Old Testament and three passages from the New Testament that give us knowledge of Christ. You may wish to have reference books such as a concordance or a study Bible available for the students to use.
If there is a copy of The New Jerome Biblical Commentary in the parish library, show it to the students. It is named to honor Saint Jerome, who was the first great Christian Scripture scholar.
Image credit: Corinne SIMON/CIRIC