The history of the Catholic Church overflows with thousands of saints, each one a model of virtue and sanctity; an image of Christ in the world. Most are priests or religious; however, many saints were married, offering a different model of holiness for Christ’s flock.
Then there are saints like Saint Waldetrudis, whose feast falls on April 9 (she is sometimes called Waltrude or Waudru). Waldetrudis falls into a more select group of saints: those who were married and then later became a member of a religious order. As such, the life of St. Waldetrudis has lessons for all Catholics, no matter what vocation they’re called to.
Her Early Life
Like many historical figures, we know little of Waldetrudis’ early life. She remains shrouded in the events of the 7th century. We do not know when she was born, but we know she died sometime between 686 and 688. She came from a family of saints, and in turn produced more saints. Her parents and sister are honored as saints, and her husband and four children likewise share the Beatific Vision.
Her husband, Maldegaire (also known as St. Vincent), was a count in France during the tumultuous reign of King Dagobert I of France. King Dagobert was notorious for his sexual immorality (the contemporary Chronicle of Fredegar complained that the list of his concubines was endless). As Maldegaire was a courtier to the king and a holy man, it is not surprising that he desired to escape the immoralities of the court for the refuge of an abbey. His wife Waldetrudis longed for the same peace of Christ away from civil society.
Their home was a place of sanctity. Waldetrudis and Maldegaire had four children, one of whom died young, either soon after birth or before he reached his seventh birthday, while the other three grew up and entered the religious life (their son, St. Landric, may have even been consecrated a bishop). Waldetrudis and Maldegaire used their riches to help the poor; the couple was well known for their charity and piety long before entering the religious life.
A Second Vocation
Once their children had left the home, the pious parents likewise entered the religious life. Some sources indicate that Waldetrudis urged her husband to embrace monasticism, though he likely considered it prior to her influence.
Their second vocation was like a spiritual retirement, a permanent retreat. They did not seek to repudiate their marriage vows. Neither Waldetrudis nor Maldegaire married after becoming religious (which would have been doubly scandalous), and Maldegaire did not enter into Holy Orders.
After Maldegaire left in 656 for an abbey in Haumont that he had built years earlier, Waldetrudis took for her mentor a holy man named Gislenus (who is also a saint). She also devoted her time to caring for the sick and the poor. After two years, she retreated from the world, hoping that the rest of her life might be one of quiet prayer and penance.
She took religious vows, witnessed by her mentor, and secluded herself in the hilly forests of modern-day Belgium, the northern, less populated region of the Merovingian kingdom.
However, as is often the case, Waldetrudis’ holiness attracted both men and women who sought her out for her spiritual wisdom, her charity, and her reputation as a miracle worker. Soon so many women wanted to follow her that she abandoned the hermitage lifestyle and founded a convent, around which would form the town of Mons, Belgium.
She lived out the rest of her life in Mons, though she never took for herself the title of abbess, preferring to remain a simple nun. Following her death in 688, pilgrims flocked to her gravesite, and many miracles were attributed to her name.
A Model for All Christians
As Saint Waldetrudis had both a secular and a sacred vocation, she serves as a model for every Christian.
For those of us who are married, her fidelity to her husband and her children reminds us of our own duties toward our families. The sanctity of her children indicates her holiness as a mother. Like Waldetrudis, parents should strive to make their homes into sanctuaries for future saints, modeling for them the virtues, especially those of chastity and charity. If Waldetrudis and Maldegaire had abandoned their marriage vows, if they had embraced the promiscuous environment of the Merovingian court, then their sanctuary would have dissipated, and the saints that sprang from their marriage would never have existed.
How many lives would have suffered without their charitable support? Often, in her charity, Saint Waldetrudis found she had given perhaps too much to the poor, to the point of emptying her financial reserves. Yet because of her prayers, there was always enough when someone came for help. Following her example, we should not be afraid to ask God to help us in our acts of charity and in our own daily needs.
Those who are in the religious life can see in Waldetrudis’ devotion to the poor, sick, and needy a model for their own works of mercy. Consecrated religious should rally to their order’s charisms, following them with love, so that Christ’s love might shine through them. Just as Waldetrudis accepted followers, despite her desire to remain a hermitess, so should we pray for the humility to abandon our preconceived notions of what is best for us in favor of God’s loving plan.
Few Catholics today have even heard the name Waldetrudis, yet she remains a model for all Catholics, whether in religious or secular life. We do not need to enter a religious order to be a saint, nor do we need to live in secular society to change the world. God calls all of us, whether married or single, priests or religious, to greatness, to sanctity. May we see in Waldetrudis a spiritual model, a Christian in the fullest sense of the word.