January 31 is the feast day of St. Marcella, one of the women taught by St. Jerome in fourth century Rome.
An article about St. Jerome and the three best known fourth century female Bible scholars who studied with him is available online from the Catholic Culture website, entitled Women's Work in Bible Study and Translation by A.H. Johns, A.M. The feast day of one of the other such women, St. Paula, was last week, mentioned here. Earlier posts mentioning St. Jerome and these women, on this blog, include About St. Jerome and St. Teresa of Avila and St. Jerome.
J.N.D. Kelly's biography, Jerome, Hendrickson Publishers, 1975, 2000, says this about Jerome's sorrow over Alaric's invasion of Rome in 410 A.D., and his letter of 413 A.D. eulogizing his friend Marcella, who died in the wake of the invasion (pp. 304-305):
"It was Jerome's intention, once his commentary on Isaiah was out of the way, to produce one on Ezekial and thereby 'make good the promise' he 'had so often given to his zealous readers'. Hardly had he taken this fresh task in hand, however, when terrible, heart-rending news reached him: Rome had been seized and pillaged by Alaric. The disaster sent a shudder of horror through the Roman world, but its impact on Jerome was particularly cruel. By the same post, or shortly after, he learned that Pammachius and Marcella, as well as many other Christian friends, were dead. So benumbed was he that he had to suspend all work. 'For days and nights I could think of nothing but the universal safety; when my friends were captured, I could only imagine myself a captive too . . . When the brightest light of the world was extinguished, when the very head of the Roman empire was severed, the entire world perished in a single city.' . . .[To Augustine] he confessed that he had been so shattered by the devastation of the western provinces, and especially of Rome, that he almost forgot his own name. . . .
No account of Pammachius's death has come down, but Jerome allows us a glimpse of Marcella's in the dignified, unusually restrained epitaphium he dedicated to her memory in 413. His two years' silence, he brusquely explained to her much younger protégée Principia (who had been impatiently demanding the tribute), was not the result of negligence, as she wrongly supposed, but of his overwhelming sorrow. . . . When blood-stained barbarians broke into her mansion and she failed to convince them that she had already stripped herself of her riches, she had endured a brutal beating-up without any apparent sensation of pain. . . . A few months later, though apparently active and in good health, she had died peacefully in Principia's arms -- 'While you wept, she was smiling, conscious of having lived a good life, and confident of her future reward.'"
St. Jerome's Letter No. 127, written to Principia, eulogizing Marcella, is available online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library here. In the course of a long eulogy for St. Marcella, he gave the following account of how he met her and how she lived and learned:
"When the needs of the Church at length brought me to Rome in company with the reverend pontiffs, Paulinus and Epiphanius—the first of whom ruled the church of the Syrian Antioch while the second presided over that of Salamis in Cyprus,—I in my modesty was for avoiding the eyes of highborn ladies, yet she pleaded so earnestly, 'both in season and out of season' as the apostle says, that at last her perseverance overcame my reluctance. And, as in those days my name was held in some renown as that of a student of the scriptures, she never came to see me that she did not ask me some question concerning them, nor would she at once acquiesce in my explanations but on the contrary would dispute them; not, however, for argument’s sake but to learn the answers to those objections which might, as she saw, be made to my statements. How much virtue and ability, how much holiness and purity I found in her I am afraid to say; both lest I may exceed the bounds of men’s belief and lest I may increase your sorrow by reminding you of the blessings that you have lost. This much only will I say, that whatever in me was the fruit of long study and as such made by constant meditation a part of my nature, this she tasted, this she learned and made her own. Consequently after my departure from Rome, in case of a dispute arising as to the testimony of scripture on any subject, recourse was had to her to settle it. And so wise was she and so well did she understand what philosophers call τό πρέπον, that is, the becoming, in what she did, that when she answered questions she gave her own opinion not as her own but as from me or some one else, thus admitting that what she taught she had herself learned from others. For she knew that the apostle had said: “I suffer not a woman to teach,” and she would not seem to inflict a wrong upon the male sex many of whom (including sometimes priests) questioned her concerning obscure and doubtful points."