Stephen was born at Sherborne, Dorsetshire in England. He first studied at the monastery of Sherborne and later in Paris and Rome. He was a good student who liked to learn. Stephen was especially interested in literature. He was serious about life and prayed daily.
When Stephen completed his studies, he and his friend set out on foot as pilgrims for Rome. On their way back, they stopped at the monastery of Molesme in Burgundy. Stephen was very impressed by the holiness of St. Robert who was the abbot there and decided to join this poor and holy group of monks.
These men prayed, fasted and worked hard. That was their way of showing their love for God. Stephen noticed how happy they were. For a while, Stephen served God joyfully with them. But little by little the monks did not want to live such a strict life anymore.
So St. Robert and St. Stephen and twenty of the monks started a new monastery. They built it themselves in the wilderness in France called Citeaux. They lived a life of work and great poverty. They wanted to imitate the poverty of Jesus. They followed the Rule of St. Benedict and kept strict silence.
When St. Robert was called back to Molesme, Stephen became the abbot and founded the order of the Cistercians. But these were difficult times. The monks had very little food and then more than half of the monks became sick and died. It looked as though the community would come to an end. They needed new, young members to continue their life.
Stephen prayed with faith and God answered his prayer. God sent to these monks thirty young men who wanted to join them. They arrived at the monastery gate all together. Their leader, St. Bernard was to become a great saint too. This was a marvelous day for St. Stephen and the monks.
St. Stephen spent the last few years of his life setting up twelve more monasteries. He wrote a book of rules for the Cistercian monks and the famous "Charter of Charity". With great fatherly affection, he trained St. Bernard to take his place.
When he lay dying, St. Stephen heard the monks around him whispering that Stephen did not have to be afraid to die. He had worked so hard and loved God so much. But St. Stephen said that he was afraid he had not been good enough. And he really meant it. That shows us how humble this great saint was. He died in 1134.