In the wake of the Stanford University rape case verdict that enraged millions of Americans on social media, today marks the Feast Day of St. Maria Goretti, Patron Saint of chastity, purity, victims of rape, and young girls. She is also the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic Church having suffered a brutal death before her 12th birthday.
To be honest, I only recently discovered this saint when I learned about a wonderful lay organization in San Diego called the Goretti Group, dedicated to spreading a message of authentic love and chastity in her honor.
Maria was the oldest daughter of six children growing up on a farm near Nettuno, Italy. Times were tough particularly after the death of her father, and the Goretti family was forced to move and share a home (and field work/domestic responsibilities) with another family, the Serenellis.
The oldest Serenilli son, Alessandro, persistently pursued sexual favors from Maria. She managed to resist submission but kept her struggles private as he had threatened to kill her. On July 5, 1902, she refused him once more and insisted that she would rather die than succumb to his advances. Overpowering her, he choked and violently stabbed her fourteen times until she was defenseless. When the incident awoke Maria’s infant sister, Maria’s mother Assunta entered the house to find her body.
Maria miraculously survived the next 24 hours through surgery without anesthesia. However, her injuries were beyond treatment. She died a virgin on July 6, but only after expressing forgiveness for Alessandro and stating that she desired his salvation in Heaven with her.
Alessandro was convicted and imprisoned for a 30 year sentence.
However, the story doesn’t end there. After his release, Alessandro repented and begged forgiveness from Assunta . He attended Mass with her and together they received Holy Communion the next day. They both attended Maria’s canonization in 1950. To the best that anyone knows, it is reportedly the only time in Church history that a canonization was attended by a saint’s mother, not to mention a saint’s murderer.
Alessandro later became a lay brother of the Orders of Friars Minor Capuchin serving as a receptionist and gardener in their monastery until his death at age 88. While reflecting on old age in the years prior to his passing, he wrote the following words in a letter:
Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself.
When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer.
Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I’ve been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta.
I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.
Maria’s body is kept in the crypt of the Basilica of Nostra Signora del Grazie e Santa Maria Goretti in Nettuno, south of Rome. Her legacy is faithfulness to virtue, forgiveness, and hard work. Her intercession is often called upon for victims of sexual crime.
PRAYER OF ST. MARIA GORETTI
Heavenly Lord and Father of us all, we gather as your people under the patronage of your saint, Maria Goretti. Through her example of virtue and faith may we draw strength. May her prayers guide us and sustain us in times of challenge as well as in times of joy. Give us the grace to love and forgive, the grace to struggle and to accept, the grace to believe and to act in good will and in hope. Through her intercession, may we be bound together as a unified community of faith to do your will and to bring the message of Jesus to our part of the world. We make this prayer through the intercession of St. Maria Goretti and in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Carrie Kline is client marketing specialist for the Kennedy Brownrigg Group.