Our Patron Saint Maria Goretti
Who Was St. Maria Goretti?
On June 24 during the holy year of 1950, Pope Pius XII canonized Maria Goretti as a saint of the church and prayed that she intercede on behalf of all people, but especially young people.
Saints sometimes seem so unreal. Maybe it is because we think of them as being from another place and time ... a time long ago, and a place far away. Then too, perhaps we forget that saints start as infants and are subject to all the fragile growth processes common to every human being. The challenges of living that face us, also faced them during their earthly pilgrimages. Their lives speak to us about acceptance of divine truths and values that are eternal in the midst of the distractions of every day living.
The life of St. Maria Goretti speaks out loud and clear with a message that is vital for us and our children. We are honored to have her as our parish patron and we rejoice in celebrating her feast in a special way today.
Maria Theresa Goretti was born on October 16, 1890, in the Italian countryside near the mountain village of Corinaldo. She was the third child born to Luigi and Assunta Goretti, who eked out a very modest living from a small tract of land they farmed.
When Maria was 6 years old, the Goretti family was forced by economic conditions to move about 200 miles southwest to an area near Rome where farm help was needed. The trip over the Appenine Mountains by ox cart took several weeks. After spending two-and-a-half years working on a farm at Colle Gianturco, the Gorettis found a suitable sharecropping arrangement on a large farm at Ferriere and moved there. Ferriere is very near Anzio which is familiar to many American servicemen who served in Italy during World War II. At the time the Goretti family arrived there in February of 1899, it was largely a mosquito-infested wetlands area.
Luigi Goretti contracted malaria and 15 months after arriving at Ferriere, died, leaving Assunta with six young children. Maria, ten years old at the time of her father's death, was the second oldest child in the family and the oldest girl. She became a great consolation to her mother, who continued laboring in the fields to provide for her family. Maria became like a second mother to her brothers and sisters. As one might imagine, Maria was forced to grow up very rapidly in this difficult family situation and stood out from the other children around her as a very responsible and thoughtful young girl. Her mother recalled, years after Maria's death, that she was extremely loving, obedient, generous and mature. She was beautiful in appearance but was not in the least bit vain.
Maria took the practice of her religion very seriously and did not allow herself to compromise her sense of right and wrong, regardless of the situation. She shared this beautiful, sincere and practical faith with her brothers and sisters as she cared for them and taught them their prayers. Even at her tender age the strength of her faith gave meaning to what was often a difficult life and prepared her to withstand several attacks upon her virtue by a young man who lived next door to the Goretti family.
Actually, the Goretti family shared the house in which they lived with Giovanni Serenelli and his 20-year-old son, Alessandro. The Serenellis had been contracted to help with the sharecropping when Luigi found that he and his family were unable to handle all the chores on the huge farm. At any rate, the Gorettis lived on the left side of the house and the Serenellis lived on the right side. The central kitchen was shared, but Assunta Goretti and Maria took care of virtually all the domestic chores for both themselves and the Serenellis.
Alessandro Serenelli was a robust, hard working young man who appeared to be respectful of his father and Mrs. Goretti. However, he was a rather solitary character who shunned the company of other young adults his age.
Alessandro tried to convince Maria to commit a sin with him, but she refused. He told her if she didn't cooperate with him that he would kill her, but still she defended herself. Alessandro attacked Maria and left her for dead. She was discovered later and taken to the hospital.
These final hours of the young martyr's life were full of noteworthy and inspiring experiences. Not only was she able to visit with her mother and share her deepest thoughts and feelings with her, but she was able to go to confession, receive Holy Communion and be given the last rites.
Finally, her true status as a martyr became evident. In the spirit of St. Steven (the first martyr for Christ), and countless martyrs through out the history of the church she followed the example of our Lord Jesus and forgave her executioner. She prayed that Alessandro would someday be in heaven.
On July 6, 1902, Maria Goretti's short pilgrimage on this earth came to an end and she entered the kingdom of heaven to receive the reward of her faithfulness.
In the months and years following the death of Maria Goretti many dramatic and memorable events have taken place. Numerous people have been miraculously healed of various ailments through her intercession. People not only in the local area of Italy where she lived but throughout the world have become aware that she is a saint for our time and that her life and martyrdom say something very important for the twentieth century world to hear.
Alessandro Serenelli was found guilty of murder and sentenced to thirty years of hard labor.
During his prison sentence Maria appeared to Alessandro and forgave him. That act of mercy and forgiveness—that act of love—filled Alessandro with contrition for his crime. It was also a turning point for him where grace entered his heart. From that point on, he lived a beautiful and converted life of holiness, eventually becoming a Franciscan lay brother.
After serving his prison term, he sought Assunta Goretti, Maria's mother, and begged her forgiveness.
Assunta told him, "Maria forgave you, Alessandro, so how could I possibly refuse?" The following morning, Christmas Day 1937, Assunta and Alessandro entered the parish church side by side to attend mass. At the communion rail Alessandro turned and said, "I have sinned deeply. I have murdered an innocent girl who loved virtue more than life. May God forgive me! I beg your pardon." After this, Alessandro retired to a Capuchin monastery and spent the remainder of his life working as a gardener and caretaker.
On June 24 during the holy year of 1950, Pope Pius the 12th canonized Maria Goretti as a saint of the church and prayed that she intercede on behalf of all people, but especially young people.
The Holy Father, who obviously had a very special affection for and devotion to this new young saint, personally placed a bronze statue of the stricken Maria Goretti on the exact spot of her martyrdom in the farmhouse at Ferriere.
The remains of St. Maria Goretti and many of her personal effects may be found and visited in the Church of Our Lady of Graces in Nettuno, Italy.