St. Maria Goretti: Patron of Youth, Young Women, Purity, and Victims of Rape
Today is the feast of St. Maria Goretti (1890-1902), a peasant girl who was stabbed fourteen times, while fighting off a rapist. She died forgiving her killer.
Maria Goretti was born on October 16, 1890, in Coranaldo in the province of Ancona in Italy, the third of seven children of Assunta and Luigi Goretti. When Maria was six, her father, realizing he could not support his growing family on the barren countryside, took them south, toward Rome, to a village near Anzio, believing that in the rich, warm farmlands of the Mediterranean he would find a more prosperous living and a make a better life for his family. In order to make ends meet, Maria’s father entered into partnership with a man called Serenelli, and shared a house with him and his two sons, one of whom was called Alessandro. Luigi was a hard worker, but suffering from malaria, typhus, meningitis and pneumonia, he died in 1900, leaving his family peniless. Maria, now a child of ten, was doing the work of a grown woman, while suffering from hunger and mortification daily.
Maria impressed everyone with her radiant purity. She was naturally pious, kind, and helpful. She was also outstandingly beautiful – and Alessandro Serenelli was a very passionate and undisciplined man. She resisted his attentions, which only made her all the more desirable, and narrowly managed to escape a serious sexual assault, which he made her promise to keep secret by threats of murder.
A month later Alessandro arranged things so that he would be alone in the house with Maria; and he had a dagger. She tried to resist, begging him to be careful to save his immortal soul, but he thrust a handkerchief into her mouth to prevent her from crying out, tied her up, and threatened her with the dagger. She could, the theologians say, have consented then, with no danger to her soul; but her love of purity was too great. Enraged, Alessandro ripped her body fourteen times with a sharp blade and left her bleeding and unconscious. She did not die, though her entrails were hanging out from one of her abdominal wounds. She was taken to hospital, seven miles of rough road in a horse-drawn ambulance, and was operated on for more than two hours. She lived for twenty hours more, became a Child of Mary, received the Last Sacrament, and specifically forgave her murderer. She died in the afternoon of 6 July 1902, at the age of eleven years, eight months, and twenty days.
Alessandro narrowly escaped being lynched, and was tried and sentenced to thirty years’ in prison with hard labor. For the first seven years or so he maintained a cynical and defiant attitude, but he repented, and dreams of Maria herself were largely responsible for his repentance and conversion.
In 1908, six years after her death, Maria came to Alessandro in a dream or a vision, so real, it was for him reality. His prison cell was transformed into a beautiful garden filled with fragrant flowers and surprising masses of lilies. A figure in white was gathering the lilies. She turned to him and he cried out: “Maria! Oh, Mariettina!” and she came to him, carrying an armful of white lilies, which she handed to him, one by one, each representing a wound he had inflicted don her. And she repeated her dying wish that one day his soul would reach her in Heaven.
Maria was beatified in 1927. Alessandro was released in 1928; and he and Maria’s mother received Communion side by side on Christmas Day 1937, and they spent Christmas together. Maria was canonized in 1950. Her mother was present at the ceremony, the first time this has ever happened. Some people say that Alessandro was present, too. Eventually, he found peace as a gardener in a Capuchin monastery and as a lay brother of the Secular Third Order. His favorite flower was the lily. He died in 1970.
Maria is a beautiful model of purity, chastity, love and forgiveness for those in our society today — both young and old. She took to heart the words of the priest who upon reception of her first Holy Communion told her,”A Catholic will always rather die than sin against God.”
She chose to die rather than to sin, and to become a shining saint of purity. She received strength to die as a martyr for purity through her frequent reception of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. She forgave the man who murdered her and helped him repent and turn back to his faith. Impossible, you say? How could anyone forgive someone who commited such a heinous crime? Nothing is impossible with God.