Maria Goretti was born a poor peasant child in Italy in 1890, the third of six children. When she was nine, her family’s situation grew even worse, when her father died of malaria. Maria’s mother dutifully took her husband’s place in the fields, while little Maria took her mother’s role in caring for her 5 siblings. The family was able to survive by working the fields of a Count, a job they shared with a man named Giovanni Serenelli and his teenage son Alessandro. Mr. Serenelli kept most of the profits from the farming, leaving the Goretti family quite poor and frequently hungry.
Through all the difficulties, Maria did her best. When neighbours or kindly merchants would give Maria a treat, she would take it home to share with her brothers and sisters. Cheerful and intelligent, Maria was also beautiful, with chestnut hair complementing her delicate features.
On Maria’s frequent trips into the nearby village to sell eggs and chickens and to buy supplies for her family, she would visit the shrine of Our Lady of Graces. Her family being too poor to pay for Masses in her father’s memory, every night Maria would recite the five Mysteries of the Rosary for the repose of her father’s soul.
In June of 1902, 20-year old Alessandro Serenelli began ordering 11-year old Maria to perform various difficult chores, none of which could be completed to his satisfaction, and she was often reduced to tears. Alessandro also began making advances on Maria. She rebuffed them all, but, unfortunately, said nothing to her mother, for fear of causing trouble.
On July 5, 1902, Alessandro ordered Maria to mend one of his shirts. As Maria sat mending, caring for her little sister Theresa, Alessandro burst in and ordered Maria into a bedroom. As usual, she refused, but this time, he grabbed her, pulled her into the bedroom and shut the door. He demanded that she submit to him, but she told him, “No, that would be a sin.” Enraged, Alessandro stabbed her 14 times in her heart, lungs and intestines, then fled to his bedroom, where he pretended to be asleep.
When little Theresa woke up and began to cry, the family discovered Maria lying on the floor. She survived for 20 hours in the hospital, undergoing surgery without anaesthesia. Asked if she forgave her murderer, she replied, “Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him…and I want him to be with me in Paradise.” She died on July 6.
Unrepentant, Alessandro was convicted, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. In his eighth year of imprisonment, he had a vision of Maria. He saw a garden, where a young girl, dressed in white, was gathering white lilies. She smiled and came near him, and encouraged him to accept the flowers. As he accepted them, each lily transformed into a still, white purifying flame, one for every one of the blows he had struck her. Maria then disappeared.
Alessandro’s conversion was complete. He was released from prison after serving 27 years, with 3 years taken off his sentence due to being a model prisoner. His first act was to travel to Maria’s mother, Assunta, to beg her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed, then she could do no less. He then found work as a receptionist and gardener in a Capuchin monastery, positions he held for the rest of his life. He also spent much time in prayer and penance.
Along with 30 other witnesses, Alessandro testified to Maria’s sanctity during her Cause for Beatification. In 1950, she was canonized by Pius XII in a ceremony attended by a quarter of a million people, including her mother, the first mother ever to see her child canonized. Pius asked the many youth attending the ceremony, “Young people, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of the grace of God?” A resounding ‘yes” was the answer.
Besides Maria’s virtue of purity, Pope Pius XII also extolled Maria’s virtues of obedience to her parents, her self denial, her contentment with her life, her confidence in God, her respect for her teachers, her love of Jesus in Holy Communion, her charity to others and her love of Our Blessed Mother.
Maria’s example of forgiveness and desire to avoid sin is an example for the youth and adults today to strive for chastity and to love God above all other things. St. Maria Goretti was chosen to be the patron saint of our Catholic community, a newly canonized saint for the new church, which opened its doors in Devon in 1960.
St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!
Oh Saint Maria Goretti who, strengthened by God’s grace,Did not hesitate even at the age of twelve to shed your blood and life itself to defend your virginal purity, Look graciously on the unhappy human race which has strayed far from the path of eternal salvation.Teach us all, and especially youth, with what courage and promptitude we should flee for the love of Jesus Anything that could offend Him or stain our souls with sin.Obtain for us from our Lord victory in temptation, comfort in the sorrows of life, And the grace which we earnestly beg of thee (insert your intention here),And may we one day enjoy with thee the imperishable glory of Heaven. Amen.