“…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….”
– Alessandro Serenelli
I heard that Saint Maria Goretti was in the United States when the Pope came to visit. She was in Philadelphia and I could feel her beckoning me to come to her despite a tight schedule with no time for free time. It would have been difficult.
So when a friend of mine approached me and said that she was planning on driving about two hours away to Columbus, Ohio where St. Maria Goretti was going to make a stop, how could I not have said yes?
We wanted to make it in time to celebrate mass at 7:00pm and we were going to be driving at the tale end of rush hour. One of the girls in the car with me heard that people asked Maria’s killer to intercede for them, and they ran into very little issues. So we asked for his intercession and he followed through.
We got to Columbus with very little traffic and found a parking spot right down the street from the church within a few minutes of looking. There was a very short line to see her even though we had heard instances of the line going out of the church doors. Some people said they waited for hours to see her. When we arrived, there was a small handful of people in line and because the line was so short, the man monitoring the crowd allowed us to venerate her a little longer than usual.
The first time I knelt before her, I knelt by her left hand and begged her to pray for me. As I was standing in line, I thought of a lot of intentions, but once I was actually before her, all I could think was to ask for her prayers.
Saint Maria Goretti was 11 years old when she was martyred in 1902. She was a peasant girl in Italy who played the role of mother in her house for her 5 younger siblings as her mother went to work to support her family. Her father died leaving the family with next to nothing. Maria did all the cooking and cleaning and was the primary caretaker for her family.
A neighbor boy named Alessandro, who was nine years older than her, took a liking to her and sought to take advantage of her. One day, when Maria was home alone, he snuck up and demanded she give him her virginity. He stabbed her 14 times when she refused. She defended herself and begged him to stop for the sake of his soul.
Maria went to the hospital and survived 24 hours after the attack. A priest visited her and asked her if she could forgive her attacker. She did. Her last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli…and I want him in heaven with me forever.”
After Maria’s death, Maria’s mother had to give up her children. The girls were taken in and raised by Italian nuns, and the boys were sent to America to be adopted by an American family.
Alessandro went to jail the angriest man in the world. He was sentenced to 30 years and for many of those years, he was a very difficult inmate. He blamed Maria for tempting him to kill her and ruining his life. He frequently caused fights with other inmates and was described by the homilist at Maria’s memorial mass in Columbus as “the angriest man alive”.
Several years into his sentence, Maria appeared to Alessandro in a dream, handing him 14 white flowers for the 14 times that he stabbed her. He took this as a sign of forgiveness and when he awoke, he repented and requested to see a priest to hear his confession.
He was a model inmate after that, in fact, he was released early, which was unheard of at the time. He immediately went to visit Maria’s mother, who recognized him and forgave him with the knowledge that Jesus and Maria had forgiven him as well. In fact, she accepted Alessandro as her own son.
Both of them were alive to see Maria become canonized by Pope Pius XII on June 24, 1950. Maria’s mother was present at the ceremony in Saint Peters Square. Maria was the the first to be canonized outside in the open square. It is also the first and only canonization that occurred in which the mother of a saint was present. There are conflicting reports on whether Alessandro was there.
Alessandro lived the rest of his life as a lay brother with the Capuchin Franciscans and worked in a school where he was well loved and very devout. The homilist said that he believes that Alessandro will be canonized a saint someday. I think he is right. He is an excellent example of self-forgiveness and of being a repentant sinner.
The fact is that we are all sinners. Part of the sacrament of reconciliation is not only seeking forgiveness from God, but also seeking the ability to forgive ourselves.
I don’t remember exactly when I met St. Maria. I was probably in elementary school and was just learning who saints were. A lot of elementary religious ed programs teach about her because she was so young and the kids can better connect with her. Her story intrigued me. She was someone I could look up to. She was the one who really inspired me to make a vow that I would cherish the gift of my virginity and not give it away until I was married.
It is because of her inspiration and prayer that I have been saved from a lot of heart ache and that I live my faith the way I do.
So when I heard she was only a few hours away from where I was living, how could I not go and visit her. I wanted to go and thank her for her intersession and ask for continued prayers. Besides, when is the next time she is going to be chilling in America? Frankly, probably not in my lifetime.
The tour of this beautiful saint was a blessing to the United States, especially while we are in the eve of the Year of Mercy. She is a beautiful example for us and I hope her message is something that American Catholics embrace.
Special thanks to Lauren Ramseyer for letting me use her pictures because she has a nice fancy camera unlike me with a “meh” iPhone camera.