NB: The word “saint” simply means “holy” or “pure.”
“The Little Old Lady”
This is an account of a remarkable 11-year-old child named Maria Goretti.
Born at the end of the 19th century, on October 16, 1890, in Corinaldo, Italy, Maria was the third of six children of Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini. Her family was very poor and her father’s trade was that of a harvester, farmer and sharecropper.
Corinaldo is located in the Apennine mountains in east-central Italy. Unlike Mediterranean Italy, winter in Corinaldo is bitter cold with heavy snow. In the winter of 1897, Luigi had enough of the harsh winters and moved his family across the Apennines, eventually to a village near Nettuno on the west coast. There, the Goretti found employment as sharecroppers on Count Mazzoleni’s estate.
Luigi and Assunta worked hard on the land, draining the mosquito-infested marshes and converting it into farmland. Little Maria, only 7 years old, worked in the home, performing all the household chores of cooking, sewing, cleaning, and caring for her infant sister. The family shared a deep love and faith in Jesus, which was reflected in their work ethic and love for one another.
In time, Luigi became very ill with malaria, but continued working. One day, Count Mazzoleni inspected the crop yield and found Luigi’s grain half cut and limp in the fields, and Luigi in bed with a terrible fever. The Count sent two helpers to finish Luigi’s work: 60-year-old Giovanni Serenelli and his 18-year-old son, Alessandro, whom the Gorettis must feed and pay with part of the monies from the crops.
Though the two men were helpful, the Gorettis found them less than pleasant company through the rainy autumn and long winter. Giovanni liked his liquor and Alessandro spent his free time reading porn.
The next Spring, in April 1902, Luigi died. Giovanni Serenelli became the head of the farm. He was a harsh and mean taskmaster who allowed Assunta and her children to remain on the estate if they would work for him. Maria continued with performing all of the household chores while her mother and siblings worked the farm.
Only 11 years old, Maria was very serious for her age and was nicknamed “The Little Old Lady” by the villagers. She loved Jesus with all her heart and was looking forward to her First Holy Communion when she would receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
On July 5, 1902, the now 19-year-old Alessandro entered the kitchen of the farm home. He demanded that Maria submit to him and threatened to kill her if she would not have sex with him. Maria replied, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!”
Journalist, Noel Crusz provides a more detailed account of what happened:
“ . . .whilst Assunta and the other children were at the threshing floor, [Alessandro] Serenelli who persistently sought sexual favours from the 11-year-old girl approached her. She was taking care of her infant sister in the farm house. Alessandro threatened her with a 10 inch dagger and when Maria refused, as she had always done, he stabbed her 14 times. The wounds penetrated the throat, with lesions of the pericardium, the heart, the lungs and the diaphragm. Surgeons at Orsenigo were surprised that the girl was still alive. In a dying deposition, in the presence of the Chief of Police, Maria told her mother of Serenelli’s sexual harassment, and two previous attempts made to rape her. She was afraid to reveal this earlier since she was threatened with death.”
While she laid there suffering for 20 hours, Maria told her mother that it was Alessandro who had done this to her, that he wanted her to commit an awful sin and she would not do what he asked. The priest came to give her the last rites and Holy Communion, and while her eyes were affixed to a crucifix she said, “I, too, pardon him. I, too, wish that he could come some day and join me in heaven.” She then died at the age of 11 years, nine 9 months and 21 days.”
Alessandro Serenelli was captured and, because he was a minor, was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment instead of life. After Monsignor Giovanni Blandini visited him in jail, Alessandro sent him a thank you card in which he related a dream that he had — of Maria Goretti giving him “lilies, which burned immediately in his hands.”
Upon his release, Alessandro begged Maria’s mother to forgive him of his horrible sin. Her mother told him that if Maria had forgiven him from her deathbed, then she also could forgive him.
On June 24, 1950, in a ceremony in the Piazza San Petro outside St. Peter’s Basilica before a congregation of half a million people, Pope Pius XII canonized Maria Goretti, the “little old lady,” a saint.
In summary, Maria lived an ordinary and simple life, but she had extraordinary love for and faith in God. It is her love and faith that, in turn, made this illiterate 11-year-old farm girl extraordinary and holy. Many recorded miracles, both spiritual and physical, have been worked through Maria’s intercession. This little girl had a very hard life, but performed her many daily chores with love. Stabbed 14 times by a rapist, little Maria nevertheless forgave her murderer. For she only had eyes for Jesus, and her heart had room only for His love.
Fittingly, St. Maria Goretti is the patron saint of young people and crime victims, particularly victims of rape. Her Feast Day is today, July 6th. May we all learn from this little girl’s courage, purity, and great love for God!
- Butler’s Lives of the Saints, edited by Michael Walsh
- Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MariaGoretti
- Margaret M. Breiling, “A Saint To Emulate,” http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/GORETTI.htm.
For the raison d’être of FOTM’s new series on “Angels and Saints,” please see our explanatory post, “Calling on the Army of Angels and Saints.”