Saturday, March 28, 2009

St. Maria Goretti

Saint Maria Goretti (October 16, 1890 – July 6, 1902) is an Italian Roman Catholic Virgin Martyr saint. She is one of the youngest saints of the Roman Catholic Church. She was martyred after dying from multiple stab wounds, inflicted by her attempted rapist after she refused him because of love of Jesus and her loyalty to God's commandments.


Early life

St. Maria Goretti was born "Maria Teresa Goretti" in the year 1890 in Corinaldo, in the Province of Ancona, then the Kingdom of Italy. She was the third out of six children. By the time she was six, her family had become so poor that they were forced to give up their farm, move, and work for other farmers. Soon, Maria's father became very sick. Luigi Goretti died when Maria was nine. While her brother, mother and sisters worked in the fields, Maria would cook, sew, and keep the house clean. It was a hard life, but the family was very close. They shared a deep love for God and the Faith. She and her family moved to Le Ferriere di Conca, near modern Latina and Nettuno in Lazio, where they lived in a building they shared with another family, the Serenellis.

Maria's martyrdom

On July 5, 1902, finding eleven-year old Maria alone sewing, Alessandro Serenelli came in and threatened her with death if she did not do as he said. She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning Alessandro that he would go to Hell . Alessandro at first choked Maria, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. The injured yet still-living Maria tried to reach for the door, but Alessandro stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.

Maria's little sister Teresa awoke with the noise and started crying, and when Serenelli's father and Maria's mother came to check on the little girl, they found the bleeding Maria and took her to the nearest hospital in Nettuno. She underwent surgery without anesthesia, but her injuries were already beyond anything the doctors could do. Halfway throughout the surgery, Maria woke up. She insisted that it stay that way. The pharmacist of the hospital in which she died asked her, "Maria, think of me in Paradise." She looked to the old man: "Well, who knows, which of us is going to be there first." "You Maria," he replied. "Then I will gladly think of you," Maria said with a smile. The following day, twenty hours after the attack, having expressed forgiveness for her murderer and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, Maria died of her injuries.

Serenelli's imprisonment and repentance

Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after Maria's death. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to death, but since he was a minor at that time the sentence was commuted for 30 years in prison. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world, for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini visited him in jail. Serenelli wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, "in which Maria Goretti gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands."

After his release, Alessandro Serenelli visited Maria's still-living mother, Assunta, and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed then she couldn't do less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti and referred to her as "my little saint."

Serenelli later became a Capuchin laybrother, living in a convent and working as its receptionist and gardener, until dying peacefully in the year 1970.

Beatification and canonization

On the evening of the beatification ceremonies in Saint Peter's, April 27, 1947, Pope Pius XII walked over to the mother of Maria Goretti, nicknamed "Mamma Assunta" by her neighbors. She almost fainted. "When I saw the Pope coming, I prayed, Madonna, please help me. He put his hand on my head and said, blessed mother, happy mother, mother of a Blessed!" They both had eyes wet with tears.

Three years later on June 24, 1950, Pope Pius XII canonized Blessed Maria Goretti as a Virgin and Martyr saint, the "Saint Agnes of the 20th century." Mamma Assunta was again present at the ceremony, along with her four remaining sons and daughters. She was the first mother ever to attend the canonization ceremony of her child. Alessandro Serenelli, her repentant murderer, was also present at the canonization.

Owing to the huge crowd present, the ceremonies associated with the canonization of Blessed Maria Goretti were held outside of the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Piazza San Pietro on June 24, 1950. Pope Pius XII spoke, not as before in Latin, but in Italian. "We order and declare, that the blessed Maria Goretti can be venerated as a Saint and We introduce her into the Canon of Saints." Some 500,000 people, among them a majority of youth, had come from around the World. Pope Pius XII asked them:

"Young people, pleasure of the eyes of Jesus, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of grace of God?"
A resounding "yes" was the answer.

Feast day

Saint Maria Goretti's feast day, celebrated on 6 July, was inserted in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints for the first time when it was revised in 1969. It was not in the General Roman Calendar of 1962.

In art

St Maria Goretti is represented in art as a wavy-haired young girl in farmer clothes or a white dress, with a bouquet of lilies in her hands, and she is sometimes counted among the ranks of the Passionist order since her spiritual formation was guided by the Passionists.

Papal honors for Maria Goretti

Pope Pius XII was not the only Pope who had high praise for the Saint. While most saints are often left to local care after their canonization, St Maria Goretti received two Papal visits to her shrine. On September 14, 1969, Pope Paul VI visited her shrine in Nettuno and honored her with these words:

"The value of Christian virtue is so great, so overwhelming, so imperative, that it is worth more than life. Purity is not just a separate part of our being. It belongs to our existence as a whole, it is essential for our life. Purity brings us in harmony of body and soul."

Ten years later, on September 1, 1979, Pope John Paul II honored St Maria Goretti with a visit and spoke before thousands of faithful:

"Maria Goretti, so illuminating with her spiritual beauty, challenges us to a firm and secure faith in the Word of God, as the only source of truth, to remain firm against the temptations of this world."

"Young people, look at Maria Goretti, don’t be tempted by the tempting atmosphere of our permissive society, which declares, everything is possible. Look to Maria Goretti, love, live, defend your chastity."

"Young people, don’t be afraid to carry the torch of your life, light and ideals into modern society."


  1. Dear Father
    Do you know where this icon of St Maria Goretti resides? I would like to reproduce an image of this icon of St Maria Goretti on a book cover. I would need a high resolution print quality image. I can not find an image of this icon anywhere except on your blog.

  2. the icon is from:

  3. Much appreciated.