St. Maria Goretti

July 5, 1998

Brother John Raymond


St. Maria Goretti is a reminder to us that young people can do heroic things for love of Jesus. She was born in a poor farm-laborer family in Italy in 1890, the third of six children. The poverty of the family grew much worse when Maria's father died of malaria. Maria's mother had to work in the fields.

The family worked on the farm of a Count. A fellow worker Giovanni Serenelli kept most of the profits from the farming, leaving the Goretti family quite poor and frequently hungry. When Maria was given a treat from a neighbor or kind merchant, she would take it home to share with her brothers and sisters.

Maria had to go frequently into a nearby village to sell produce and to buy supplies for her family. While there she would visit the shrine of Our Lady of Graces. Every night Maria would recite five Mysteries of the Rosary for the repose of her father's soul. She helped her mother on the farm, in the house and with the care of the other children. She never complained because they were so poor. In fact, she cheered up her poor mother and was a great comfort to her. She went to Mass regularly even though it meant a two-hour walk! Maria also received the sacrament of Reconciliation as often as she could.

Alexander, 18-years-old and the son of Giovanni Serenelli, began ordering 11-year-old Maria around to perform various difficult chores for him. He was seldom happy with her work and often reduced her to tears over it. About this time Alexander also began making advances toward Maria. She refused to have anything to do with him. Maria said nothing to her mother about this for fear of causing trouble.

On July 5, 1902, Maria was mending one of Alexander's shirts while caring for her little sister Teresa. Suddenly, Alexander came into their cottage and motioned Maria into a bedroom. She refused so he dragged her into the bedroom with the intention of seducing her. When Maria tried to scream, he stuffed a handkerchief into her mouth. Still, she managed to keep saying, "No, no! It is a mortal sin. God doesn't want it. If you commit it, you will go to Hell." And she struggled as much as she could. Alexander panicked. He stabbed her 14 times in her heart, lungs, and intestines, and then fled to his bedroom, where he pretended to be asleep.

When little Teresa awoke and began to cry, the family discovered Maria lying on the floor. She survived for 20 hours in the hospital, enduring surgery without anesthesia. 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.

Alexander was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. During his eighth year of imprisonment, Maria appeared to him. He saw her in a garden as a young girl, dressed in white, gathering lilies. She smiled, came near him, and encouraged him to accept an armful of the lilies. As he accepted them, each lily transformed into a small white flame. Maria then disappeared.

This vision converted Alexander. When he was released from prison after serving 27 years, he asked Maria's mother for her forgiveness, which she gave him. He then found job as a gardener in a Capuchin monastery. He worked there for the rest of his life.

Alexander testified to Maria's sanctity during her Cause of Beatification. In 1950, Maria was canonized. Her mother attended, making her the first mother ever to see her child canonized.

St. Maria Goretti gives us an example of self-sacrificing service to the family, heroic witness to the virtue of chastity and heroic witness to forgiveness of persecutors. And Alexander gives us an example of repentance and reminds us that no matter what anyone has done, by God's grace they can turn their life around.