St. Maria Goretti

Feast Day: July 6th

Patroness of: Teenage Girls and Model of Purity

“From the very beginning, the crushing stone of poverty was always pressing down on

the Goretti family. Maria’s mother, Assunta, was an orphan who had never been taught to

read or write. Maria’s father, Luigi, was a soldier who returned to Corinaldo, Italy to

marry Assunta and become a farmer. Luigi and Assunta both had a deep love for God and

Our Lady. Although they were very poor, they viewed children as a great gift from God

and cherished each child that was sent to them. Their first child, a little boy, died as an

infant. Assunta gave birth to another son and then on October 16, 1890, gave birth to a

baby girl. She was named Maria in thanksgiving to Our Lady and Teresa after Teresa of

Avila. Four more children followed and, while the love grew, so did the poverty. Maria’s

family had no toys for their children and Maria never had a doll. The Goretti’s had a

small picture of Our Lady that was considered the family’s greatest treasure. Luigi and

Assunta loved their small home, but Luigi felt they needed to move to try to make a

better life. He said, “We must not think of ourselves; but they (the children) are gifts from

the Good God and we must show our gratitude by taking care of them.”

They moved and tried farming in another area, but still were very poor. Assunta said that

most of the time, they were forced to live off of chestnut flour pudding and maize bread.

In desperation, Maria’s father agreed to become partners with Giovanni Serenelli and

become tenant farmers in one of the worst parts of Italy. The land they moved to was

swampland, where disease was carried by mosquitoes. Serenelli had a sixteen year old

son, Alessandro. Alessandro’s mother had died when he was a young boy and his father

was strict and harsh. Unbeknownst to the Goretti family, the father and son both read

violent newspapers and also pornographic magazines. The two families moved in above

an old dairy barn, sharing the upper floor, but living in separate quarters.

Maria was amazing for many reasons, on many levels. Her mother said, she could never

remember Maria disobeying her. Of the people who testified for Maria’s beatification, all

of them mentioned her cheerfulness. She was a tremendous help to her parents and she

was eager to please and worked without complaint. Many times, she went without food

so that others in the family could have more. Luigi became exhausted from overwork,

and contracted the marsh disease, which was a combination of typhus, malaria,

meningitis and pneumonia. Assunta never left his bedside during the ten days before his

death. Maria, who was nine and a half at the time, took over all the cooking chores, ran

errands and cared for the children, keeping them out of the way. Maria wore her rosary

around her wrist, so that she could try to be in a constant state of prayer. Before he died,

Luigi begged Assunta to move back with the children to Corinaldo. He died in May of

1900. Tragically, Assunta was overwhelmed and did not think she could move the

children back to their old home. Because of their dire straights, Assunta was forced to

take her husband’s place and work in the fields. Assunta described the prayer life of her

family: “At home, we would close the day by reciting the Holy Rosary, except during

summer when sometimes we could not manage it, as there was so much work to do. Little

Maria never missed it; and after her father’s death, when we had already gone to bed, she

would recite another five Mysteries for the repose of his soul. She did this in addition

because she knew that I could not have Masses celebrated because I did not have enough

Maria longed to make her First Communion, but her mother said they could not afford

the clothes and so she would have to wait. Maria always encouraged her mother, to trust

in the providence of God and she replied, “You’ll see, Mama; God will provide.” In the

spring of 1902, eleven year old Maria prepared to receive Our Lord in her First Holy

Communion. Her already generous heart grew even more and she poured more love into

her daily tasks and her family. Her family could not afford a white dress, lace or pearls.

On the morning of May 29, 1902, Maria put on a wine colored dress with tiny white dots

that her mother had given her. Another neighbor brought a pair of shoes. Another

provided a veil and another, a candle. Someone had woven a wreath of real flowers for

the head of the little Saint. Assunta, in a last minute attempt to make the outfit special,

placed on Maria, the only two nice things her husband had ever been able to afford to buy

her, a coral necklace and gold earrings. The topic of the homily of the Mass for Maria’s

First Communion was “Purity at all costs”. Whenever Maria went to church, she would

come back and tell her brothers and sister everything that the priest had said at Mass.

Assunta was uneducated by worldly standards, but she had a deep love and knowledge of

the Roman Catholic Faith and passed this love and knowledge on to all of her children.

The Gorettis were burdened with great poverty in worldly things, but were blessed with

tremendous richness in the Faith they shared as a family. Life grew only more difficult

for the family, as Giovanni Serenelli kept most of the money from the work that he and

Maria’s mother did in the fields. He would also lock up the food and only give the Goretti

family meager rations. Maria’s mother had to go see the landlord about the problem.

During this time, Maria ran the household and took on chores far beyond her age. She

went to the fountain to get water daily, she washed the clothes in the river and did all of

the mending and she also went to the village of Conca to buy provisions. She earned

extra money by selling eggs and chickens in Nettuno, where she would always visit the

shrine of Our Lady of Graces. She was known for her loving disposition and when a

merchant gave her an apple and a sugar cookie, she saved them to share with her brothers

and sisters.

Alessandro was a mixed bag as a person. He went to Mass, prayed the Rosary with the

Goretti family and was a hard worker. However due to the influence of pornography and

the bad company he kept, dark things brewed, in this twenty year old man’s soul. He had

begun to make improper advances to Maria, who was only eleven years old. He

threatened that if she told anyone, he would kill her. She feared telling her mother,

because it would only make their situation worse, so Maria tried to stay away from him at

On July 5, 1902, Maria had been left to work at home and take care of baby Theresa,

while her mother and the other children worked in the fields. Alessandro was also

working in the fields, but excused himself and returned to the house. Maria was sitting at

the top of the stairs outside the house, mending one of Alessandro’s shirts, while her baby

sister Theresa slept on a quilt beside her. Alessandro walked up the stairs and grabbed

Maria, pulling her into the kitchen. No one could hear her screams because of the

threshing machines that were operating in the fields. He demanded that she submit to him

and produced a knife. According to Alessandro, Maria said, “No! No! No! What are you

doing? Do not touch me! It is a sin - - you will go to Hell!” Alessandro became enraged

and stabbed her 14 times in the heart, lungs and stomach. Maria’s cries woke little

Theresa, who also began to cry. From the field, Maria’s mother saw the baby crying

alone at the top of the stairs. Fearing the baby might fall; Assunta sent her son Mariano,

to get the baby and find Maria. Alessandro’s father had fallen asleep earlier in the day,

under the base of the stairs and awakened from the baby’s crying. He and Mariano found

Maria, as she had begun to drag herself toward the kitchen door. She told them

Alessandro had stabbed her. “He wanted to make me do wrong and I would not.” A

doctor arrived to treat her wounds, but Maria never cried out in pain. From time to time,

she would say, “Oh, Alessandro, how unhappy you are! You will go to Hell!” Alessandro

was found, pretending to be asleep in his room. He was arrested by the police.

The rest of Maria’s life was spent in agony. Three surgeons in the hospital at Nettuno,

Drs. Bartoli, Perotti and Onesti, operated for two hours on Maria without administering

anesthetic. Due to her internal injuries, she could not have the water she requested. Maria

received Holy Communion from the same priest who had given her First Communion.

Dr. Bartoli told the priest, “Father, you will have little to do. We are leaving a dying girl,

but you are finding an angel.” He also gave her the Last Rites and she was made a Child

of Mary. During the 20 hours she lay in pain, she was a model of patience and

forgiveness, not even crying out in pain. When asked if she forgave her murderer with all

of her heart? Maria replied, “Yes, for the love of Jesus, I forgive him...and I want him to

be with me in Paradise...May God forgive him, because I already have forgiven him.”

Maria died at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, on July 6, 1902. She was eleven years, nine

months and twenty days old. Her last word was “Theresa!”, as though she had just

remembered the little sister she had left on the stair landing.

Alessandro’s trial for Maria’s murder began on Maria’s birthday, October 16, 1902. He

was completely unrepentant and was sentenced to thirty years hard labor in prison. The

first eight years of his sentence were passed with no sign of remorse or regret for the

taking of Maria’s life; but then Alessandro had a dream. In the dream Maria appeared to

him; she was dressed in white and was gathering lilies. She came near to him and smiled.

Maria encouraged him to accept the flowers, fourteen lilies, representing the 14 wounds

he had inflicted upon her. After he took each lily, it was transformed into a still, white

flame. Maria then disappeared. After the dream, Alessandro began to feel great sorrow

and remorse. “Godincidentally” the Bishop of Noto visited Alessandro in prison and

explained to him that Maria had forgiven him and that God would also forgive him.

Several days later, Alessandro wrote the bishop a letter, expressing his great remorse and

his thankfulness for the forgiveness of Maria and God.

Assunta, in fulfillment of Luigi’s last wishes, had moved her children back to Corinaldo

after the death of Maria. She was able to work as the housekeeper of a local priest and

had a small, but stable income. The Passionate Priests asked Assunta’s permission to the

move the body of Maria to the shrine of Our Lady of Grace in Nettuno. This was the

place where Maria always went to pray and had received her First Holy Communion.

Alessandro was released early from prison, for good behavior. He got a job as a gardener

in a Capuchin monastery. Alessandro testified for Maria’s beatification. He took total

blame for the incident and repeated that at the time of the attack, Maria’s thoughts had

been for his soul and both their eternal lives. He also told of the dream, where Maria

presented him with the 14 lilies which had led to his remorse and conversion. In 1937, on

Christmas Eve, Alessandro went to visit Maria’s mother at the rectory to tell her he was

sorry and hear from her own lips that she forgave him. He wept, as he begged for

forgiveness and Assunta replied, “that she could hardly refuse when Maria had been so

willing to extend forgiveness.” Then Assunta and Alessandro attended Midnight Mass at

Maria’s shrine. Assunta was present at the canonization with Maria’s brothers and sister;

she was the first mother to see her child canonized.

What a hard, heroic, pure, virtuous and holy life St. Maria Goretti led. Even before her

death, she was a Saint! She truly chose to die, rather than offend God! These coconut

cupcakes are named for St. Maria Goretti because they are pure white, just like the little

soul that her mother nurtured here on earth and like the dress Maria wore when she

appeared in Alessandro’s dream. She lived in terribly depressing, poor conditions; but she

glowed with the love of God and the light of Christ. She took her purity of heart wherever

she went and was an example to all. These cupcakes would be wonderful to make for a

child’s First Communion or Confirmation. Never cease to stress the importance of

remaining pure to your children! Pope John Paul II, exhorted young people to look up to

St. Maria Goretti as an example of purity to be emulated in this permissive society. The

Holy Father also went to visit a seventy year old Franciscan Missionary Nun, Sister

Theresa; the same Theresa who slept by the Saint on a quilt at the top of the stairs.

When you eat these cupcakes, remember St. Maria Goretti, who due to her family’s

monetary poverty, was not able to afford a white dress for her First Holy Communion. It

is so important for parents to remember, that St. Maria Goretti did not become a Saint

overnight. St. Maria Goretti was trained in the knowledge and love of the Faith and

trained in virtue by her mother. Our job as parents is to train our children the way St.

Maria Goretti was trained. Purity has value! The world mocks what God treasures! I am

sure St. Maria never tasted anything as rich and delicious as these cupcakes. St. Maria

Goretti possessed a whiteness of soul and a richness of faith that helped her endure her

hard life and become a Saint!” Copyright Building the Family Cookbook, Suzanne

Fowler, 2003

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