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Saint Maria Goretti

July 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Diana von Glahn, Pilgrimage

When I was a young girl, my mother would often tell us stories of the saints. I loved it, and today's saint, St. Maria Goretti, was one of my favorites.

Photograph of St Maria Goretti, taken in 1902

Photograph of St Maria Goretti, taken in 1902

Perhaps it was that she was young, like me, and I felt closer to her than the adult saints.

Maybe it was that her holiness lies in her rejection of a premature sexuality, something I also understood.

Whatever it was, this little girl saint spoke to me, and I loved her.

But when the time came to choose my confirmation saint in 10th grade, my choice proved how silly and clueless I was about the whole point of choosing a confirmation saint.

You see, as much as I loved Maria Goretti and wanted to emulate her choice of virtue over sinfulness–the very reason why she would have been my perfect confirmation saint–instead, I chose Saints Catherine of Siena and Catherine Labouré.

Why? I didn't know anything about the two Catherines. At least, certainly not as much as I knew about Maria. But, you see, I didn't have a middle name, and I wanted one. And I had decided that my confirmation name would be it. As a young Mexican-American girl, choosing the middle name Maria was anathema–at the time, it seemed to me that about 98% of Mexican woman had Maria somewhere in their many names, and I refused to be one of them.

How stupid and vain.

Granted, since then, I have learned about the amazing lives of Saints Catherine of Siena and Labouré, and I love them dearly. But I do feel that if I ever make it to Heaven, I will approach St Maria with a sheepish look on my face. I'm sure she'll embrace me and laugh, but I will forever be ashamed of my foolish and immature decision.

So what's so special about Maria Goretti, and why is she a saint?

The thing I love about her is that her story is both sadly commonplace but joyfully extraordinary. Her death is, for me, an example of someone other than Christ turning water into wine–the ordinary into the extraordinary.

In 1902, Maria was an 11-year-old girl when 20-year-old Alessandro Serenelli made sexual advances toward her, which she refused. She said it would be a mortal sin. He stabbed her 14 times.

That's the water.

How often are young girls taken advantage of, raped, and murdered? Once is too many. And we all know it happens way more than just once. In that sense, Maria's experience was not unusual.

But what she did after was extraordinary. Of course, we don't know how many girls have done the same before or after. But we do know Maria's story, and on her deathbed, she forgave Alessandro, saying that she wanted him to be in Heaven with her some day.

That's the wine.

The story doesn't stop there.

Alessandro went to jail for Maria's murder and after three years, he repented of his sin. When he was released from jail 27 years later, he begged Maria's mother for forgiveness, which she gave him. He became a lay brother in a Capuchin monastery and stayed there for the rest of his life.

As we near the first-ever canonization on U.S. ground (Bl. Junipero Serra, this September in Washington DC), it's fun to note that Maria's canonization was the first-ever canonization in St Peter's Square, and the first time a mother was blessed to attend the canonization of her child!

That's awesome.

According to an AP article published on June 25, 1950, “The ancient rite was carried out in St Peter's Square because the Basilica, the world's largest church, could not hold the great Holy Year throngs wanting to attend.” Vatican radio estimated 500,000 attended.

Some ten years before he died, Alessandro wrote about what he had done in his will:

I'm nearly 80 years old. I'm about to depart.
Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself.
My behavior was influenced by print, mass-media and bad examples which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried.
There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life.
When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed.
If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault.
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.
I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.
–Alessandro Serenelli, May 5, 1961

Today, pilgrims will throng Corinaldo in Italy, to see where Maria was baptized and where she was murdered.

The Cascina Antica, were Maria Goretti was brutally stabbed.

The Cascina Antica, were Maria Goretti was brutally stabbed.

In Nettuno, they will visit the Pontifical Basilica Shrine of The Madonna of Grace and of St Maria Goretti, where, what is left of her body–not incorrupt, as some have erroneously written–can be revered.

Pontificio Santuario Basilica Madonna delle Grazie e S. Maria Goretti [Pontifical Basilica Shrine of the Our Lady of Grace (Madonna of Grace) and St Maria Goretti]

Pontificio Santuario Basilica Madonna delle Grazie e S. Maria Goretti [Pontifical Basilica Shrine of the Our Lady of Grace (Madonna of Grace) and St Maria Goretti]

For those of us stuck at home, we can  make a virtual visit on the sanctuary's website––where they appear to have a live cam. We can also see many photos of the site there and follow them on Facebook (in Italian)!

Art: Photograph of Saint Maria Goretti, 1902, unknown photographer, 1902, PD-US; La Casa di Santa Maria Goretti, detta la “Cascina Antica” (a destra). Le Ferriere, by Torvindus, own work, 21 March 2006, CC-SA; Santuario di Nostra signora delle Grazie e di Santa Maria Goretti a Nettuno (RM), Stefano.nicolucci, 28 September 2008, CC-SA; all Wikimedia Commons.

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About Diana von Glahn

Diana is the co-producer (along with husband, David), writer, editor, and host of The Faithful Traveler, a series on EWTN, which explores the art, architecture, history and doctrine behind Catholic churches, shrines and places of pilgrimage throughout the world. She is also the author of "The Mini Book of Saints". She blogs, posts updates to Facebook, uploads videos and photos to her website, and sells DVDs of both seasons of The Faithful Traveler.

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  • Patricia

    St. Maria Goretti is my confirmation saint! I chose her because of her Purity of Heart and being strong enough in her faith to choose to do what is right before God. Of, course she paid the price for that- her life- but before she died, she made another choice- to forgive! God brought much good out of her sacrifical love. It is essential that the Church holds up the saints as models for us, because if we didn’t have them and we listened to the influences of the world, we would surely be on the wide road going in the wrong direction. Thank you for sharing the information about the sanctuary and webcam. It is a personally meaningful to me and a great little ” ten minute trip” to take!

  • Jeanette

    That’s really interesting that her body was not incorrupt. A couple of years ago, her body was transported from Italy to be viewed at some of the churches in the Toronto area. I saw her body (along with my spiritual director) at a church named after her, St. Maria Goretti. At that time, I was led to believe that her body was incorrupt. The Toronto news people were there videotaping and they interviewed me for TV as I was following her body inside the church. It was on that evening’s Toronto news and it was a piece about the incorrupt body of St. Maria Goretti. They even showed my interview. You just never know…

    • LizEst

      Yes, Jeanette, I had also thought the same thing. Scroll down at this reference for the explanation (3rd paragraph from the bottom):

      • Jeanette

        Thanks Liz. I had already seen the article in your first site. The other source shows the exact tomb and body that I saw here in Canada. St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

      • Thank you, Liz! This is great!
        There are some untruths circulating about some of our saints that happen not because of malice but just misinformation. Like St Rita of Cascia being an abused spouse (she wasn’t). I figure it’s always best to know the truth and to see God’s hand in it. It doesn’t make them less saintly, I think. 🙂

        • Patricia

          St. Rita was not physically abused by her husband but certainly was disdained, mistreated, disrespected, and ostracized by her hunband’s family. She was tortured spiritually by her husband’s leaving the house to commit murders, although she was able to convince him to stop and then was murdered himself. Her brother-in -law then “stole” her two male children to turn them into murderers too as a vendetta to avenge their father’s death. This all was so disturbing to her that she almost went crazy. Stealing children to teach them to murder and harm their souls is so tortuous to a mother concerned for the spiritual well being of her children, that it would be considered emotional abuse.

          • Where did you get this info, Patricia?

          • Patricia

            EWTN: St. Rita of Cascia, Part l and ll

          • Oh! Yeah, it sounded like a movie script. That info is, unfortunately, not true, most likely embellished for dramatic effect. You want to be careful about relying on a movie for fact. They rarely provide it.

            The unfortunate part is that that movie is broadcast on EWTN, who people trust.

            If you want to know the truth about what is actually known about St Rita, I recommend reading The Precious Pearl, written by Father Michael DiGregorio, OSA, who was the shrine director for 15 years. Today, he is the Prior Provincial for the Augustinian Province of St Thomas of Villanova. (Translation: he’s in charge of the Augustinians of the area.)

            The book is heavily researched by him and is considered the most reliable book on what is known about St Rita.


            One of the sad things about saints who lived as long ago as St Rita did is that their lives are embellished but hopeful falsehoods. They are made to seem unbelievably heroic or holy, which takes away from how really holy and heroic they were. The story of St Rita is FULL of amazing things that she overcame. But an abusive husband was NOT one of them. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve to be a saint or even patron saint of impossible causes. it just means that what she overcame was different.

            I encourage you to check out the book. 🙂

          • Patricia

            The movie did Not portray her husband as abusive to her. In fact, she saw kindness in him and he listened to her and stopped going out at night with his family and murdering people.

          • Again, it’s a shame that the movie is presenting these things as fact, but there is nothing in St Rita’s history that tells that this happened to her. I encourage you to read Father Michael’s book if you care to know the truth about St Rita’s life.
            Dramatic embellishment does a huge disservice to those seeking the truth about historic people, especially the saints. And especially when this dramatic embellishment is saying people behaved sinfully when there is no proof to that fact.

          • Patricia

            Diane, since you have read the book, can you please restate the truth about what happened to her sons/ brother-in-law after her husband died in just a few sentences, so that the truth be known?

          • It’s been some time since I read the book and I can’t find it right now so I can’t quote it to you. That said, I don’t recall ever reading anything about Paolo being a murderer or Rita’s sons being kidnapped. From what I remember, all that we know–and remember this was in the 1300s–is that Paolo was murdered and Rita’s teenage sons wanted to get vengeance. She prayed that this would be avoided and it was by their dying. That’s all we know. If filmmakers want to fill in the blanks with untruths, they are doing everyone a disservice by disseminating lies.

            I encourage you to buy and read the book yourself. St Rita is your patron saint, you should know the truth about her and not rely on what moviemakers tell you.

            I am going to email Father Michael and ask him what he thinks about the movie and specifically about your questions. Keep in mind everyone in Philadelphia is overwhelmed right now planning for the World Meeting of Families so I may not get a response. But I will ask him. But do some work yourself, Patricia. If you want to know the truth, I am pointing you to it. I can’t read the book and regurgitate it for you. Go get it. Read it yourself. Seek the truth with vigor.

            You can buy it online here:

            or here from the shrine:

            I was just at the National Shrine of St Rita this past week, and I asked the current rector about the myths and untruths that some Catholics refuse to let go of regarding St Rita’s life. He assured me that the truths come from a misreading of the casket in which she was buried.

            You can watch our episode on the St Rita Shrine, in which I interview Father Michael and he addresses these questions head on, specifically discussing–and we show pictures–the casket that caused the misreading and misunderstanding of St Rita’s life. Here is a link to that:

            One more thing: you note below that St Rita chose to forgive before she died. Bear in mind, she didn’t wait that long. She forgave IMMEDIATELY, and it was because of this that the nuns finally let her into the convent. She was truly an amazing woman, which is why we ask for her help. But it’s always best to know the truth about our saints.

          • LizEst

            Wonderful…and measured response, Diana. God bless you!

          • Patricia

            Just, to clarify: St. Maria Goretti is my confirmation saint. She forgave her murderer the day after her stabbed her and she died within hours afterwards.

            I was responding to the comment you made about St. Rita in relating what I saw in the movie and just wanted to make sure I conveyed accurately what the story of the movie was. I just thought you could fill in what was true if the movie wasn’t accurate. I wouldn’t want to convey anything that wasn’t true. I know Philadelphia is busy now, as are we all. I am not asking for anything more about this.

          • Sorry. COMPLETELY lost track of who we started talking about! LOL.

          • LizEst

            Too funny! Happens to all of us!

          • God love Father Michael DiGregorio, you guys! He is so awesome. He just sent me a response to my email, in which I copied your comments and questions, Patricia. This is what he said:

            “Everything you’ve said in response to this lady’s query is right on. All we know for sure about Paolo and the circumstances of his death, are the basic elements you’ve reiterated. There’s nothing more. Everything else that the lady has quoted is pure fiction.

            I guess these things continue on because many people like drama and intrigue, and perhaps, sadly, the sadder aspects of human nature. If, at one time, preachers and biographers accentuated challenges and hardships in saints’ lives in order to make them more heroic or virtuous, I think the need for that is no longer necessary. To be a good Christian, striving always to become a better one, is challenge enough!”

            Amen, right?! I hope that answers your questions, Patricia, and anyone else who was confused about St Rita of Cascia.

          • Patricia

            I am not claiming yo be an expert on St. Rita ….I just happened to see that movie on EWTN. However, she is the Patron Saint of Victims of Abuse.

          • That’s true. Keep in mind, everyone–including the Church–believed incorrectly that she was abused by her husband. It’s only recently that the truth has come out, because they understand where the false information came from. Again, I encourage you to read the book or watch my episode if you want to know the truth. It really is a fascinating story. 🙂

          • It’s also important to note that the website you link to doesn’t provide information about who is behind the site, so I’d be cautious about relying on it.
            On the other hand, the National Shrine to St Rita of Cascia, which is here: is run by the Augustinian order, of which St Rita was a member. They have a vested interest in conveying the correct information–devoid of falsehoods–about a saint of their order. I’d rely on that before relying on books or movies or websites written also by non experts.

            Always go to the source. It’s the most reliable.
            It’s been a pleasure discussing St Rita with you, Patricia! Let’s pray to her that the truth about her life will be made known to all and accepted by all to further give glory to the one who matters: GOD. 🙂

          • LizEst

            Wow, Diana! I watched your show on the Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia. How beautiful!…and I strongly recommend it to Patricia and all. It clearly explains why people thought her husband abused her, why it is not so, and how and when the Church found out. Thank you so much!

          • aw, thanks, Liz!

  • Theresa

    The article be Diana Von Glahn was very helpful to me. When I was confirmed, at the age of 12, I was ashamed of my then-unfashionable middle name: Agnes. Knowing nothing about St. Ann, I chose the name Ann because of its sounds. Also, I saw that with the Confirmation name of Ann, I could just use the middle initial “A”, and then tell my friends that my middle name was Ann if they asked. I saw this deception as, strictly speaking, “not a lie”.

    Having since learned the lives of both St. Agnes and St. Ann, I don’t regret my choice. But I often saw my choice of Confirmation name as a distinct sign of my immaturity and lack of spirituality at the age of twelve. Sometimes when I hear that many others have shown the same weaknesses and faults that I’ve shown, it’s easier for me to expect and accept God’s forgiveness and understanding. It also makes it easier for me to see all of humanity as one. I think that in our self-centered culture, there’s otherwise a spontaneous tendency for us to see ourselves as innately worthy of special and unique consideration — both for our strengths and for our weaknesses.

    • That’s AWESOME, Theresa! Eh, you know. We were all kids once, and kids don’t necessarily make wise decisions. 🙂 Wisdom comes with age. Thanks be to God we got a little wiser as we got older! And the saints, eh. They love us and will forgive us of our vanities!

  • Ethel Grimes

    I enjoyed your article very much! I love St. Maria Goretti and she is one of my favorite saints. My own middle name is Marie, but it wasn’t my baptism or Confirmation name. I’m a convert to Catholicism—23 years since 1992; and still wonder if the priest thought I was crazy when I chose Dymphna as my Baptism name and Therese as my Confirmation name. They were, and still are, also among my favorite saints and I needed help from the both of them. Poor little St. Maria never came to my mind either!

    Recently, I became a Novice in the Oblates of St. Benedict. When I become a full Oblate, once again there will be the “dilemma” of taking on the name of a saint. It’s not easy choosing a saint’s name for anything, what with the vast array of them up in Heaven; and if you have a regular pantheon of favorites, that doesn’t help! ;D

  • Diana, St. Maria Goretti’s body has beeen traveling in the US. My parish was selected as the only one in NYC other that St. Patrick’s Cathedral to present it to the public. There’s supposed to be a website up shortly on the travel schedule, but if you’re in NYC on September 30th come to St. Rita’s Church on Staten Island. it’s a one day event. I don’t know how or why but we are so proud to have been selected. Perhaps they’ll be a parish near you on the travel schedule. Keep an eye open for it. Here’s the only link I could find that currently speaks to her traveling in the US. It’s a bit outdated:
    Perhaps the planned dates in the link never happened. All i know is she will be at my parish on Sept 30th.

  • On another subject, St. Catherine of Siena is my personal patroness. She’s a wonderful saint and certainly worthy of you picking her.

  • Here is the schedule of the ongoing tour of St Maria Goretti’s relics:

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