St. Maria Goretti: Remembering one of the youngest Catholic saints

Maria Goretti A painting of St. Maria Goretti by Giuseppe Brovelli-Soffredini | YouTube screenshot via EWTN

Catholics worldwide celebrate the feast day of one of the youngest saints on July 6: St. Maria Goretti. At just 11 years old, she died a martyr after being fatally stabbed. Today, the Church recognizes her example of purity — and forgiveness.

Goretti was born into poverty in 1890 in Corinaldo, Italy. When she was nine years old, her father died from malaria. An example of piety and virtue from a young age, she prayed the rosary every night in repose for her father’s soul. Goretti also took on many responsibilities — caring for her younger siblings and performing household chores — so that her mother could take her father’s place working in the fields as a farmer.

On July 5, 1902, a 20-year-old neighboring farmhand, Alessandro Serenelli, attempted to rape Goretti. While Serenelli had made sexual advances before, she rejected him each time in the name of God. This time, she rejected him again, shouting, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" When Goretti declared that she would rather die, Serenelli stabbed her 14 times.

After being rushed to a hospital, she underwent surgery without anesthesia. She died the following day. Before going to heaven, she forgave her murderer, declaring, “Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him...and I want him to be with me in Paradise."

While serving his 30-year prison sentence, Serenelli repented for his sins after Goretti appeared to him in a vision and offered him 14 lilies representing her 14 stab wounds. 

Serenelli later asked for and received forgiveness from Goretti’s mother.

He went on to live a life of rediscovered dignity and joy in forgiveness. He became a Third Order Franciscan lay brother and, among other things, tended to the monastery grounds. 

“At the age of 20, I committed a crime of passion, the memory of which still horrifies me today,” he wrote in a letter, dated May 5, 1961. “Maria Goretti, now a saint, was my good angel whom God placed in my path to save me. Her words both of rebuke and forgiveness are still imprinted in my heart. She prayed for me, interceding for her killer.”

In the letter, discovered by his fellow brothers after his death, he added, “Little Maria was truly my light, my protectress.” 

In 1950, Goretti was canonized by Pope Pius XII, becoming the youngest recognized Roman Catholic saint at the time. 

“So let us all, with God’s grace, strive to reach the goal that the example of the virgin martyr, Saint Maria Goretti, sets before us,” the pope said in a homily during her canonization. “Through her prayers to the Redeemer may all of us, each in his own way, joyfully try to follow the inspiring example of Maria Goretti who now enjoys eternal happiness in heaven.”

Goretti is the patron saint of purity, rape victims, young women, and youth. 

In one quote, Goretti stresses God’s forgiveness for all: “He loves, He hopes, He waits. Our Lord prefers to wait Himself for the sinner for years rather than keep us waiting an instant.”

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