May 22: Saint Rita of Cascia—Optional Memorial
Patron Saint of abuse victims, impossible causes, sickness, wounds, parenthood, and widows
Invoked against marital problems, fighting and discord, and infertility
Canonized by Pope Leo XIII on May 24, 1900
Liturgical Color: White
Dear brothers and sisters, the worldwide devotion to Saint Rita is symbolized by the rose. It is to be hoped that the life of everyone devoted to her will be like the rose picked in the garden of Roccaporena the winter before the saint’s death. That is, let it be a life sustained by passionate love for the Lord Jesus; a life capable of responding to suffering and to thorns with forgiveness and the total gift of self, in order to spread everywhere the good odor of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 2:15) through a consistently lived proclamation of the Gospel. ~Address of Saint John Paul II
Margherita Lotti (Rita) was born in a small town near Cascia, Italy, to parents who were advanced in age. After years of childlessness, Rita’s parents saw the birth of their only child as an answer to prayer. At a young age, Rita’s faith was so strong that her parents set up a small oratory in their home in which she could pray. As a young girl, Rita begged her parents to permit her to enter a convent. Instead, according to the common practice of that time, her parents gave her away in marriage at the tender age of twelve.
Saint Rita is known as the patron saint of impossible causes, in part, because of the difficult marriage she endured with such love. Her husband was said to have been an angry and cruel man, who was mentally, emotionally, and even physically violent toward her. During their eighteen years of marriage, it is said that her prayers, coupled with the witness of her many virtues, softened his heart and he turned to Christ, at least enough to attain the hope of Heaven. Rita gave birth to two sons, perhaps twins, and raised them within the Catholic faith as a devout mother.
At that time, it was not uncommon for one family in a town to have an ongoing feud with another family. Such was the case with Rita’s husband, who was of the Mancini family. The Mancinis did not get along with the neighboring Chiqui family. The end to this feud was among Rita’s daily prayers. Her prayers were answered, at least on the side of her husband, Paolo. By the eighteenth year of their marriage, Paolo had begun to turn from his anger and to find more peace in God. He resolved to end the feud with the Chiqui family and attempted to restore peace. Rather than accept his overture, a member of the Chiqui family tricked Paolo and stabbed him to death.
At Paolo’s funeral, Rita publicly forgave her husband’s murderer and offered peace. However, Rita’s brother-in-law, Bernardo, was of a different mind. He began to stir up hatred in the hearts of Rita’s two sons to convince them to avenge their father’s death. The boys agreed, and Rita, filled with holy sorrow, tried to convince them to change their plans. When they wouldn’t, Rita turned to prayer. She prayed that God would preserve her sons from the mortal sin of murder, even if it meant taking their lives before they could carry out their plan. Rita’s prayers were answered. Both of her sons died of dysentery within a year, before they could act out their revenge.
Widowed and childless, Rita turned to her childhood desire of entering the convent. She was refused admission because she was previously married and due to the scandal of her husband’s violent death. In response, Rita sought to bring about a reconciliation between her family and the Chiqui family once and for all. She prayed through the intercession of her patrons, Saints John the Baptist, Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino. She also sought the prayers of Saint Mary Magdalene, the patroness of the convent she wanted to enter. Rita’s prayers were answered, reconciliation took place, and God opened the door for her to enter the convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Cascia to live the Augustinian rule of life. One pious legend states that while she prayed and levitated, her three patron saints brought her inside the locked doors of the convent. When the sisters saw this, they concluded that it must be God’s will that she enter.
Not much is known about Rita’s forty years as a religious sister. She is said to have lived a profound life of prayer, often praying throughout the night. She joyfully embraced severe penances, ate only once a day, relying primarily on the food of the Most Holy Eucharist as her daily sustenance. Many who came to the convent to ask for her prayers attested to the power of her intercession. Some even attributed miracles to her prayers.
At the age of sixty, while deep in prayer before a crucifix, Sister Rita received the miraculous gift of the stigmata in the form of a wound on her head, inflicted by one of the thorns that pierced Jesus’ brow. This is believed to have taken place shortly after Rita heard a sermon on the Crown of Thorns by Saint James della Marca, a Franciscan friar who was known for his powerful preaching and devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. Sister Rita’s wound was so painful and unsightly that she is said to have remained in seclusion in her convent, even from her fellow sisters, for the last decade of her life. The one exception was a pilgrimage to Rome taken by all the sisters. Just prior to that trip, her wound healed, but it reappeared upon her return to the convent.
Since Rita’s death from tuberculosis at the age of seventy, many miracles have been attributed to her intercession. When her body was exhumed, it was found to be incorrupt and is on display in a glass reliquary at the Basilica of Saint Rita in Cascia. It is said that at times her body levitates and that sweet odors permeate the air.
Saint Rita of Cascia suffered greatly throughout her life. Her desire of becoming a nun was initially thwarted when she was given in marriage at the age of twelve to a violent and cruel man. She endured her marriage with love and suffered the brutal murder of her husband and the death of both her sons. She joyfully inflicted severe penances upon herself as a religious sister, and God joyfully inflicted upon her the suffering of His Crown of Thorns. Through it all, Saint Rita united herself more fully to the sufferings of Christ and won many graces for her soul and the souls of many others. Ponder your own sufferings, especially if you can relate to the ones that Saint Rita endured. As you do, strive to imitate this saint by uniting those sufferings to the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of your soul and the souls of those most in need.
Saint Rita, you endured much suffering throughout your life, but you embraced that suffering with love and united it to the sufferings of your Savior. Please pray for me, that I will be strengthened to imitate your profound love, will accept all sufferings with love, and seek to bring about peace in my heart and in the hearts of those around me. Saint Rita of Cascia, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.