St. Maria Goretti
St. Maria Goretti captured the imaginations of people when she died defending herself from sexual assault; her influence from heaven worked miracles, even converting her attacker.
She was born in 1890 in a small village in Italy. Her father was a farm laborer, and the family moved to a number of different places to follow work. When he died, Maria’s mother did what she could to take on his workload, but struggled. Every penny, every scrap of food had to be carefully conserved.
When she was 12, Maria was approached in her cottage by a 19-year-old young man who lived nearby named Alexander. When she refused his advances, he pulled her into a bedroom and shut the door. She condemned his actions as sinful, then Alexander began to strangle her. She continued to struggle against him, and he stabbed her 14 times before running away.
She was taken to the hospital, and it was immediately apparent that she would not survive. Her mother waited at her bedside with other family friends as Maria suffered. She forgave Alexander, and asked God’s forgiveness for him as well, before dying the next day.
Alexander was sentenced to 30 years in prison under hard labor. For many years, he grew only more bitter and cruel. One night he had a vision in which he saw Maria gathering white lilies in a garden. She approached him and offered the flowers to him. When he accepted them, each one turned into a white flame.
Alexander sensed her forgiveness, which changed him. He finished his sentence with hope and optimism, and was released three years early. The first thing he did when he was freed was to visit Maria’s mother and beg her forgiveness.
Maria’s story was told throughout the world, and people all over began to pray for her and to ask for her intercession. Miracles were attributed to her help, and her cause for canonization was introduced. Alexander testified with his story as part of her cause.
Her mother, 82, was present at her beatification, along with three of her siblings. The pope named Maria as a modern-day St. Agnes. She was canonized in 1950 in front of the largest crowd ever gathered to witness a canonization.
Maria Goretti is considered a martyr because she died in defense of Christian virtue, and she is patron saint of victims of sexual assault. Her relics rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica, and her story and image are used by high school students who come to campus for a summer conference with the Notre Dame Vision program.
St. Maria Goretti, you are patron saint of victims of sexual assault--pray for us!
Illustration by Julie Lonneman and used with permission