About thirty miles southeast of Assisi, Italy, home to the renowned Saints Francis and Clare, lies the city of Cascia. A village on its outskirts saw the birth of another noteworthy saint, one who fulfilled a significant number of roles during her lifelong road to heaven.
Saint Rita of Cascia (1381 - 1457) was born Margherita Lotti in the village of Roccaporena. Her parents were not wealthy, yet they provided Rita with a basic education, and also at least one important example destined to be imitated in her adult life.
Rita lived during a time when deadly conflicts occurred between rival Italian families almost as a matter of course. The Italian word vendetta is defined as “a private feud in which the members of the family of a murdered person seek to avenge the murder by killing the slayer or one of the slayer's relatives, especially such vengeance as once practiced in … Italy” (dictionary.com).
Rita’s parents, however, were respected as peace-loving people, often called upon by local authorities to mediate between familial adversaries in delicate, dangerous situations. Their example during Rita’s early years surely influenced her response to events later in her life.
Rita’s faith grew deep and strong from her earliest years. Her natural attraction to the religious life was set aside when, at age 16, she obeyed her parents’ wish that she marry. Rita’s prayer life sustained her in this second life role, influencing her husband to distance himself from the prevailing feuds among families. In time, Rita gave birth to two sons.
At the young age of 32, though, Rita was suddenly, tragically widowed when her husband was murdered, most likely the victim of a rival family’s vendetta. True to the spirit of reconciliation modeled by her parents, and thwarting the vengeful designs of her family, Rita courageously forgave her husband’s killers. Her all-consuming concern then became shielding her sons from the customary expectation that they were honor-bound to avenge their father’s murder.
Rita stormed heaven, begging God to prevent her sons from such deadly violence. Within a year, both young men succumbed to illness, leaving Rita not only widowed but also childless.
No longer a wife or a mother, Rita requested admission to the local Augustinian convent. Her repeated appeals over several years were denied for fear that the conflict between her family and others would jeopardize the nuns’ life and work.
Sustained by fervent prayer, Rita strove tirelessly to bring about peace between the rival families. After many months, her determined efforts bore fruit, and in 1417, both parties signed a written peace agreement.
For its time, this was an amazing demonstration of the power of prayer, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It enabled Rita to enter the Augustinian convent, where she spent her remaining forty years in her final earthly role, a life of prayer and humility as a religious.
There is still more to Rita’s story, however. In the convent, her prayer life deepened and intensified. She focused intently on the sufferings of Jesus, asking for even a small share in His agony. Rita’s prayers were answered on Good Friday of 1442; her forehead was pierced with a single thorn, a wound which she bore for the remaining fifteen years of her life. She passed to eternal life on May 22, 1457.
Speaking on the centenary of Saint Rita’s canonization in 1900, Pope Saint John Paul II stated: “Humility and obedience were the path that Rita took to be ever more perfectly conformed to the Crucified One. The mark which shines on her forehead is the verification of her Christian maturity. On the Cross with Jesus, she is crowned in a certain way with the love that she knew and heroically expressed within her home and by her participation in the events of her town.”
Saint Rita’s incorrupt body lies encased in glass in her basilica at Cascia, where pilgrims continually gather to pray. In the U. S., pilgrims can visit -- in person or virtually -- the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia (www.saintritashrine.org). Staffed continuously since its founding by the Augustinian Friars, the Church of Saint Rita was established in 1907. By the year 2000, it had been designated a national shrine by the U.S. bishops.
To quote the Shrine’s Mission Statement: “Following the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and the footsteps of Saint Rita, the Shrine welcomes people from all walks of life to encounter God and to discover healing, reconciliation, and peace.”
The National Shrine truly lives up to its reputation as a place of solace and peace for all. Saint Rita’s feast day, May 22nd, has been celebrated there annually since 1907, with joyful ceremony. The Shrine’s website accepts prayer requests and offers a wealth of resources and information. For example, you’ll learn about the connection between Saint Rita and roses -- and also, bees!
Patience and prayer; humility and love; mercy, forgiveness, healing, and peace: these are the hallmarks of the life of Saint Rita. Her legacy continues in her many patronages, some of these being impossible causes, reconciliation, peacemaking, healing, and even -- unofficially -- (as explained on the Shrine’s website) baseball!
Pope Saint John Paul II described Saint Rita as “… a woman who was small in stature but great in holiness, who lived in humility and is now known throughout the world for her heroic Christian life as a wife, mother, widow and nun. Deeply rooted in the love of Christ, Rita found in her faith unshakeable strength to be a woman of peace in every situation.”
Saint Rita of Cascia teaches us to follow her example of fidelity to the Gospel and its message of mercy and forgiveness. Approaching her in faith, we too can become harbingers of peace.
© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace® http://www.womenofgrace.com
Click here for information on how to watch St. Rita's Feast Day Mass at the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia, which will be aired on EWTN on May 22, 2021.