St. Maria Goretti was born to a poor peasant family on 16 October 1890 in Corinaldo, a town near Ancona, Italy. Maria was the third of seven children of Luigi and Assunta Goretti.
When she was seven years old, the Goretti family moved to Ferriere di Conca, a village near Anzio, where they shared a home with Giovanni Serenelli and his son Alessandro. Maria was nine years old when her father died of malaria. While her mother worked the farm Maria took care of her siblings and also cooked for the Serenellis.
Maria was known for her unusual serious-mindedness and piety. Every night she would recite the Holy Rosary for the repose of her father’s soul. As Ferriere had no parish church, nor a priest, Maria would walk for kilometers for the privilege of hearing Mass.
At the time it was not customary to receive First Holy Communion before the age of twelve, but Maria, extremely devout and religious, pleaded with her mother to let her take instructions when Maria was not quite eleven years of age. Every day, Maria walked to the village of Mazzoleni, where she received catechetical instructions. During this time Maria intensified her piety, obedience to her mother and love for her siblings. She was busy preparing her soul to receive Jesus. On Thursday, 29 May 1902, the feast of Corpus Christi, she received her Lord for the first time. Maria would receive the Body of Christ only 4 more times before she died.
Being a beautiful child, Maria attracted the attention of 20-year-old Alessandro. It was 5 July 1902 when Alessandro tried to force his attention on her. He was furious over her refusal to commit an act of impurity and when Maria resisted him with all her strength, crying out repeatedly, “It is a sin. God forbids it,” he drew a knife and stabbed her fourteen times.
At about 6 o’clock in the evening her weakened body was put on a stretcher and put in a horse-drawn ambulance which took her to the hospital at Nettuno. Doctors worked feverishly to save her life. No anesthetic was administered because the attendants feared peritonitis. Despite the intense pain, she uttered not a sound, till she finally lost consciousness. In the morning of 6 July 1902, Maria received Holy Communion for the last time, and openly forgave Alessandro, her murderer. Then Maria died.
Alessandro Serenelli was captured soon after Maria’s death. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to death, but since he was a minor at that time the sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison. He remained unrepentant and incommunicative to the world. In his 8th year of imprisonment he had a vision of Maria. He saw a garden, where a young girl dressed in white was gathering lilies. She smiled, came near him and invited him to accept an armful of lilies. As he accepted them, each lily transformed into a still white flame. Maria then disappeared.
A local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini, visited Alessandro in jail. He wrote a thank you note to the Bishop, asking for his prayers and telling him about his dream. Alessandro’s conversion was complete. When he was released from prison after serving 27 years, his first act was to travel to Maria’s mother, Assunta, to beg her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed then she could not do less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti, referring to her as “my little saint.”
Alessandro later became a Capuchin laybrother, living in a convent and working as its receptionist and gardener, until dying peacefully in 1970.
On 27 April 1947, His Holiness, Pope Pius XII beatified Maria, and on 24 June 1950, the same Pope solemnly canonized her and proclaimed Saint Maria Goretti the new patroness of Catholic Youth. This ceremony was attended by 250,000 faithful, including her mother (the first mother to see her child canonized) and her brothers and sisters. St. Maria Goretti has also been a principal patron of the World Youth Day celebrations, begun by Blessed Pope John Paul II, and held around the world.
O Saint Maria Goretti, who, strengthened by God’s grace, did not hesitate, even at the age of twelve, to shed your blood and sacrifice life to defend your virginal purity, deign to look graciously on the unhappy human race, which has strayed far from the path of eternal salvation.
Teach us all, and especially modern youth, with what courage and promptitude we should flee anything that could offend Jesus and defile our souls with sin. Obtain for us from God great horror of sin so that, keeping our souls undefiled, we may live holy lives on earth and win eternal glory in heaven. Amen.