6 July: St. Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr

Today is the Feast of St. Maria Goretti, who died defending her virginity and also in the attempt to prevent her killer from committing a terrible sin.

The story of her appearance to him, Alessandro Serenelli, in prison, and his subsequent conversion and life of holiness is the very stuff of Christian hope.

I am so disappointed when I hear Catholics, in particular, dismiss a person who has had a real conversion because in his “past life” he was a sinner.  Isn’t that what we pray for?  The conversion of sinners?  Aren’t their lives to be celebrated rather than reviled?  In a way, the abuse of a truly converted soul because of past sins is a rejection on the Holy Spirit, a rejection of Christ’s saving Sacrifice, a rejection of the Father’s bountiful love.

We are not Protestants who think that our sins remain, merely covered over or by some bookkeeping ignored.  When we confess our sins and amend our lives those sins are gone, removed forever through the washing of the Blood of the Lamb.  Though our sins be as red as scarlet, they are cleansed as white as snow.  Though we have their memory, though we will always feel a need to do penance, those sins will not be held against us in our judgment.  And there is no sin so great that the infinite power and love of God cannot remove from our souls, provided we ask.

Maria, 11 years old, before she died, forgave her 20 year old killer who, when he couldn’t rape her, stabbed her 14 times with a thick chisel-like awl.   She later appeared to him and gave him 14 lilies.  He became a model prisoner and earned early release, at which time he sought out Maria’s mother, who forgave him and took him to herself as if he were her own son.  His life became a paragon of devotion and there is even talk of his cause.

His conversion involved abundant forgiveness from those whom he wrong.  It required intercession in heaven to obtain graces.   This is one reason why I regularly pray “pro inimicis… for enemies”, those who have recently done me terrible harm.  I believe they could be great paragons to emulate, and among them maybe a truly great leader in the Church.

Maria Goretti’s canonization in 1950 was so thronged with people that, for the first time, the ceremony was moved out of the Basilica into the square. Her mother attended, as did her killer.

In 2015 my friend Fr. Carlos Martins, through his apostolate Treasures of the Church, brought the body of St. Maria to make a pilgrimage tour through these USA.   In his talks and videos he tells her story and about Alessandro’s amazing conversion.

This is a beautiful saint to invoke in these confused times when the ideologically driven are trying to twist the very nature of man in sheer defiance of His will.

She is a mighty intercessor and I am told by my exorcist friends that demons react violently to her very mention, not just her relics.

My 1st class relic of St. Maria Goretti.

Here is a snippet from the sermon Ven. Pius XII gave for the canonization of St Maria Goretti, whose feast is today.

Pius, the Last Roman Pope, from about 1950 onward, seeing what was going on in society called for greater purity.  What would he think about today?

The place: St. Peter’s Square, completely jammed
The date: 24 June 1950
The occasion: the canonization of St Maria Goretti

Full text HERE.

What you hear Pius XII say in the recording:

Perchè, diletti figli, siete accorsi in così sterminato numero alla sua glorificazione? Perchè, ascoltando o leggendo il racconto della sua breve vita, così somigliante a una limpida narrazione evangelica per semplicità di linee, per colore di ambiente, per la stessa fulminea violenza della morte, vi siete inteneriti fino alle lacrime? Perchè Maria Goretti ha conquistato così rapidamente i vostri cuori, fino a divenirne la prediletta, la beniamina? Vi è dunque in questo mondo, apparentemente travolto e immerso nell’edonismo, non soltanto una sparuta schiera di eletti assetati di cielo e di aria pura, ma folla, ma immense moltitudini, sulle quali il soprannaturale profumo della purezza cristiana esercita un fascino irresistibile e promettente : promettente e rassicurante.

Why, beloved children, have you rushed in such boundless numbers to her glorification?  Why, hearing or reading the account of her brief life, so much like a pristine gospel narrative for the simplicity of its line, for the painting of its setting, for the very flaming violence of the death, were you touched even to tears?  Why has Maria Goretti conquered your hearts so quickly, even to the point of becoming your favorite, your darling?   Thus, there is in this world, manifestly overwhelmed and sunk into hedonism, not only a sparse crowd of the chosen, thirsting for heaven and pure air, but a throng, but an immense multitude, upon which the supernatural fragrance of Christian purity works an irresistible and promising allure: promising and encouraging.

Some visuals to go along with the sound.

Prayer to St. Maria Goretti

Oh 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 itself to defend your virginal purity, look graciously on the unhappy human race which has strayed far from the path of eternal salvation.

Teach us all, and especially youth, with what courage and promptitude we should flee for the love of Jesus anything that could offend Him or stain our souls with sin.

Obtain for us from our Lord victory in temptation, comfort in the sorrows of life, and the grace which we earnestly beg of thee (pause, insert special intention here), and may we one day enjoy with thee the imperishable glory of Heaven. Amen.

Our Father … Hail Mary … Glory be … St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in GO TO CONFESSION, Modern Martyrs, Saints: Stories & Symbols and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. mysticalrose says:

    Not to take anything away from St. Maria Goretti, a beautiful saint whom I love, but her story and that of Alessandro are so troubling for so many girls. Many girls are attacked, and no matter their effort, simply are unable to fend off their attackers, no matter how much they would have tried or prayed otherwise. Why does God answer the prayers of some and not others in this regard? And what does it say if one’s attacker or abuser is offered what seems like a “cheap grace” of repentance? After all, a girl’s life can be ruined forever by this . . . not so much the attacker.

    Again, St. Maria Goretti is and ought to be a saint. But the Church could do a bit more to offer some reflection or hope for those who aren’t blessed enough to escape violation.

  2. It only took an hour.

    Life is troubling.

    God always answers prayers, but not always in obvious ways.

    If what happened with Alessandro Serenelli seems cheap to you, you perhaps ought to look into him a little more.

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    When you go to see the relics of St. Maria Goretti, you hear an excellent talk about her and Alessandro Serenelli. It can only be God who takes someone who would do something like that and turn him into a saint. I could be wrong about this, but it seems like it was more he was trying to coerce her into relations and she refused. They knew each other, he was not a stranger to her. Still, she did not escape unscathed for her refusal, she was stabbed to death. It is impossible to answer the question of why bad things happen to our satisfaction. I guess we’ll only know why on the other side.
    The relics of St. Maria Goretti visited our area when my son was going through terrible things, serious medical things for both he, his wife, and worries about a new baby. It felt like providence. I sought her intercession, as well as for my brother and his wife who were also having medical issues, and am so grateful for St. Maria Goretti’s help. She has a special place in our hearts.
    Fr. Z thank you for posting this!

  4. Discipula says:

    Maria Goretti’s story is truly inspiring, but it is Alessandro who gives me real hope. I have a scoundrel of a brother who also suffers from an addiction to pornography, among other things. He ran away from home and has been in and out of jail since his teen years. When Maria Goretti’s relics came to Chicago a friend and I took the opportunity to come and see. Every visitor got a prayer card to Maria and another to Alessandro. I found several prayer cards to Alessandro left on the pavement, picked them up and asked him to intercede for my brother. We need more saints like Alessandro. There are many scoundrels in the world who could benefit from a St. Alessandro.

    As for my brother, he called me out of the blue a few years back to say he’d been clean for a bout a year. I’d call that an answered prayer.

  5. Fallibilissimo says:

    @mysticalrose. I’ve had the privilege of attending a few conferences on St Maria Goretti, visit her shrine etc. The type of issues you mention seem to always come up whenever there are open questions. It’s clear to me that there is, in the story of Marietta, a sign of contradiction; that’s the most succinct way I could put it.

    I believe the key to the story of this young martyr saint and her persecutor is to see it first from the perspective of God’s action in their lives. When approached from that view, I realize that the protagonist in the lives of St Maria Goretti and Serenelli is the Holy Spirit. Their simplicity, only makes that easier to see, but it wasn’t cheap grace. This is what I think: there was nothing cheap about how the Faith was passed on for almost 2000 years, under persecution and the hardships of life, so that an eager young girl, in a malaria infested swamp, could hear a few lessons of catechism by a priest. There was nothing cheap about building a culture that would produce beautiful souls like Assunta, her mother, in a land that was once mired in paganism. In Satricum, right at Le Ferriere where St Maria Goretti lived, there was an important pagan shrine to the goddess Mater Matuta. At what cost was Latium christianized so that Marietta could receive Christ and not live in ignorance? When St Paul passed by the Forum Appii, in the same region, he was one among so few Christians in that land. Now, rightfully, one could argue that this is true for all saints and for all Christians. That’s true and it’s also the point. We sometimes get caught up in the spectacular greatness of some acts, but it’s the stark simplicity of a brief life like that of Marietta, with her few but deliberate actions, which let God’s grace shine clearer to us. It certainly helps me to realize how much I have received and how grateful I ought to be.

    As for focusing on “escaping violation” and the efforts we should put into it, I agree. If memory serves, I remember Serenelli, in his later years, use to talk of the dangerous of “bad literature”. To that end, I think the time has come for an international campaign for the banning of all pornography. There still isn’t enough voice given to the dangers of that demon and instead so may other distractions just consume all the oxygen in the room. St Maria Goretti and Serenelli, could be the patrons of that movement.

    Btw Father, that bit you said about exorcists saying demons react particularly violent to her, I can also confirm: my parish priest, who is well acquainted with the circle of devotion to St Maria Goretti, says the exact same thing, relating the experience of other exorcists. Fr Carlos Martin, whom I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting, also said the same.

    There is something quite mysterious about God’s plan for the devotion to St Maria Goretti. There is an immensity about it, especially as you see the devotion increase everywhere in a time when Catholic religiosity seems in steep decline. It tells me she will be a powerfully relevant saint in the years to come. Her innocence can disarm many people of goodwill living knee-deep in a culture which has grown so hostile to Christian life, and the forgiveness she showed Serenelli is a powerful sign of hope for desperate sinners.

    Santa Maria Goretti, Bambina di Dio, prega per noi.

  6. Flos Carmeli says:

    St. Maria Goretti did not become a saint because she was successful in warding off the sexual part of her violator’s attack. As I understand her story, her sanctity was already something she was practicing in her everyday life, in her heroic charity, purity, and fortitude, selflessness, etc. The charity and heroic desire for purity that she exhibited even in the terrible events that lead to her death stand as they are, whether God permissively allowed the violation or not.

    Let us look at Jesus on the Cross to see how good triumphs even as it seems that evil has won. We must not doubt Our good God, the more vile the evil (and what is more vile than deicide?), the greater the good He in His all-mighty power brings out of it. As another commenter above said: This is the great sign of contradiction, the mystery of suffering and redemption.

    mysticalrose said above:
    “After all, a girl’s life can be ruined forever by this . . . not so much the attacker.”

    With respect, this is missing the point of what our purpose in life is: To know, love, and serve God in this world, that we might be happy with Him in the next. A girl who is violated has endured a great evil, and must be supported, pitied, loved and helped through it, no doubt. But she has not been “ruined”, she is still a precious and beloved child of God, and as long as SHE chooses it, she can remain on the path to heaven. On the other hand, the attacker/violator, by his evil choice, has actually ruined his own eternal life, unless he repents, as did Alessandro.

    Also, I don’t think one could consider her attacker’s repentance “cheap” without also cheapening St. Maria’s heroic act of forgiveness towards him, not to mention God’s forgiveness towards him. What is cheap about Jesus giving himself over to death on a cross for our salvation?

  7. JerseyCatholic says:

    That is an amazing piece of art. Noah Buchanan. Beautiful.

  8. PostCatholic says:

    I hope this question isn’t straying too far, but when was the much-maligned Papa Pacelli declared Venerable?

  9. Not says:

    Thank you Father Z,

    I am in awe of the beautiful art work, like an icon with the symbolism of St Maria Goretti’s life, death and miracles. I encourage everyone to read the approved book in the life of Pope Pius XII. He was a true saint both before and during his Papacy.

  10. rahook says:

    Why is the feast of St. Maria Goretti not celebrated in North America? There is no mention of her in my missal.

  11. jaykay says:

    PostCatholic: it was on 19 December 2009, along with John Paul II. It seems impossible to find the actual decree on the Vatican website, and the link given in this article from the time is non-functional:


  12. PostCatholic says:

    Thank you, jaykay. It’s good to see your church sticking up for a man who was the opposite of “Hitler’s Pope.”

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