Franciscan Spirit Blog

Five Women of Faith: St. Maria Goretti

St. Maria Goretti
1890–1902

The life of Maria Goretti, starker than that of the heroines in Italian operas, began in Corinaldo in the Apennine mountains in 1890. She was born into a farming family living in poverty. She had an older brother and two younger brothers and two smaller sisters, all of whom she would take care of by her mother’s side. Her mother, Assunta, was so poor that her only dowry was a picture of the Madonna. Yet she was a strong and spiritual girl.

When it became clear there was no way to make a living farming in their district, the family migrated to the Pontine marshes as tenant farmers. They were accompanied by a friend, Serenelli, and his 14-year-old son Alessandro, whose mother had died. This boy had become worldly when sent as a lad to work with the sailors at the waterfront of Ancona. The two families lived in an old bam separated into small rooms, with the cherished Madonna centrally placed for their family rosary.

Maria, as the oldest girl, shared the chores in taking care of nine people. In place of education, Maria, who could neither read nor write, was taught about Jesus and Mary, virtue, and sin, and that it was better to die than to commit a mortal sin.

When Maria was nine, her beloved father died suddenly. Her mother was carrying their sixth child. At 12, Maria received her First Communion. Villagers viewed her as a good and holy child, full of unselfishness.

Meanwhile Alessandro began to feel attracted to the graceful young girl living in the same house. He told her he would kill her if she told her mother about his attempts to induce her into sexual sin. On July 5, 1902, Maria was alone minding the baby when Alessandro came home suddenly from the field. He sharpened a knife and insisted that Maria come into the house from the landing where she was sewing. When she refused, he dragged her inside the kitchen.

She protested that he would go to hell, while she sobbed and tried to cover her body. He gagged her and, enraged that he could not take her sexually, stabbed her 14 times. After 20 hours of terrible pain, Maria made her final confession and prepared to meet the Lord. As she breathed her last, she said, “I forgive Alessandro, I forgive him with all my heart, and I want him to be with me in heaven.”

In prison Alessandro was given 30 years instead of a life sentence, since he was a minor. After receiving visions of Maria from heaven forgiving him, Alessandro repented. He was released at age 45 and went to serve the monks of a Capuchin monastery.


“He loves, he hopes, he waits. Our Lord prefers to wait himself
for the sinner for years rather than keep us waiting an instant.”

St. Maria Goretti


Treasury of Women Saints


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