22 May: Feast of Saint Rita of Cascia. In the hills of Cascia, Italy, Antonio and Amata Lotti welcomed their only child, Margherita, in 1381. Her name meant “pearl” and she was called Rita. Growing up in Cascia, Rita knew the local Augustinian nuns and was attracted to their way of life. But her parents arranged a marriage to provide security, and so Rita obediently married Paolo Mancini with whom she had two sons. In the troubling political climate, there was often conflict between families. Paolo was the victim of one conflict, and was murdered. The societal expectation was that the boys should avenge father’s murder. Rita forgave her husband’s killers. She faced a steep challenge in convincing her sons to do the same. She pointed to the image of the crucified Christ and the fact that he forgave those who killed him. Soon, however, both sons died of illness. Trusting God after these tragedies, Rita felt called to a second vocation: religious life. The sisters at the Monastery were hesitant and refused her request, because although Rita had forgiven her husband’s killers, family had not. There were members of the rival family in the convent; her presence would be detrimental to community harmony. And so, Rita set out to make peace between the families. She went to her husband’s family and exhorted them to put aside hostility. They were convinced by her courage. The rival family, astounded by this, also agreed. The families exchanged a peace embrace and signed an agreement, putting the vendetta to rest forever. At age 36, Rita finally was accepted into the Augustinian convent. She lived a life of prayer, contemplation and spiritual reading for 40 years. On Good Friday of 1442, she had an extraordinary experience. In contemplation before an image of Jesus, she was deeply moved and spoke her willingness to relieve Christ’s suffering by sharing in his pain. Her offer was accepted, and Rita was given a thorn from his crown penetrating her forehead. The wound it caused remained open until her death. Toward the end of her life, Rita was visited by a relative who asked if there was anything she could do. Rita asked for a rose from the garden of her family home. It was January, the dead of winter, but upon arrival at Rita’s family garden, the relative astonishingly found a fresh rose in the snowy garden. She brought the miraculous rose to Rita, who died peacefully on May 22, 1457. The convent bells immediately began to peal unaided by human hands. So many people came to look upon the gentle face of the “Peacemaker of Cascia” that her burial had to be delayed. It became clear that something exceptional was occurring as her body was free from nature’s usual course. It is still incorrupt today, in a glass coffin in the basilica of Cascia, where numerous miracles have been wrought. On May 24, 1900, Pope Leo XIII canonized St. Rita, heralding her as the saint of impossible and desperate cases. St. Rita’s Church at Cascia was raised to the ranks of a basilica, September 11, 1955, by Pope Pius XII.
Ideas for celebrating this feast at home:
- In honor of her name, make “Margherita” Pizza for dinner (recipe here!) Really, any Italian themed meal would be fitting.
- Plant a rose bush in your yard: roses are one of the symbols associated with St. Rita.
- Read the address that Pope St. JP II gave on the 100th anniversary of St. Rita’s canonization: link here.
· Go to confession: exemplified by forgiveness of her husband’s murderers, Saint Rita is patroness of reconciliation.
· Peacemaking: the Saint of Cascia didn’t just forgive, she helped two rival families set aside a vendetta and make peace. Is there a person you need to make peace with? Be inspired by Saint Rita to do it today.
· Play a game of baseball! St. Rita has been loosely associated with the game of baseball. If you’re not convinced that an unofficial patron can help you out in the bottom of the ninth, remember that Saint Rita is also the Patroness of Impossible Causes!
(sources: excerpts from “The Precious Pearl” by Fr. Michael DiGregorio; stritashrine.org)