Feast Day: May 22
Born at Roccaporena in Umbria, Italy, Rita wished in childhood to become a nun but married in deference to her parents’ wishes a husband who subsequently became notoriously violent and unfaithful. For eighteen years she endured the abuses and infidelities of her violent husband. She also suffered the rascality of two sons who were strongly influenced by him. She was delivered from these miserable circumstances in a horrific way: one day her husband was brought home dead, brutally slashed by his enemies. Her rambunctious sons planned to get revenge, but died before they could obtain it.
Rita was then free to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a nun. She applied to enter the Augustinian convent at Cascia of Italy, in 1407. But her suffering was not over. Even though religious orders customarily received widows, the Augustinians three times refused Rita because she had been married. Only after six years did they acquiesce and install her as a nun where she devoted herself especially to the care of sick nuns and to counseling sinners.
Rita of Cascia is commonly known as the Saint of the Impossible, obtained by her prayers for many favors for her community and the people of Cascia. At one time her religious superior was in urgent need of money to pay a bill and requested the prayers of Rita. Later that day the superior found in the alms box the exact amount needed to discharge the debt–an answer to prayer which she credited to the worthy prayers of Rita.
Rita sought wholeness in the passion of Christ. In her meditations she preoccupied her imagination with his agony. One day, she went with the sisters of her convent to the Church of St. Mary to listen to a sermon preached by Bl. James of Mount Brandone. The Franciscan friar had a great reputation for learning and eloquence and spoke about the Passion and death of Jesus Christ, with particular emphasis on the sufferings endured by our Savior’s Crown of Thorns. Moved to tears by his graphic account of these sufferings, she returned to the convent and retreated to a small private oratory where she prostrated herself before a crucifix and begged Christ for some small share of his suffering. As though punctured by a crown of thorns, a single wound opened on Rita’s forehead. For fifteen years the stigmata caused her daily pain and embarrassed her, as its putrid odor frequently offended her sisters. In 1450, when she was preparing to visit Rome for the jubilee year, the wound temporarily healed. But it reappeared when she returned to Cascia and remained until her death.
Rita died of tuberculosis on May 22, 1457. Her reputation for holiness and miracles led to her incorrupt body being translated to an elaborate tomb which survives at the present time.
“Blessed by God, you were a light in darkness through your steadfast courage when you had to suffer such agony upon your cross. You turned aside from this vale of tears to seek wholeness for your hidden wounds in the great passion of Christ… You were not content with less than perfect healing, and so endured the thorn for fifteen years before you entered into the joy of your Lord.” (Poem engraved on the casket of Saint Rita of Cascia)
Cruz, Joan Carroll. “Mysteries Marvels Miracles in the Lives of the Saints.” Charlotte: TAN Books, 1997.
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons