Who is St. Maria?

St. John Paul II venerating the sacred body of St. Maria Goretti shortly after his election as Supreme Pontiff in July 1979.

Those who were acquainted with little Maria said on the day of her funeral: “A saint has died!”  The devotion to her has continued to spread on every continent, giving rise to admiration and a thirst for God everywhere.  In Maria Goretti shines out the radical choice of the Gospel, unhindered, indeed strengthened by the inevitable sacrifice that faithful adherence to Christ demands.
Pope St. John Paul II
Message for the Centenary of the Death St. Maria Goretti, 5
Portrait by Noah Buchanan depicting Alessandro receiving St. Maria’s forgiveness at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadaupe, La Cross, Wisconsin.

Portrait by Noah Buchanan depicting Alessandro receiving St. Maria’s forgiveness at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

St. Maria Goretti is unique in that she is the youngest canonized saint in the Church.  She died tragically on July 6, 1902, at the age of eleven.

Born into poverty, her father moved the family when Maria was just six years old from the east side of Italy (near Ancona) to the west side (near Nettuno, about 40 miles south of Rome) in hopes of escaping the grinding poverty that was gripping the area.

Just three years later, when Maria was nine, her father died tragically.  It fell to her at that time to raise her five siblings while her mother worked the fields to produce the crops with which they would both pay the rent and feed themselves.

This was a terrible time of trial and suffering for the whole family.  For Maria it was especially difficult.  Aside from having the responsibility of caring for her family, she had to also cook and clean for her two next door neighbors–Giovanni Serenelli and his son, Alessandro–who assisted her mother with the farm tasks.

It was also during this time that Alessandro began to develop an impure liking for Maria.  The big 20-year-old would say rude and crude things to her, things that were inappropriate and embarrassing, and that would cause her to run away.  However, at a certain point he began to make direct sexual advances towards her, demanding her virginity and threatening her with violence for non-compliance.

Finally, after many months of this, Alessandro forced himself upon Maria in an attempt to rape her.  Though she prevented him from violating her, Alessandro brutally stabbed her numerous times.  Maria died the next day in the midst of horrendous infection brought on by her lacerations. Her last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.”

During his prison sentence Maria appeared to Alessandro and forgave him.  That act of mercy and forgiveness—that act of love—filled Alessandro with contrition for his crime.  It was also a turning point for him where grace entered his heart.  From that point on, he lived a beautiful and converted life of holiness, eventually becoming a Franciscan lay brother.

Before his death Alessandro Serenelli wrote a beautiful open letter to the world.  You can read it here:

Maria is known as a wonder-worker.  She has intervened with the Lord to produce countless miracles.  Of all the saints (over 160) whose relics Fr. Carlos Martins, Director of Treasures of the Church, ministers with, Maria is the one who by far has produced the most miracles.

Timeline of Events

October 16, 1890: Maria Goretti is born in Corinaldo, Italy, to Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini.

October 17, 1890: She is baptized in the Church of San Francesco in Corinaldo with the names, Maria Teresa.

October 4, 1896: She receives the Sacrament of Confirmation by Bishop Giulio Boschi, the Bishop of Senigallia.

December 12, 1896: The Goretti family leaves Corinaldo and emigrates to Colle Gianturco, near Paliano, in the Latium region south of Rome in central Italy.

February, 1899: The family moves again, this time to Le Ferriere di Conca.

May 6, 1900: After being bit by a mosquito infected with malaria, Maria’s father Luigi dies of the disease.

June 16, 1901: Maria receives her First Communion in the church of Conca (today known as Borgo Montello).

July 5, 1902: At 3:30 pm she is stabbed by Alessandro Serenelli after resisting his violent attempt to rape her.

July 6, 1902: Maria dies in Nettuno at the age of 11 years, 8 months and 21 days, after mercifully forgiving her murderer.

July 8, 1902: She is buried in the cemetery of Nettuno.

May 31, 1935: The information-gathering process for her canonization begins in the diocese of Albano Laziale.

March 25, 1945: Pope Pius XII recognizes the authenticity of the martyrdom of Maria Goretti.

April 27, 1947: Maria is beatified.

June 24, 1950: Maria is declared a saint by Pope Pius XII in St. Peter’s Square. Having died at the age of 11, she is the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic Church’s long and storied history. The attendance at her canonization exceeded one half million souls, the largest of any canonization up to that point and time. It was a crowd so large that for the first time in its history, St. Peter’s Basilica—the largest church in the world—could not be used for a canonization Mass, because it was too small to hold the faithful who desired to witness the event. Thus, St. Maria’s canonization was moved to St. Peter’s Square, being the first open air canonization in history.

Assunta Goretti, St. Maria’s mother, watches her little girl being canonized
from a window of the Apostolic Palace, June 24, 1950.

A News Parade segment from Castle Films reporting St. Maria’s canonization (July 1950)