Alessandro Serenelli was born into a family well acquainted with poverty and hardship. Shortly after he was born, his own mother attempted to drown him. Several months later, while in a mental asylum, she herself died. His brother would also be subsequently interned in an asylum, where he also died.
Alessandro’s father, Giovanni, was an alcoholic who struggled to provide for his children. He moved the family multiple times trying to earn a living as a manual laborer. Unfortunately, his alcoholism prevented his holding down a job for very long. It was while endeavoring as a sharecropper that he met Luigi Goretti, father of Maria Goretti. Both families living in poverty, it was decided that they would partner together and attempt to work as a team for those hiring sharecroppers.
Both men eventually decided to move their families to a small town called Le Ferriere di Conca, near Nettuno, about 40 miles south of Rome. By this time, Giovanni Serenelli had only his son Alessandro living with him. Count Mazzoleni, a wealthy nobleman who owned much land around Le Ferriere, agreed to hire them as sharecroppers. He provided a building that would house the Gorettis on one side and the Serenellis on the other, the two living quarters being separated by a common kitchen.
Within two years, when Alessandro was 18-years-old, Maria’s father died of malaria. His own father being increasingly gripped by alcoholism, Alessandro became more and more reclusive and withdrawn. Most alarming, however, was what he was cultivating in his heart: lust towards Maria.
At first Alessandro would make lewd jokes and gestures towards Maria. These were eventually followed by repeated attempts to seduce her. Maria wanted nothing to do with Alessandro and rejected one of his immoral propositions. Knowing he was capable of violence, she was careful never to be alone with him. But Alessandro eventually devised a plan to force Maria into submission: he would approach the house in the middle of the day–when Maria would be alone and everyone else would be at work in the fields–and rape her.
When Maria found herself trapped in the house alone with Alessandro, seeing that his intention was to violate her, she resisted him with all her strength. In fact, her resistance was so great that he was physically unable to rape her. In a fit of rage, Alessandro struck Maria repeatedly with a metal file, delivering 14 puncture wounds. These would kill Maria 24 hours later.
Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison. At his trial, he blamed Maria for her own death claiming that he was defending himself from a sexual attack that she herself instigated. In prison he was locked in isolation as his anger would lead to outbursts of physical violence against other inmates.
One night, six years into his prison sentence, Maria appeared to Alessandro. She appeared in a garden picking 14 white lily flowers, handing them to him one by one. This gesture of forgiveness, this act of love, filled Alessandro with light and the Holy Spirit. He immediately became contrite for what he did to that little girl.
He finished the rest of his sentence in tranquility. In fact, his behavior became so docile, and the transformation of his person was so dramatic, that he was released three years early. Shortly after his release he sought out, and received, the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. He eventually joined the Capuchin Franciscans and, as a lay brother, worked as a gardener, porter, and general laborer. He died in the peace of Christ, with the love and admiration of those that knew him, at the Cappuchin convent at Macerata, Italy, on May 6, 1970.
Following his death, the Capuchin friars with whom he lived found a sealed envelope among his personal effects. It was his spiritual testament, written in the form of an open letter to the world. It contains an appeal that all follow the way of Christ. It also paints a dramatic and touching picture of a man who was able to regain his dignity through the generous mercy that those he wounded extended to him: