The Murderer

Maria's forgiveness saved me.  
Alessandro Serenelli
Murderer of St. Maria Goretti

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  His own father being increasingly gripped by alcoholism, Alessandro became more and more reclusive and withdrawn.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:

I am now almost 80 years old. I am close to the end of my days.

Looking back at my past, I recognize that in my early youth I followed a false road—an evil path that led to my ruin.

Through the content of printed magazines, immoral shows, and bad examples in the media, I saw the majority of the young people of my day following evil without even thinking twice. Unworried, I did the same thing.

There were faithful and practicing Christian believers around me, but I paid no attention to them. I was blinded by a brute impulse that pushed me down the wrong way of living.

At the age of 20, I committed a crime of passion, the memory of which still horrifies me today. Maria Goretti, now a saint, was my good angel whom God placed in my path to save me. Her words both of rebuke and forgiveness are still imprinted in my heart. She prayed for me, interceding for her killer. Thirty years in prison followed.

If I had not been a minor in Italian law I would have been sentenced to life in prison. Nevertheless, I accepted the sentence I received as something I deserved.

Resigned, I atoned for my sin. Little Maria was truly my light, my protectress. With her help, I served those 27 years in prison well. When society accepted me back among its members, I tried to live honestly. With angelic charity, the sons of St. Francis, the minor Capuchins of the Marches, welcomed me among them not as a servant, but as a brother. I have lived with them for 24 years. Now I look serenely to the time in which I will be admitted to the vision of God, to embrace my dear ones once again, and to be close to my guardian angel, Maria Goretti, and her dear mother, Assunta.

May all who read this letter of mine desire to follow the blessed teaching of avoiding evil and following the good. May all believe with the faith of little children that religion with its precepts is not something one can do without. Rather, it is true comfort, and the only sure way in all of life’s circumstances—even in the most painful.

Peace and all good.

Alessandro Serenelli
Macerata, Italy
5 May 1961

Timeline of Events

June 2, 1882: Born in Patterno (Ancona), Italy, of Giovanni and Cecilia Mengoni, the last of their 8 children.

June 3, 1882: Baptized at the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption in Patterno.

August 15, 1888: Received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

March 26, 1890: Death of his mother, Cecilia.

October 1898: Meets the Goretti family for the first time.

February 1899: Moves to Le Ferriere di Conca with his father and the Goretti family.  All settle into the same house.  Though there are separate living quarters for each family, the kitchen is shared.  In other words, they become one family.

July 5, 1902: Fatally wounds St. Maria Goretti in an attempted rape.

October 15, 1902: Sentenced to 30 years in prison.

1908: Receives an apparition of St. Maria Goretti at the prison in Noto, Italy, and she offers him forgiveness.  She appears in a garden picking 14 white lily flowers, extending these to him one by one: one for each of the stab wounds her had given her.  Converts his soul.

March 11, 1929: Is released from prison three years early because of the gentleness of his behavior after his conversion.

Christmas 1934: At Corinaldo, he asks for, and receives forgiveness from, Assunta Goretti for murdering her daughter.

1937: Enters the Franciscan Cappuchins at the Santuary of Our Lady of Ambro-Armandola.

1938-1941: Testifies to the heroic virtue and true martyrdom of Maria Goretti for the diocesan inquiry for the cause of her Beatification.

December 16, 1950: Returns for the first time to the house where he fatally wounded (now Blessed) Maria Goretti.

1954: Sees Mama Assunta (Maria’s mother, who had adopted Alessandro as her own son) for the last time before her death.

May 6, 1970: Dies at the Cappuchin convent at Macerata, Italy.

Alessandro working as a Capuchin lay brother.  He also served as the monastery porter and as a field laborer.

Not only was Alessandro forgiven by Mama Assunta, Maria’s mother; she adopted him as a member of her own family.

The repentant murderer praying to his victim

A artist’s depiction of the Arrest of Alessandro on the day he attacked Maria, July 5, 1902.

Alessandro developed a good and holy prayer life even while he was in prison.  He continued to cultivate and deepen that prayer life as a lay Capuchin.

Maria’s forgiveness and care of Alessandro was felt personally by him.  He knew his salvation in Christ was due to her.  In his words, “Maria’s forgiveness saved me.”  Rather than living the rest of his life in self-hatred, he relished in the joy that comes from being forgiven.  Even when he was over 80 years old, such as in this picture, his face radiated this joy.