- Born: 1381 – in Roccaporena, Italy
- Died: May 22, 1457
- Feast Day: May 22nd
- Patronage: Lost and impossible causes, marital problems, abuse, wounds, infertility, parenthood, and widows
When I became a Catholic, I really didn’t feel that I had much in common with any of the saints. They somehow seemed so inaccessible – so “out there.” I imagined that they must have been born with a Bible in one hand and a crucifix in the other. I, on the other hand, was nothing like that. I had stumbled through a wilful and stormy adolescence that was followed by an unhappy first marriage. Remarried, I had come to learn about the Catholic faith through my new husband (Henry) and a wonderful priest, Fr. Jeremiah, who had taken an interest in our lives.
Needless to say, I didn’t feel like much of a poster child for the Catholic faith, and as I prepared for my Confirmation, I felt a little like the black sheep in the family. As it is traditional to take the name of a saint on the occasion of one’s Confirmation, I dutifully leafed through page after page of stories about their lives. However, I didn’t feel a connection with any of them. And then I stumbled on the story of St. Rita.
The Life of St. Rita
The first thing that caught my attention about St. Rita is that she is the saint of impossible causes. I liked that. I figured that whatever name I chose, with my background, I needed a saint with that kind of pull. I also liked the fact that, like me, she had experienced difficulties in her marriage. She was also the mother of two children, born after several years of eagerly awaiting such a blessing. I figured she would have a good understanding of the challenges that we all face in family life.
Having said that, St. Rita would never have married at all had she been allowed to choose her own path in life. Even as a very young girl, her dream had always been to become a nun. However, when she asked her parents for permission, they refused. Rita was their only child, born long after they had given up hope of ever having any children. By the time that Rita was 12, their health was already failing and they needed a lot of care and attention. They were concerned that if Rita entered the convent, there would be no one to take care of them. But perhaps even more important, they were concerned that if Rita did not marry, there would be no one to carry on the family line. Although their refusal to give her permission caused Rita a great deal of anguish, she obediently agreed to do as they asked.
Her parents chose a young man named Ferdinando to be her husband. The son of well-to-do and influential parents, he unfortunately proved to be an abusive, hot headed, and immoral young man. It was said that he was cruel to Rita and squandered a lot of money gambling. Yet despite her difficult marriage, Rita was always extremely humble and patient with her husband. Although she suffered a great deal, she continued to be a loving and attentive wife. She prayed fervently for Ferdinando’s conversion, and after a number of years her prayers were answered.
Although Ferdinando became a peaceful man as well as a loving husband and father, he had made many enemies during his life. One day, a band of men attacked him outside the walls of the town, stabbing him to death and leaving him to die by the side of the road. Rita was overwhelmed with grief. To add to her sorrow, she discovered soon afterwards that their only children, Giovanni and Paulo, were planning to avenge their father’s death. Unable to reason with them, Rita prayed that God would either change their hearts or take their lives before they would have the opportunity to commit such a sin. Her prayers were again answered. Both died within a year, reconciled with God and ready for life in eternity.
Why the Saint of the Impossible?
Rita had never given up hope that she would one day become a nun. Now that she was free to realize her dream, she applied to the nearby Augustinian community of St. Mary Magdalen (also known as the ‘Maddalena’). Unfortunately, they had a rule that stated that they could only admit young girls whose vocations were certain. Widows could only be admitted by special dispensation, and none had ever been admitted up to that point. Given this rule, it is perhaps not surprising that they turned her away. However, Rita persisted. She applied a second, and then a third time. Finally, the prioress told her that it was absolutely impossible to admit her as a member of the community and asked her not to apply again.
Anyone else would have given up, but Rita continued to pray and offer penances and mortifications. She pleaded with her patron saints, St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine, and St. Nicholas of Tolentine to intervene on her behalf. Then one night, while she was praying at home, she heard a knock at the door. She heard the voice of Jesus, telling her to come – that it was time for her to enter the Maddalena Convent. Her patron saints – St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine, and St. Nicholas – appeared to her and led the way. Although the doors and the windows of the convent were tightly closed, they miraculously led her into the cloister. Before disappearing they said, “You are now in the house of your Spouse, Jesus. Love Him with all your heart and soul, and your eternal salvation is secure. Return thanks to God for so great a favour done in your behalf. Praise His infinite mercy, and publish that there is nothing impossible to God. Rita, the impossible is overcome in your behalf.”1
When the sisters discovered her in the cloister the next morning, they were amazed to find her there. At first they thought someone must have let her in. But as Rita humbly explained what had happened, they became convinced that a miracle had truly taken place. They accepted her as a companion.
Throughout her life, St. Rita was a model of the virtues of humility, obedience, patience, and charity. She was an amazing witness to the power of prayer and faith in God, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties. She had a great devotion to the Passion of Christ. In her desire to share His pain, she asked our Lord to give her at least one of the thorns that had pierced His Sacred Head. Her prayer was answered in a most miraculous way. A thorn penetrated the flesh and bone of her forehead and remained there, leaving an excruciating and putrid wound that lasted her entire life. Even in the midst of her sufferings, she was happy as she prayed, “O loving Jesus, increase my patience according as my sufferings increase.”2
The fame of her virtue and sanctity became known even beyond the walls of the convent. Many came to seek her, asking for her prayers and intercession, her advice, and her instruction. St. Rita died on May 22, 1457, and many miracles have been attributed to her intercession.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Fr. Joseph Sicardo, O.S.A., St. Rita of Cascia: Saint of the Impossible (Wife, Mother, Widow, Nun); originally published under the title Life of Sister St. Rita of Cascia, Chicago: D.B. Hanssen, 1916; reprint, Rockford Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers Inc., 1990), 67 (page citations are to the reprint edition).
2 Ibid., 112. The Devotion of the Fifteen Thursdays of St. Rita marks the last 15 years in which St. Rita suffered from this thorn. For more information on this devotion, see St. Rita, Saint of the Impossible: Prayers and Devotions to St. Rita Including the Devotion of the Fifteen Thursdays (New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1999).
Novena Prayer to St. Rita1
Saint Rita, God gave you to us as an example of charity and patience, and offered you a share in the Passion of His Son. I thank Him for the many blessings He bestowed upon you during your lifetime, especially during your unhappy marriage and during the illness you suffered in the convent.
May your example encourage me to carry my own Cross patiently and to live a holier life. By serving God as you did, may I please Him with my faith and my actions.
I fail because of my weakness. Pray to God for me that He may restore me to His love through His grace and help me on my way to salvation.
In your kindness hear my prayer and ask God to grant me this particular request if it be His Will: (Mention your request).
May your prayers help me to live in fidelity to my calling as you did and bring me to the deeper love of God and my neighbour until I reach eternal life in heaven. Amen.
1 Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D., Treasury of Novenas (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1986), 245.