Saints and Theology of the Heart - St. Rita of Cascia

Feast: May 22

See also:
Novena prayer to St. Rita, patroness of impossible cases

The Saint of the impossible.  She was an obedient daughter, faithful spouse though mistreated, mother, widow, religious, stigmatist and incorrupt Saint.  Saint Rita experienced everything but attained holiness because Jesus Christ reigned in her heart. 

She was born in May of 1381, one year after the death of St. Catherine of Siena.  The birth home of St. Rita is near the small town of Cascia, in the mountains, about 40 miles from Assisi, in Umbria, the central region of Italy which has perhaps given the most Saints to the Church (Sts. Benedict, Scholastica, Francis, Clare, Angela, Gabriel, Clare of Montefalco, Valentine and many more). 

Her life began in a time of wars, earthquakes, conquest and rebellion.  Countries invaded other countries, cities attacked nearby towns, neighbors fought with each other, brother against brother.  The problems of the world seemed to be greater than what politics or governments were capable of resolving. 

She was born of devout parents, Antonio Mancini and Amata Ferri, who were known as the “Peacemakers of Jesus Christ” since they were often called upon to intervene in fights among neighbors.  They didi not need a powerful speech nor diplomatic discussions; they only needed the Holy Name of Jesus, his pardon for those who crucified Him and the peace that he brought to the human heart.  They knew that only in this way would they be able to bring peace to souls.

The bees

It seems that from the first moment of her birth God has special designs for Rita.  According to tradition, one time, when she was a baby, while she was sleeping in a basket, white bees gathered over her mouth, depositing in it a sweet honey without stinging her.  The baby did not even cry to alert her parents.  One of the farm workers, seeing what had happened, tried to get rid of the bees with his wounded hand.  His hand was immediately healed.  

More than 200 years after the death of St. Rita, something strange occurred in the monastery of Cascia.  The white bees appeared from the walls of the monastery during Holy week and would remain unitil the feast of Saint Rita, May 22, when they became inactive until Holy Week of the following year. Pope Urban VIII, hearing of the mysterious bees, asked that they be brught to Rome. After a careful examination, they attached a string of the holy see to the bee and set it free.  The string was later found in their nest in the monastery of Cascia, 85 miles away. The holes in the wall , where the bees traditionally remained until the following year, can be clearly seen by the pilgrims that come to the monastery today.


Her parents, without having learned to read or write, taught Rita from her childhood about Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the most well-known Saints.  Rita, like Saint Catherine of Sienna, never went to school to learn how to read and write.  Saint Catherine was given the grace to read miraculously through our Lord, Jesus Christ.  For Saint Rita, her only book was the crucifix.
She wanted to be a religious her whole life, but her parents, Antonio and Amata, being advanced in years, chose a husband for her; Paolo Ferdinando.  Rita obeyedher parents wishes.  God wanted to give us in her an example of an admirable wife, full of virtue, even in the most difficult circumstances. 

Once she was married, her husband showed himself to be a drinker, a woman-chaser and abuser.  Rita was faithful for all of her married life.  She found her strength in Jesus Christ, in a life of prayer, suffering and silence.  They had twin boys, who had the temperament of their father.  Rita was concerned about her sons and prayed for them.

After twenty years of marriage and prayer on the part of Rita, her husband was converted and and promised her to change his way of life.  Rita forgave him and he left his old life of sin and lived his life with Rita on the path to God.  This did not last long, because though her husband had changed, it was not the same with his old friends and enemies.  One night Paolo did not come home.  Before his conversion this would not have been strange, but in the reformed Paolo this was not normal.  Rita knew that something had happened.  The following day, he was found murdered.

Her pain was increased when her two sons, who were already grown up, decided to avenge the death of their father.  Her pleas were not able to dissuade them.  Then Saint Rita, understanding that it was better to save the soul than to live a long life, prayed to God that he save the souls of her two sons and that he take their lives before they lost them for all eternity by committing a mortal sin.  The Lord answered her prayers.  The two were stricken with a fatal illness.  During the time of their illness, their mother spoke sweetly to them of love and forgiveness.  Before dying they forgave their father’s assassins.  Rita was convinced that they were with their father in heaven.   

Entrance to religious life

Upon finding herself alone, she did not permit herself to be conquered by sadness and suffering.  Saint Rita wanted to enter the convent of the Augustinian sisters, but this was not easy to achieve.  They did not want a woman who had been married.  The violent death of her husband left her in the shadow of suspicion.  She turned again to Jesus in prayer.  Then a miracle occurred.  One night, while Rita was in a deep sleep, she heard someone calling her name, “Rita, Rita, Rita!”.  This happened three times, and the third time Rita opened the door and there stood Saint Augustine, Saint Nicholas of Tolentino and Saint John the Baptist, all of whom she had been very devoted to since the time  of her childhood.  They asked that she follow them.  After going through the streets of Roccaporena, in the area of Scoglio, where Rita always used to go to pray, she felt that she was being lifted into the air and carried softly toward Cascia.  She found herself outside the monestary of Saint Mary Magdalene in Cascia.  Then she fell into ecstasy.  When she came out of the ecstasy she found herself inside the monastery, a miracle which made it impossible for the Augustianian sisters to deny her entry.  She was admitted and made her profession the same year, 1417, and spent her last 40 years in the consecrated life. 

More trials

During her first year, Rita was put to the test not only by her superiors, but also by the Lord himself.  She was given the passage of the rich young man for meditation.  She was moved by the words, “if you want to be perfect.”    
One day Rita was put to the test by her Mother Superior.  As an act of obedience, Rita was ordered to water a dead plant every day.  Rita perfomed this task obediently and well.  One morning the plant had become a flowering vine and gave grapes that were used for the sacramental wine.  To this day the vine continues to give fruit.   

Love for the Passion of Christ

Rita used to spend many hours meditating on the Passion of Christ, meditating on the insults, the rejections, the ingratitude he suffered on his way to Calvary.  

During Lent of 1443 a preacher named Santiago de Monte Brandone went to Cascia.  He gave a sermon on the Passion of Our Lord that so touched Rita that, upon her returned to the monastery, she fervently asked the Lord to participate in the sufferings of the Cross.  She received the stigmata and the marks of the Crown of Thorns on her head.  For the majority of the Saints who have received this extraordinary gift, the wounds have exuded a heavenly fragrance.  The wounds of Saint Rita, however, had a rotten smell, causing people to stay away from her.   

For 15 years she lived alone, far from her religious sisters.  The Lord gave a rest when she wanted to go to Rome for the first celebrated Jubilee Year.  Jesus removed the stigmata from her head for the time in which the pilgrimage lasted.  As soon as she arrived home, the stigmata appeared again and she had to exile herself again.

In her life she had many calls, but before all she wa a mother, as much physically as spiritually.  When she was on her death bed, she asked the Lord that he give her a sign to know that her children were in heaven.  In the middle of winter, a rose bloomed in the garden near her house in Roccaporena. She asked for a second sign.  This tine a fig grew in the garden, in late winter. 

The last years of her life were lived in expiation.  A grave and painful illness left her immobile on her simple bed of boards for four years.  She observed that her body was consumed by peace and confidence in God.       

The Roses of Saint Rita

During her illness, at her petition, she was presented with roses that had grown miraculously in the cold Winter in her garden in Rocaporena.   She accepted them with a smile as a gift from God.
Death of the Saint

Saint Rita traveled the path of perfection, the purgative, illuminative, and unitive path of prayer.  She knew suffering and grew always in charity and confidence in God.  The crucifix was her greatest teacher.  Upon dying in her cell the bells sounded out of joy for a soul entering into heaven.
Her death, in 1457, was her triumph.  The wound of the stigmata disappeared and in its place appeared a rose mark the color of a ruby, which had a beautiful fragrance.  Her vigil would have been in the convent, but the crowd was so large that a church was needed.  She remained there and the fragrance never disappeared. So she was never buried.  The original wooden coffin was replaced by a crystal one and she has been exposed for veneration by the faithful since then.  Many people still come on pilgrimage to honor the saint and to ask her intercession before her body, which remains incorrupt.

she was canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1900.

Saint Rita, pray for us.



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