Saint of the Day – 22 May – St Rita of Cascia – (born Margherita Lotti) Patron of Impossible Causes, Abused Wives and Widows – (1386 at Roccaparena, Umbria, Italy – 22 May 1457 at the Augustinian convent at Cascia, Italy of tuberculosis)- Mother, Widow, Stigmatist, Consecrated Religious, Mystic, – Patron of Lost and impossible causes, sickness, wounds, marital problems, abuse, mothers, against infertility or sterility, infertile people, against loneliness, against sickness or bodily ill, sick people, wounds, wounded people, desperate people, forgotten people, difficult marriages, parenthood, Cascia, Italy, Dalayap, Philippines, Igbaras, Iloilo, Philippines. Attributes – nun holding a crown of thorns, holding roses, holding roses and figs, with a wound on her forehead. Her Body is Incorrupt and lies in the Basilica of Cascia. Pope Leo XIII canonised Rita on 24 May 1900.
Blessed by God,
you were a light in darkness
through your steadfast courage
when you had to suffer such agony
upon your cross. You turned aside from this vale of tears
to seek wholeness for your hidden wounds
in the great passion of Christ. . . .
You were not content with less than perfect healing,
and so endured the thorn for fifteen years
before you entered into the joy
of your Lord.
This poem was engraved on the casket of St Rita of Cascia and is one of the few contemporary sources that tell us about her. St Rita received her “hidden wounds” in an unfortunate marriage. She was born in 1381 in the city of Roccaporena (near Spoleto, Umbria, Italy) where various sites connected with her are the focus of pilgrimages. Her parents, Antonio and Amata Ferri Lotti, were known to be noble, charitable persons, who gained the epithet Conciliatore di Cristo “Peacemakers of Christ.” She was married at age twelve to a nobleman named Paolo Mancini. Her parents arranged her marriage, a common practice at the time, despite her repeated requests to be allowed to enter a convent of religious sisters. Her husband, Paolo Mancini, was known to be a rich, quick-tempered, immoral man, who had many enemies in the region of Cascia. Rita had her first child at the age of twelve. For eighteen years she endured the abuses and infidelities of a violent husband. She also suffered the unruly behaviour of two sons who were strongly influenced by their father. She was delivered from these miserable circumstances in a horrific way – one day her husband was brought home dead, brutally slashed by his enemies. Her rambunctious sons planned to get revenge but died before they could obtain it.
Rita was then free to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a nun. She applied to enter the Augustinian convent at Cascia of Italy, in 1407. But her suffering was not over. Even though orders customarily received widows, the Augustinians three times refused Rita because she had been married. Only after six years did they acquiesce and install her as a nun.
The poem said Rita “sought wholeness” in the passion of Christ. In her meditations she preoccupied her imagination with his agony. On Good Friday, 1441, she prostrated herself before a Crucifix and begged Christ for some small share of his suffering. As though punctured by a crown of thorns, a single wound opened on Rita’s forehead. For fifteen years it caused her daily pain and embarrassed her, as its putrid odour frequently offended her sisters. In 1450, when she was preparing to visit Rome for the jubilee year, the wound temporarily healed. But it reappeared when she returned to Cascia and remained until her death.
Rita died of tuberculosis on 22 May 1457. Three days later, Domenico Angeli, a notary of Cascia, recorded eleven miracles that occurred upon the saint’s death. He left us this brief profile of her religious life:
“A very honourable nun, Lady Rita, having spent forty years as a nun in the cloister of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene of Cascia by living with charity in the service of God, followed the destiny of every human being. God, in whose service she persevered for the aforementioned time—desiring to show all the faithful a model of life, so that as she had lived serving God with love by fasting and prayer, they too, all faithful Christians, would live also—worked many wonderful miracles and through the merits of Saint Rita, especially on 25 May 1457.”
The Miracle of the Rose
It is said that near the end of her life Rita was bedridden at the convent. While visiting her, a cousin asked if she desired anything from her old home. Rita responded by asking for a rose from the garden. It was January and her cousin did not expect to find one due to the season. However, when her relative went to the house, a single blooming rose was found in the garden and her cousin brought it back to Rita at the convent. St Rita is often depicted holding roses or with roses nearby. On her feast day churches and shrines of St Rita provide roses to the congregation that are blessed by the priest during Mass.
The Miracle of the Bees
In the Parish Church of Laarne, near Ghent, Belgium, there is a statue of St Rita in which several bees are featured. This depiction originates from the story of her Baptism as an infant. On the day after her Baptism, her family noticed a swarm of white bees flying around her as she slept in her crib. However, the bees peacefully entered and exited her mouth without causing her any harm or injury. Instead of being alarmed for her safety, her family was mystified by this sight. According to Butler, this was taken to indicate that the career of the child was to be marked by industry, virtue and devotion.
A large sanctuary of St Rita was built in the early 20th century in Cascia. The sanctuary and the house where she was born are among the most active pilgrimage sites of Umbria.
French singer Mireille Mathieu adopted St Rita as her patron saint on the advice of her paternal grandmother. In her autobiography, Mathieu describes buying a candle for St Rita using her last franc. Though Mathieu claims that her prayers did not always come true, she testifies that they inspired her to become a strong and determined woman.