St. Rita is a witness to hope for authentic family unity

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This statue of St. Rita of Cascia bears a representation of the stigmata on her forehead. CNS photo from Crosiers)

St. Rita of Cascia

Feast day: May 22

A witness to hope for family unity amidst several big trials, St. Rita of Cascia (1386-1457) was an Italian wife and mother who died as an Augustinian nun. Living a life of strong humility and obedience, she agreed to marry at the insistence of her parents despite wanting to become a nun. Enduring an abusive marriage and the tragic deaths of her two sons, St. Rita was described by Pope St. John Paul II as “a disciple of the Crucified One and an expert in suffering” who followed the spirituality of St. Augustine. As the late Holy Father explained, this knowledge allowed St. Rita to understand the sorrows of the human heart and become “the advocate of the poor and the despairing, obtaining countless graces of consolation and comfort for those who called upon her in the most varied situations.”

Throughout her life St. Rita was able to apply three traits learned from her parents to many difficult situations: prayer, patience and the ability to pacify people. Particularly in dealing with the man she had agreed to marry, St. Rita was able to gradually convince her spouse to live a more authentic Christian life of peace and understanding. Still, as he was involved in political strife, her husband was murdered and despite her attitude of forgiveness, their two sons were bent on taking revenge. In response, St. Rita prayed constantly for a peaceful resolution only to suffer instead the death of her two sons from disease. And yet, St. Rita was comforted by the knowledge that their souls had been spared from mortal sin in an atmosphere of retaliation.

Finding herself alone, St. Rita began to pray intensely for forgiveness and peace between the warring families involved in her husband’s murder and eventually this peace came to be. Choosing to become an Augustinian nun of the Monastery of Santa Maria Maddalena of Cascia, St. Rita had to endure the trial of having her initial request rejected, possibly because she was the widow of a murdered man. Eventually, all obstacles were removed as she prayed to her favorite saints, one of which was St. Augustine, and St. Rita finally became a nun.

St. Rita lived 40 years in the convent in a life distinguished by prayer with frequent fasting and penance. She was also engaged in charitable works outside of the monastery as she visited the elderly, cared for the sick, and assisted the poor. Devoted to the Passion, St. Rita received a chronic head wound in response to a prayer to suffer like Christ. The wound appeared to have been caused by a crown of thorns and bled for 15 years. While visiting Rome in 1450 for the jubilee year, St. Rita had a temporary healing of the wound, although it returned when she came back to Cascia and remained until her death.

Devotion to St. Rita of Cascia is symbolized by the rose as she requested one when dying from her old home. Although not the season for roses, a relative went and found a rose in full bloom there. In honoring St. Rita, Pope St. John Paul II encouraged us to have a life like a rose, “sustained by passionate love for the Lord Jesus; a life capable of responding to suffering and to thorns with forgiveness and the total gift of self, in order to spread everywhere the good odour of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 2:15) through a consistently lived proclamation of the Gospel.”


Dear Jesus, I want to see everything you give me as a gift to enable me to order this world to you. May I never feel sorry for myself but instead work as a true instrument of your peace.


Bestow on us, we pray, O Lord,
the wisdom and strength of the Cross,
with which you were pleased to endow Saint Rita,
so that, suffering in every tribulation with Christ,
we may participate ever more deeply in his Paschal Mystery.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

Maryella Hierholzer

Maryella Hierholzer is a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and did graduate work at Georgetown University. After concluding a career in the Washington area, she is now retired in Indiana where she is a teacher of adult and youth faith formation at her parish. She is also a volunteer at Catholic Charities in Fort Wayne.