July 6 is the feast of Saint Maria Goretti, a young martyr whose life evoked purity and mercy. She is venerated for her courageous defense of her faith and chastity at a young age. A Catholic elementary school in Toronto, Canada, the country’s largest with more than a thousand pupils, is named in her honor.
Saint Maria was born in Corinaldo, Ancona, Italy, on October 16, 1890. Her farmer-father died when she was young and her mother had to support her six children. The saint, fondly called Marietta, took care of her siblings, and was devoted to praying the rosary. She grew in grace and maturity, and her cheerful obedience and piety were admired by her neighbors. On July 5, 1902, a farm hand, Alessandro Serenelli, tried to rape her. Rejecting his sexual advances, she declared that she would rather die than submit to him. Serenelli stabbed her 14 times. Bleeding, she was rushed to the hospital, and as she lay dying, she forgave her attacker. Doctors tried to save her, but she died later on July 6, 1902. Serenellie was imprisoned and remained unrepentant until one night, eight years into his prison term, the saint appeared to him, dressed in white, gathering lilies in a garden. She offered him flowers; each lily he took transformed into a white flame. From that moment, Alessandro repented and changed his life. He was released from prison three years early and begged forgiveness from Saint Maria’s mother, Assunta.
Serenelli moved to a Capuchin monastery and worked as gardener for the remainder of his life. He was one of the witnesses who testified during her cause of beatification, citing the vision in prison. Many miracles were attributed to Saint Maria after her death. She was beatified on April 27, 1947, and canonized on June 24, 1950, by Pope Pius XII, becoming the youngest saint.
Saint Maria is the patron saint of teenage girls and youth. Her incorrupt body is kept in the crypt beneath the altar of Basilica of Nostra Signora delle Grazie e Santa Maria Goretti in Nettuno, Rome.
Saint John Paul II said that Santa Maria Goretti “reminds the youth of the third millennium that true happiness demands courage and a spirit of sacrifice, refusing every compromise with evil, faithful to God and His commandments. It is essential to reaffirm clearly that purity of heart and body go together, because chastity is the custodian of authentic love.”