Saint Rita, Widow

Author: Lives of Saints


Feast: May 22

In 1381 in a humble peasant home at Rocca Porena, central Italy, there was born a little girl who was to attain a reputation for great holiness on account of her mystical transports, her austerities, and her long-suffering patience in meeting affliction. Rita, the child of her parents' old age, in youth demonstrated a strong religious sense. When the time came for marriage, her parents forced her to marry an unsuitable person, in spite of her desire to enter a convent. Rita submitted sorrowfully, and the marriage proved to be one long torment. Rita's husband was brutal, dissolute, and uncontrolled; for eighteen years she bore his insults and infidelities. With anguish she watched the two sons of this union grow up in the likeness of their father. She wept and prayed for them all three without ceasing. At last her husband came to a realization of his sinful life, and begged Rita to forgive him for what he had made her suffer. Soon after this he was killed in a brawl, and the sons vowed to avenge their father's death. Rita prayed that they might die rather than commit murder. Then they both fell ill, and their mother nursed them and brought them to a more forgiving state before they too died.

Left alone, Rita now began to practice unusual austerities. She finally gained admission to the Augustinian convent of Cascia, persuading the prioress to overlook the rule that allowed her to accept only virgins. In 1413 Rita received the habit of the order. She became quite pitiless in her self-mortifications, scourging herself three times daily. Her charity found an outlet in caring tenderly for other nuns in times of illness. The contemplation of Christ's sufferings would send her into ecstatic transports. A suppurating wound on her forehead seemed to be connected with her intense response to a sermon on the Crown of Thorns, an emblem which had especial significance for her. During her later years Rita suffered from a wasting disease, which was the cause of her death, on May 22, 1457. The first life of this saint was written in 1600. She was canonized in 1900. Rita is joint patroness of a sodality which exists to venerate the crown of thorns.

The old tradition that associates roses and figs with Rita has the following origin. Shortly before her death she asked a friend to bring her a rose from her garden at home. It was not the season for roses to bloom, but to gratify the whim of a woman who was desperately ill, the friend went there and was amazed to find a rose bush in full bloom. Picking a rose and taking it back to the convent, she asked Rita if she could get her something else. "Yes," was the answer; "bring me back two figs from the garden." The friend hastened away to the garden once more and discovered two ripe figs on a leafless fig tree. Rita is sometimes represented in art as holding these emblems. St. Rita of Cascia is especially venerated in Spain, and there and elsewhere she has been called "the saint of the impossible." In all countries persons who have especially heavy burdens to bear have been comforted and helped by meditating on the example of this saint, and praying to her.

Saint Rita, Widow. Celebration of Feast Day is May 22. Taken from "Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.