|St. Rita was
born in 1381 in Roccaporena, a suburb of Cascia, in Umbria, Italy,
along the spine of Italy formed by the Appenine Mountains. She was
blessed to have been born to good parents, Antonio Mancini and Amata
Ferri, a couple who were known for their charity and piety. Given their
advanced age and former barrenness, Rita's birth had something of the
miraculous about it.
On the fourth day of her life, she was baptized, and on the fifth day,
a strange thing occurred:
[A] swarm of
bees, all of the fairest white colour, and such as were never before
seen, made their appearance. They flew a-buzzing about the cradle of
the child, and after alighting for a moment on her angelic face were
seen to go in and come out of her slightly open mouth in a sort of
regular order, as if to take from her lips the honey of Paradise. What
feelings of wonder and awe must have been awakened in the heart of
Amata and those who were present by so marvellous an occurrence! 1
She grew to be a virtuous and religious girl, one prone to deep
contemplation. She even turned a spare room into a little oratory which
she decorated with pictures of Christ's Passion. She longed to become a
nun -- but her parents wanted her to marry, and so she did. The man
chosen for her was ill-suited to marriage, a very irascible and nasty,
abusive man named Paolo Mancini. As Fr. Connolly puts it in his book on
the Saint, "To the hour of her marriage Rita had been an excellent
example to all virgins. In those few years she had given enough lessons
to show how virginal candour and pure innocence should be preserved;
she had now to follow another path to become a bright example of virtue
to all who live in the married state."
For years and years she endured his abuse, and along the way she gave
him two sons -- Gian Giacomo and Paolo Maria -- who shared their
father's temperament. Her charity and example, though, finally ended up
having some effect on her husband, and he came to change his ways. But
the change came too late to save him temporally; an old, unsettled feud
resulted in his being murdered -- stabbed to death just outside the
town. After eighteen yeas of marriage, Rita's husband was dead. Even
worse, Gian and Paolo dedicated themselves to revenge their father's
death, causing their mother unspeakable spiritual torture. She
dedicated herself to prayer to save her sons from committing murder,
and her prayers were answered in a way that invited both grief and
relief: within a year, both boys died of dystentery. They'd been saved
from becoming murderers, but they were gone from Rita's earthly life.
She was now a widow and free of domestic obligations, so she returned
to her original and deepest desire: to enter the convent. She tried,
but some of the nuns there were members of the clan involved in
her husband's murder, and Rita couldn't join without bringing division
with her. She was told that if she could unite those clans and bring
about a reconciliation, she would be free to become an Augustinian
nun.Through the intercession of her saintly advocates -- SS. John the
Baptist, Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino -- and the work of going
to members of the clans involved in the dispute and making peace
between them, Rita was able to resolve the situation. And, so, she
became "Sister Rita" some time around 1414.
In art and the popular imagination, the story of her Saints helping her
to enter the convent is portrayed thus: One night, while deep in prayer
and seeking guidance, she heard a knock
at her door. But no one was there. Once more this happened. Then again,
but this time opon answering she saw a vision of SS. John the Baptist,
Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino who bade her follow them. She did,
and they led her to the convent she'd tried before to enter -- Cascia's
Augustinian Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene. Miraculously, she was able
to pass through the gates and into the sisters' locked enclosure. The
sisters, seeing this, allowed her to join.
Her religious life was marked by exemplary devotion. She perfectly
practiced the evangelical counsels, was known for her charity, had the
practice of keeping silence, nursed the sick among her sisters, and
mastered the cardinal virtues. And
then there were the miracles.
who had observed her great spirit of submission, commanded her to water
every day a dried-up tree that was in the convent garden. Rita made no
objection against so strange a command; she did not say that such an
order was outside the matters to which the Rule obliged her; she did
not even submit that it would be time lost, for she was convinced that
the time in which any work of obedience is done is time well spent.
Therefore, with her will in complete accord with the orders she
received, she continued to obey them for several seasons, and in this
she was imitating the example of the holy abbot John, of whom we read
in the lives of the Fathers that, in order to follow the instructions
of his director, he humbled himself so far as to carry a pail of water
a considerable distance to water a dry trunk of a tree. So did St. Rita
likewise, and not in vain; for so pleasing to God were her acts of
heroic obedience that, as tradition tells, the tree bloomed again, and
began to bear flowers and fruit, and from that fact it was called the
This "tree" -- actually a grape vine -- still thrives today in the
cloister of St. Rita's convent.
She voluntarily underwent penances to an
extreme degree, enduring long
periods of fasting, and eating so little in her later years it was
wondered how she could even remain alive. She kept her cell dark and
bare, and often slept on the ground. She scourged herself for the
conversion of sinners, wore sackcloth under her habit, and
wore there, too, thorns that would prick her at any movement.
Above all, she was given to prayer, often falling into ecstasies.
During one such prayer session, on Good
Friday of 1443, she was given a stigma: her forehead was
pierced as if by a thorn from Christ's crown of thorns. The wound was
painful and fetid, unable to heal, a great cross to bear, and this sign
her sanctity remained for fifteen years -- but for one exception:
when she was sixty-nine, she and her sisters wanted to go to
Rome for the Jubilee indulgence proclaimed by Pope Nicholas V.
Her superior told Rita she shouldn't go until the wound on her forehead
was healed. She asked God for such a grace, and was given it. Her head
all healed-up, she and her sisters left for Rome. En route, she threw
into the river all the money the women had for their pilgrimage. "Her
companions blamed her for what she had done; but not God, who had
secretly urged her to that act of generosity, and who afterwards
provided herself and her companions with all they needed until their
return to the convent."1
When she was seventy-two, she became ill, likely with tuberculosis. She
spent her remaining years confined to her bed. During this time, she
was once visited by a relative who asked if there were anything she
could do for her. Rita told her to go to the garden of her house in
Roccaporena and retrieve a rose for her. But it was January -- the dead
of Winter. In spite of thinking the trip futile, the woman went to the
garden as she was asked -- and found a single rose blooming there,
which she took to the
Saint. Rita then told her to go to
the same garden, but to this time bring the two figs she'd find there.
Lo and behold, the two figs were there, growing on an otherwise
lifeless-looking tree in Winter.
St. Rita finally died on May 22, 1457. After her soul left her body,
the wound on her forehead, once purulent and physically repulsive,
began giving off a
fragrant scent, and resembling a precious ruby-like jewel; the rest of
her body took on
an appearance of youth and health. It's said as well that the bells of
churches in and near Cascia rang by themselves. Among the mourners who
her wake was "a woman who was a near relative of Rita, whose arm had
been many years paralysed. This woman approached the sacred body, and,
to relieve her feelings of love, sorrow, and devotion, clasped it
around the neck. On the instant her withered arm suddenly regained
feeling and strength. She began to cry out that a miracle was wrought
for her, and all the bystanders took up the cry of 'A miracle! a
miracle!' whilst she who was healed kissed again and again the body of
her deliverer, and returned thanks to God for His great mercy." 1
From that day 'til this, many miracles have
been brought about through St. Rita's intercession. She is the
patroness of the
abused, parents, those suffering from sterility, and, like St. Jude,
impossible causes. Unofficially, she is the patroness of baseball, too,
a story told best by the Augustinians who run her national shrine in
the United States: 2
It all started
during the roaring 20s. Oil business was booming, Texas was hot, and
investments spread like wildfire. A group of Catholic nuns and women in
New York invested in one oil rig project in Reagan County, Texas, but
the project seemed ill-fated, plagued by slow progression and
insufficient funds. Because of this, the men hired to work the oil rig
had little to do. Cash was slim and the oil wasn’t coming, so they set
up a baseball field in the shadow of the derrick. When they weren’t
attending to drilling at the dry well, they played America’s favorite
Meanwhile, the women asked a priest for advice. What do you
do when you’ve invested in an oil well that isn’t striking oil? The
priest suggested they pray to Saint Rita, the patroness of impossible
causes. He blessed a rose in Saint Rita’s name. That rose was given to
Frank Pickrell, a partner of the oil project. Pickrell returned to
Texas and scattered the rose petals from the top of the derrick, naming
the well Santa Rita No. 1.
On May 27, 1923, the drill hit dolomitic sands, called “Big
Lime” in the oil business. They had to stop drilling. The next day
(just five days after Saint Rita’s Feast Day), the miraculous happened!
Even though there had been no more drilling, oil burst into the sky!
Here was the answer to the nuns’ prayers. The oil sprayed over a
250-yard area, and those baseball players quickly had to put down their
gloves. It was time to get to work. Santa Rita No. 1 had struck oil!
The story of the Santa Rita oil rig and the ragtag group of
oil men who played baseball in its shadow isn’t a well-known tale, but
it was the beginning of Saint Rita’s association with the boys of
summer. And even if you’re not convinced that an unofficial patron
saint can help you out in the bottom of the ninth, just remember that
Saint Rita most certainly is the Patroness of Impossible Causes!
St. Rita can be recognized in art by her black Augustinian
habit, the thorn piercing her forehead, or by the presence of roses,
figs, and/or bees. She is often depicted contemplating death by gazing
at a skull or Crucifix.
The monastery in
Cascia once dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene is now
known as the Monastero di Santa Rita da Cascia. Between 1937 and 1945,
basilica was constructed there to house St. Rita's incorrupt body, and
a site of many pilgrimages, especially
on and around her feast day, where costumed historical reenactments of
events in Rita's life are made. At the monastery, one can see the vine
that St. Rita revived, and also a very small and special colony of bees
that recall the tale from her infancy:
from Rocca Porena to Cascia, and entering the convent where our saint
resided, there, in an old wall opposite the convent gate, at a point
midway between the cell which Rita inhabited and the spot in which her
body was laid to rest, we are met with a sight that cannot fail to move
us to admiration. For there, even to the present day, the bees,
commonly called St. Rita's bees, have their nest. They are called St.
Rita's, for they have been there since her time, and have come there,
we may believe, owing to her, and, as it were, to do her honour. There
is only a small number of them—some twelve or fifteen—and everything
connected with them is extraordinary and wonderful. In the first place,
...the species to which these bees belong has
never, as far as we are aware, been determined.
They live each one to itself in a hole which it has dug in the wall,
and as often as these holes have been stopped up in the process of
plastering the wall they have again excavated them. They spin a sort of
white substance, with which they stop the entrance to their retreat, as
if to hide themselves from view during their long retirement and fast
of eleven months. They appear only on those days dedicated to the
memory of our Lord's Passion, and, be it noted, these are mostly
movable feasts; and they betake themselves to retirement about the time
of the death of St. Rita, who was devoted...to
meditation on the Passion of our Lord. For four centuries they have
been found in the same place, without ever having changed their place
of abode. 1
Those who can't travel to Italy and who live in North America
might consider a pilgrimage to or retreat
at the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in South Philadelphia,
Otherwise, many Catholics around the world make a special novena to St. Rita beginning on May 13
and ending on the eve of her feast. Some practice a devotion called The Fifteen Thursdays of St. Rita
on the fifteen Thursdays that precede her day and which recall the
fifteen years she bore the stigmata on her forehead. Yet others may
make a shorter devotion called the Triduum in Honor of St.
Rita of Cascia (this last devotion may be made any time of the
And in parishes
all over the world, roses are blessed in her honor and given to those
who celebrate her feast (or roses are purchased beforehand and brought
to church to be blessed). These sacramental
roses are especially nice for the sick.
|Blessing of the Roses for the Sick,
on the feast
of St. Rita of Cascia, Widow of the Order of St. Augustine3
nostrum in nomine Domini.
R. Qui fecit coelum, et terram.
P. Domine exaudi orationem meam.
R. Et clamor meus ad te veniat.
P. Dominus vobiscum.
R. Et cum Spiritu tuo.
creator, et conservator generis humani, dator gratiae spiritualis, et
largitor humanae salutis, benedictione sancta tua bene + dic has rosas,
quas pro gratiis exdesolvendis cum devotione et veneratione beatae
Ritae, hodie tibi praesentamus, et petimus benedici, et infunde in eis
per virtutem sanctae + Crucis benedictionem; ut quibuscumque
infirmitatibus appositae fuerint, seu illorum, qui eas in domibus suis,
vel locis cum devotione habuerint, aut portaverint, infirmitates
sanentur; discedant diaboli, contremiscant, et fugiant pavidi cum suis
ministris de habitationibus illis, nec amplius tibi servientes
inquietare praesumant. Per Dominum nostrum, etc.
(The roses are
then sprinkled with
holy water and incensed)
nos Deus Salutaris noster; ut sicut de beatae Ritae festivitate
gaudemus; ita piae devotionis erudiamur affectu. Per Christum Dominum
|P. Our help is
in the name of the Lord.
R. Who hath made heaven and earth.
P.O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.
P. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy Spirit.
Let us pray. O
God, Creator and Preserver of the human race, giver of spiritual grace
and dispenser of salvation to men, with Thy holy benediction bless
these roses which out of which devotion and veneration to blessed Rita
we present Thee today and in thanksgiving beseech Thee to bless. Infuse
into them Thy benediction by the power of the + Holy Cross, so that all
infirmities, to which they may be applied, whether of those who with
devotion preserve them in their homes or other places, or who carry
them about with them may be healed. May the devils, put to confusion,
and terrified, flee from these habitations and never more dare to
disturb those who serve Thee. Through our Lord, etc.
(The roses are
then sprinkled with
holy water and incensed)
Let us pray.
Hear us, O merciciful God, that as we rejoice in the feast of Blessed
Rita so we may be enlightened by the love of pious devotion. Through
Christ our Lord.
Giving sacramental roses to others, especially those in ill health, is
a beautiful thing to do on this day. Be sure to keep one for yourself,
maybe pressing it in a book as it begins to fade (place it between two
pieces of parchment inside a very heavy book, pile other books on top
of the one holding the flower, and leave it for 4 weeks. Pressed
flowers in lots of different colors can be gathered together and put
inside frames to make colorful displays).
And as to foods, remembering St. Rita by eating figs and honey at a
table adorned by at
least a single rose seems perfect.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons tawny port, Madeira, or other sweet, fortified
Vanilla ice cream, yogurt, or whipped cream
Rinse the figs clean and pat them dry. Trim off and discard
any excess stem and cut the figs in half lengthwise. Set them aside.
In a medium frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add
the honey and gently stir it into the butter. When the mixture is fully
combined, set the figs cut-side-down in the honey-butter mixture and
cook. Shake the pan now and again to keep the figs from sticking and
spoon the honey-butter mixture over the tops of the figs until
everything is bubbling and the figs are starting to brown, about 5
Remove the figs from the pan, and whisk in whichever
alcoholic beverage you may be using. Once the beverage is whisked in
and a smooth sauce forms, let it simmer and bubble for a few minutes to
Add the figs back in the pan, spoon the sauce over them to
heat everything together. Serve the figs warm, on top of vanilla ice
cream or topped with yogurt or whipped cream.
There's a film -- Rita da Cascia
-- about our Saint, made in Italy in 1943, directed by Antonio
Leonviola and starring Elena Zareschi. To my knowledge, the movie isn't
available in English, but it can be seen on Youtube as I write.
To read more about St. Rita, see "The Life of St. Rita of
Cascia, O.S.B." (pdf) by Fr. Richard Connolly in this site's Catholic Library.
1 From "The Life of St. Rita of Cascia,
O.S.A." by Fr. Richard Connolly
https://www.saintritashrine.org/saint-rita-of-cascia Retrieved August
3 From "Devotions to St. Rita : a
compendium life of St. Rita, devotional exercises, novena and triduum,
instructions on novenas, etc" by The Augustinian Fathers, 1914.
Imprimatur: Jacobus E. Quigley, Archdiocese of Chicago.