Saint Rita, by Father Hugh Francis Blunt

Saint Rita of Cascia(13811457)

It is related in the life of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal that when, after the death of her husband and after having provided for the education and maintenance of her four children, she decided to leave the world and retire to Annecy, where she was to found the Congregation of the Visitation, her son, then an impulsive lad of twelve years, so dreaded the thought of being separated from her that in the attempt to shake her resolution he threw himself across the threshold and broke into sobs, pleading with her not to go. It was a sight to move the mother herself to tears, and to tempt her to accede to her natural mother-craving. “Can the tears of a child shake your resolution?” said a holy priest who witnessed this outburst of feeling. “Oh, no,” answered the mother; “but, after all, I am a mother.” And then she stepped over the lad, an action indicating that she would not permit even her motherly affection for her children to stand in the way of her serving God.

When I think of Saint Jane, somehow I do not recall her as the admirable mistress of novices, as the foundress of convents, as the spiritual adviser to queens and princes and princesses; I rather picture that incident of her stepping over the body of her son, that son who later on was to give her so much pain. A trivial incident it may seem out of the life of one who did so many glorious things for the Church of God. But is it trivial, after all? Does it not picture the real woman, torn between love for her beloved lad and the love of God? It was the moment of her decision. God should count even more than the son God had given her.

In the same manner, when I think of Saint Rita, there is associated with her very name an incident in her life that, compared with the many events in her later life as a religious and as a saint to whom God showed wondrous signs of His good pleasure in her, might be regarded but as passing. It is the incident in her life when, in her wondrous outburst of mother-love, a love that saw beyond the preferments of this life and regarded the few years of sojourn in this world as insignificant beside the vast stretch of eternity, she – a mother, mind you – prayed for the death of her twin sons, – a prayer, too, which God in His goodness granted to the heart-broken but joyful mother. When I have told you the story of Saint Rita’s life, perhaps you will recall her in the same manner, not as the glorious saint, not as the ecstatic nun, but as the poor mother torn between earthly affection for her boys and the fear that these lads, the pride of her life, would lose their immortal souls. What matter about her own grief, what matter if she were left alone in the world, so long as she might see them laid away in their graves before they had soiled their hands with the blood of a brother man. Again, like Saint Jane, she would step over the bodies of the children of her own flesh and blood in order to serve God and avert any crime against His glory. Saint Rita became a great saint, the saint whom the Spaniards lovingly call the “Saint of the Impossible” to show the confidence they have in her powers of intercession. She was also a great mother. It was perhaps because she was a great mother that she became a great saint. God gave her newer and greater graces because she co-operated so well with that grace that moved her to put Him above her children. All through the life of Saint Rita runs the thread of the service of God. It is a thread upon which is strung the great jewel of her mother-love, surely not the least precious jewel in a life which was a veritable casket of pearls of great price.

Rita’s maiden name was Mancini. There was very little about her father, Antonio Mancini, to have his name handed down to posterity. A poor farmer, he would have been the last one to take any glory to himself or to think or to fancy that his name should be kept in remembrance a day after he was dead. He was just a humble servant of God, doing his hard work and striving for the salvation of his soul. And yet his name is in lasting remembrance, for no child comes to glory without reflecting a light upon the parents to whose influence, when all is said, so much of that glory is to be attributed. Antonio Mancini was a good and just man. He was blessed, too, in having a good wife. Her name was Amata Ferri, and he had brought her from the little village of Fogliano to the other little village of Rocca Porena, situated a few miles from Cascia, then a thriving city of Umbria, at a distance of seventy-five miles from the great centre of Rome. A devoted couple they were, finding the secret of the contentment of life in the work that goes hand in hand with religion. One would not call them poor; they were just in comfortable circumstances, getting a good living out of their farm.

They had not an abundance of this world’s goods, but they had enough to be able to practise charity; perhaps because they did not have an abundance they were all the more charitable, for it is from the poor, somehow, that most of the charity in the world comes. Anyway, they were noted among the people of the village for their kindness to the needy, one reason being that they did not have a large family of children like those with which their neighbors were blessed. Reading the life of Saint Rita, we have no difficulty in picturing the Mancinis as the leading family in that town of small farmers. It was the custom in the village for the people themselves to be their own judge and jury. It was very likely a relic of the old free- town government. There was with the farmers of Rocca Porena no silly business of going to law. Every year a man and his wife were appointed to be referees for a period of twelve months. All the disputes that arose in the community were brought to them for settlement. It did away with a lot of legal red tape and was withal a cheaper way to get justice. Many a year were the Mancinis given this task of settling the family squabbles. And even when they were not the appointed “judges,” they were always ready to pour oil on the troubled waters, so much so that they were affectionately called the “peacemakers of Jesus Christ.” I fancy the wife was very much of a philosopher. “Take care,” she used to say to the women of the town whenever there was any misunderstanding, “that your long tongue has not caused the trouble between you and your husband.” All in all, it is a picture of pastoral simplicity – that simplicity which gets its true wisdom from the spirit of faith.

There was, however, one great sorrow to the peacemakers: they had no children. As the years went by and they passed into old age, there finally came the time when they ceased to hope for a child. But one day Amata, old as she was, realized that she was about to become a mother. It is easy to picture the amazement of the good old soul when she knew that the prayers of her young wifehood were to be answered long after she had despaired of such a blessing. The story is told, and it is not too difficult to believe in the life of one so closely united to God, that an angel appeared to her and assured her that this was a special favor from the Almighty. It is like a page from the life of the old mother of Saint John the Baptist. When one is dealing with the lives of those who are great in the kingdom of God, one should not be surprised at extraordinary signs of God’s approval.

The child of such especial favor was born on the twenty-second of May, in the month of Our Lady, 1381. One need not be told that the event gave rise to much gossip among the neighbors. It was good- natured gossip, more an expression of amazement than anything else, for not one but rejoiced in the fortune of Amata Mancini, who was loved by everybody. No wonder that these simple-hearted farmers and wives of farmers could see in the event nothing but a wondrous miracle. It was to them almost as much a matter of pride as to the Mancinis themselves that their little village, hidden away under the Apennines, was made the scene of such a prodigy; for all were made acquainted with the vision of the angel.

That was the first of the prodigies related of the birth of the infant. Another was to follow in that always interesting family event, the choice of a name for the new baby. What should she be called? Should it be Amata, or should it be some treasured family name, his mother’s, or Amata’s, perhaps? Again the angel decided, and, appearing to Amata once more, told her that the new baby should be called Rita – a strange name, a new name, a name the meaning of which they did not understand. But it was not theirs to question. Rita it should be, a name the music of which has been sounding on earth ever since it was given to the humble child of humble parents who served God five hundred years ago.

We need not, if we do not wish to do so, accept all the stories of wonderful happenings about the cradle of little Rita. There were enough of real miracles in her life subsequently, enough of graces and miracles granted through her intercession, and still granted to those who do honor to her, things that can be proved historically, to understand how she was marked by God, without troubling to prove whether this or that story is an actual happening or merely a poetic legend. There is one story, however, that is told by all her biographers to the effect that when she was five days old a swarm of white bees, the like of which had never before been seen, appeared mysteriously, and, buzzing about the face of the child, went in and out of her little mouth. The white bees have ever been connected with the life of Saint Rita; Saint Rita’s bees they are called, and have served many an artist who has pictured some incident in her life. It is said that even today in Cascia, in the convent wall, midway between the place of the cell she occupied as a nun and her last resting place, the white bees still have their nest, still Saint Rita’s bees for these five centuries. It is a legend worthy of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Like father, like son. The Mancinis were such a pious couple, it was to be expected that their child, especially a child that had been the object of such divine favor, would also give signs of extraordinary piety. One thing in Rita’s favor was that there was no nonsense about her parents. They were not the kind that would be likely to have a spoiled child. They would not be slow to tell her that she was the child of humble parents, if she had any disposition to be hard to manage, as so often happens in the case of an only child. But little Rita gave no trouble to her parents. She was ever docile, ever ready to do her share of work in the household, sedate beyond her years, so serious, too, that she did not seek amusement in those things which take up the interest of the ordinary child. Even from her smallest years she sought to serve God as well as she could. At a time when other little girls are letting their fancy run away after pretty dresses, Rita used to hide herself whenever there was any attempt to deck her out in the simple finery the doting parents chose for her; at a time when others are playing with dolls, Rita was initiating herself into the wonders of serving God by prayer and fasting. Imagine a little tot wanting to fast for the good of her soul! And then, to make it more meritorious, we find her giving part of every meal to some poor child that was not as well off as this favored daughter of the Mancinis. To them she seemed as a child to be envied; but they did not see or envy the wonderful graces which she prized more than all material blessings. A precocious child, one might say; too old- fashioned. But hardly so to Him who delighted in having the little ones about Him. Sometimes, one may say, there is the disposition to underestimate the intelligence of children. They understand more than we give them credit for, and particularly in the things of faith. The sainted Pontiff, Pius X, gave the final answer to the minimizers of the child mind when, in his decree about the age at which children should be admitted to Holy Communion, he echoed these undying- words, the eulogy of the child: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Rita was wise beyond her years, but why marvel at it when she had the God of wisdom as her teacher?

We could dwell long on the life of the child at this period. Even then she loved to meditate upon the Passion of Christ. She had a little room apart from the rest of the household, and thither, when her work of helping her mother keep house was over, she would retire and find her simple joy in the pictures of the Passion which she had placed on the walls. She never tired of being alone with God. No wonder, then, that after such a childhood of prayer she expressed the wish, when she was twelve, to leave home and become a nun in one of the convents of Cascia where so many holy men and women had sanctified their souls.

The parents must have foreseen that the day would come when she would desire to leave them for the higher life. All her training, even the training which they had given her, was to that end. Yet when the little maiden told them that she wished to enter the convent they were amazed and displeased. They loved her so much, how could they bear the thought of parting with her who was their very life?

We see the same thing so often today. Even pious parents that should know better make an uproar when their daughter expresses a desire to give herself to God. They cannot bear to separate from her, forsooth; yet they will see the same girl marry and go away hundreds of miles to live where they may never see her again. They know that the girl will be happy in the convent, but they feel obliged to protest, and so in many cases, by their unreasonable opposition, spoil the girl’s vocation and perhaps ruin her life forever. It is not true parental love; it is downright selfishness. Sometimes it would seem that God permits this opposition in order to test the love and loyalty of the one He calls. And it may have been that the opposition that came to Rita from her pious father and mother was in order to lead her through suffering to greater virtue. At any rate, the old folks, honestly convinced, no doubt, that Rita’s duty was to remain with them in their old age, persuaded her to put aside for a time at least the thought of entering the convent. Perhaps they considered that at her tender age – she was then but twelve – she scarcely knew her own mind and was unable to judge the mighty question of a life’s vocation. So, covering up her disappointment, and feeling that God would work out the matter in His own good time, the little maid assented to the will of her parents and continued to be the sunshine of their lives.

But even a greater sacrifice was demanded of the girl by her parents, who strangely thought that they were working for her best interests. Not content with having her put aside the thought of becoming a nun during their lifetime, they determined that she should put it aside altogether by marrying. It may have been the wish to perpetuate their family, it may have been the wish to put her under the protecting power of a husband before they passed on; whatever the reason, they informed Rita that they had chosen a desirable young man as her husband. Her tears were unavailing. What did she know about the world, what did she know about what was best for her own good? Parents generally think themselves so wise, and sometimes their wisdom is folly. The Mancinis were certainly foolish in their choice of a husband for Rita. To them it seemed the finest match possible. The young Ferdinand was well to do, a dashing fellow whom any girl ought to be pleased to get for a husband. They were simple old folks who knew little of the world, and imagined that everybody was as good as themselves. They were woefully mistaken in their chosen son-in-law.

Ferdinand was a product of the terrible time in which he lived. It was a time when the world was upset with political disturbance. Even the Church was harassed by anti-Popes. Morals were free and easy; violence was the rule of the day. Ferdinand was hardly the man to wed a shrinking, humble maiden like Rita. She married him, nevertheless, because it was the will of her father and mother. But she rued the day almost immediately. He was a proud and haughty fellow who very likely thought that he had made a wonderful condescension in marrying the daughter of poor farmers. Not only was he surly to her, but even abusive, and many a time she had to take a blow from him. She was his slave, and not even could she leave the house to go to church without asking his permission. He was that worst type of man – the man who bullies his wife. That was hard enough to stand; but there was a more bitter drop in the cup. The young wife soon found out that he was dissipated. A woman can stand almost anything but that from the man she loves. And Rita did love her husband dearly. What a pain, then, it was to see him dissolute, to know that he was squandering his money, to know that he had little or no religion – in plain words, that he was an immoral, brutal tyrant. But, heart-broken as Rita was with the realization that her marriage was a big mistake, she was not crushed by it. It was then that her spirit of religion came to her help and prevented her from being a surly and disconsolate wife. Rita made up her mind that she had a work to do in the conversion of her husband. She did not meet railing with railing. She took his abuse silently, waited on him hand and foot, studied his temper, and more than all prayed for him incessantly.

As one reads the story of Rita’s married life one sees why God permitted her to be married to such a man, even while he had favored her with such wonderful graces all her life and filled her with longings to serve him in the cloister. It was to give to ill-treated wives a model. How many a woman has been broken in body and soul by living with an unworthy husband! How many have suffered and complained, yet thought it an impossibility to bring the erring one back to God! The good Catholic wife will pray for such a man in season and out, knowing that, desperate as the case may seem, all things are possible to prayer.

And Rita’s prayers, her humble submission, her gentleness in suffering, were rewarded. She was making then, even when she knew it not, the novitiate to that later suffering which was to contribute so much to her sanctification. The erring husband at length had the grace to see himself in all his meanness. One day, overcome by the sudden realization of what a treasure he had in his wife, seeing her the gentle martyr to his brutality, he threw himself at her feet and begged her to forgive him for all his crimes against her, promising that never again would he offend her in any particular. He was as good as his word. He overcame his temper, was gentle with, her, and returned to the practice of his religion. It was at last a marriage of love on both sides. Patience and prayer had won the day.

But Ferdinand was not as fortunate in regard to others whom he had antagonized. It was not to be expected that all should have the forgiving disposition of his wife. Pie had made many enemies. It was a time when enemies were readily made, and Ferdinand, with his nasty disposition, made more than his share. He paid for his temper in the end. We do not know now the details of the trouble that finally led to his death. But one day his dead body was found in a field a short distance from the village. He had been brutally murdered. It is easy to picture the anguish of poor Rita when they brought home to her the lifeless form of the man she had so loved during the eighteen years of their married life. She wept bitter tears and was inconsolable.

Not only was there the grief at his death. That would have been hard enough if she had seen him die in his bed with the consolation of a last word with him, and the greater consolation of seeing him receive the last rites of the Church. But he had died suddenly, had been murdered by his enemies, with scarcely time to call to God for mercy. Had he died in the grace of God? Had he saved his soul? That is the first thought that comes to the Catholic on hearing of a sudden death: did he have the priest? did he have a chance to make his peace with God? And that was the cause of Rita’s deepest sorrow, the uncertainty as to how it was with the soul of her husband. But again she bowed to the will of God and took up her burden of sorrow, determined to devote herself now more than ever to her duty of looking after the two sons who at the time of their father’s death were just coming to their youth.

The two boys, Gian Giacomo and Paolo, are said by some biographers to have been twins. They had been a consolation to her, and yet a sorrow, too. Very early the mother had discovered that they took after their father to a great extent. They were irascible, and besides that, they had his bad example before them to counteract the good advice and gentle example of their mother. Rita had many a worry over them, and many a prayer did she say that they might not follow in the footsteps of their father. Who could blame her to hope, in the midst of her sorrow at the death of her husband, that these growing youths would be her consolation, the prop of her old age?

And one day, perhaps the saddest day in her life, she learned that her boys were planning murder; they were bound to have revenge for the death of their father. They knew who had killed him, and they would have a life for a life. Rita taxed them with the crime they were meditating. They listened to her, perhaps impatiently; but their hearts were not softened. What did a woman know about the manly sport of revenge? Was it not true manhood to avenge the blood of their father? In spite of what she said, they would merely seem to assent to her wishes, pretend forgiveness of their father’s enemies, and then when the opportunity presented itself they would exact justice. When it was all over she would have to put up with it.

But mothers are wiser than sons give them credit for. Rita knew that she had been powerless to change their hearts. But if she could not do it, she knew One that could. .She threw herself before the feet of God and begged Him to have pity on her mother-love. She begged Him to change the hearts of her boys and prevent them from destroying their own souls by the crime of murder. And then she made the supreme act of renunciation. If God would not change their hearts, at least she begged Him to take them out of this world before they had the opportunity to commit the murder they were planning. What a heartless thing! one might be tempted to say. How could a mother ask God to have her children die? Surely she could have no love for them, to ask such a thing. But it was just there that Rita showed how much she did love her children. They were dear to her, dear as any mother’s children are, but her love was not selfish. She would not keep her children to herself at any cost. Their first duty was to God. And even while they had sinned in their hearts she chose rather that they should lie dead at her feet than that they should carry into execution their wish for revenge. One is reminded of the great Blanche, who used to say to her son: “My son, you know how much I love you, but I would rather see you dead at my feet than know that you were guilty of one mortal sin.” That is the real mother-love, to set itself aside and to think only of the glory of God and the salvation of the souls of those committed to its care.

It was an act of heroism on the part of Rita. To me it seems the supreme moment in her life, the thing that I always think of when I hear the name of Saint Rita mentioned. And God answered that prayer. The two sons were taken ill, their hearts were freed of the desire of revenge, they atoned for their sins and died. And the strange thing is that their mother did not weep for them. Heartless? Any one that knows Rita knows what a tender heart she had. That heart was wrenched by the parting with her two beautiful boys, but what was the grief of the world to the thought that God had reclaimed them from their sins and brought them to Himself? She had saved the souls of her boys; what mattered anything else? Supposing that they had grown to manhood, had attained wealth, yet all the while had upon their souls the sin of murder, and had as a result of that finally lost their souls? Then their lives would have been in vain. To Rita, in her wisdom, sin was the great evil, and not death. She could grieve over sin, but not over the death even of her loved ones when she knew that they were all right with God.

Rita was now alone in the world. In a short time she had been bereft of her husband and her two sons. How many a woman in her case would think that she had been unjustly visited. But she never made complaint. It was the way of the Cross along which Christ was leading her who even as a little child hid herself in her own little room in order to meditate upon His Passion and Death. Like her old mother before her, she was now more than ever the consolation of the village. In her simple manner of living she did not need much to get along with, and all that she could afford she gave to the poor. It is told of her that many a time she would take off her cloak and give it to some poor person she met on the road. Her clothes were of the simplest, and always did she wear the sackcloth as a reminder to her that she must ever be doing penance.

Rita did not remain long in the world after the death of her children. The voice that had called her to a life of religion had never been stilled. She had married out of obedience to the wish of her parents, but all the while her heart was set on serving God in the cell of some convent. Now, when her work was done, when she had fulfilled her duty to her own – for the life of this woman was ever a life of duty and self-sacrifice, whether to parents or to her husband and children – up from the depths of her heart there sounded once more the call of God.

She had often been to the neighboring city of Cascia and had envied the good holy women who had been allowed to spend their lives in the cloister. In Cascia there was a convent of nuns, at that time called the nuns of Saint Mary Magdalen, who followed the rule of Saint Augustine. Thither she came one day in fear and humility and asked the good nuns to let her join them. They were amazed at her request. Their convent was only for virgins; it was contrary to their custom to receive a woman that had been married. It was a terrible blow to the poor widow, but she did not complain at the refusal of the nuns to take her in. Rather did she reproach herself and seek to find in her soul the cause of her apparent rejection by God. Again she went back to them, and again was she rejected; and still again. But she was not daunted. She was the valiant woman. God had ever heard her prayers, and he would hear them now. He was trying her, leading her, as she thought, to make herself less unworthy of being admitted among his chosen ones.

It was a wondrous way in which God did finally answer those prayers. She was then thirty-two years of age, a young woman who had crowded into a few years the sufferings of centuries. One night, when she was at her prayers, she had a vision. Saint John the Baptist appeared to her and gave her a sign to follow him. In fear and trembling she did so, and was led by him to a spot where Saint Augustine and Saint Nicholas Tolentine awaited her. These three saints had been the special objects of her devotions, and now she understood that they were to reward that devotion. They led the way and she followed, raised out of herself at the thought of the wonderful thing which was happening to her. Up hill, over the rocks they led her until they came to the convent of Cascia. Silently some unseen hand opened the gates to her and she found herself in the enclosure of the convent as the heavenly guides withdrew. It is only a saint that can imagine Rita’s devotions that night, as she waited for the dawn to break upon the gray walls of the convent. Her prayers were answered at last.

Judge of the amazement of the nuns, when they rose to sing the morning office, to find within the enclosure of their convent the woman whom they had so repeatedly rejected. They were perhaps a bit indignant at what they considered her effrontery, impatient at her determination in asking for what they had told her finally was an impossibility. Many a question they put to her, and then Rita humbly told them about her vision, about the great saints that had led her from her home at Rocca Porena through the darkness of the night into the sacred precincts of the convent. Would they not now believe that it was God that was calling her and let her become one of their number? It was needless to ask. The nuns knew that they had seen the signs of God’s finger. With hearts bursting with joy at the marvel God had wrought, they welcomed the widow to their home, put upon her the customary penitential habit, and admitted her to the novitiate, – her who had been through a novitiate such as few endure. It is beyond my province, dealing as I am with the life of Rita as wife and mother, to detail her life in the cloister. It is a simple life, uneventful as regards those happenings which are supposed to lend interest to a biography, but not uneventful to Rita herself. In the cloister her soul had its great chance to expand. And the striking thing about that hidden life is that it differs so little from the life she had been leading in the world. Sanctity was no sudden change for her. She had been practising all virtues as well as she could from the infant days when she wished to vow herself to God. Her ardor was but increased when she became a novice. But the good nuns, who were well accustomed to behold the operations of grace in the souls of one another, marvelled at the beauty of soul of the widow who had come among them almost miraculously. It was such great virtue that God rewarded it with many a vision. But at the same time it was not an easy virtue. Rita attained sanctity by the only road by which it is possible to attain it – by the road of the Cross. She had her temptations – temptations even against that virtue of purity which so shines out in all her life from her infancy – and she fought against them with the same old, reliable weapons of mortification, fasting, and prayer. She did not hesitate even to scourge herself, to wear the hair cloth, to keep vigil in prayer during the long hours of the night. No wonder that, as the result of this rigorous penance, the time soon came when one could almost see her bones.

So there passed thirty years. Think of it! Thirty years of fasting, of scourging, of every conceivable mortification. And then, as if this old woman – she was then sixty-two years of age – had not suffered enough, God sent her an affliction which, while it was the source of terrible suffering, was also the mark of His great love for her.

One day, she with other nuns listened to the sermon of Saint James of the Marshes, who was sent forth to preach the Crusade, and as he spoke of the Passion of Christ, her heart overflowed with love for the Crucified. Returning to her cell, she cast herself at the feet of the Crucifix and begged Christ to let her taste at least of His bitter chalice. Immediately, one of the thorns detached itself from His crown and struck into the left side of her forehead, almost penetrating the bone and causing her the most exquisite pain. As the time went on the wound grew larger, festered, and became infested with worms – “her little angels,” as she would call them because of the suffering and the means to do penance which they brought her. For fifteen years this continued; the sore became obnoxious to sight and smell – so much so that Rita was obliged to keep to her cell so as not to offend the other nuns. That was her dearest treasure, the proof of divine love. When she went to Rome on one occasion to gain the indulgence of the Jubilee, the sore healed miraculously, but broke out when she returned to her cloister.

So it went on till the end – suffering and still more suffering. At last she was stricken with her mortal illness, an illness that lasted full four years. During all that time she remained confined to her bed, never giving annoyance, always edifying those who marveled at such patience in the midst of terrible agony. Her only regret was that she had become so useless to the community, not realizing that the daily sight of such heroic patience was the greatest service she could render her sisters in religion.

One day, towards the end, a relative called to visit her and asked her if there were any favor she could do her. “Yes,” said the old nun, “I beg you to go to the garden of my house as soon as you reach Rocca Porena and pluck a rose there and bring it to me.” The visitor thought that Rita was wandering in her mind, but returning to the little village which had been the scene of so much of the happiness and the sorrow of Rita’s life, what was her surprise, though it was the bitter month of January, to see one lone red rose on the bush in the garden where once Rita, the happy wife and mother, had tended her flowers and prayerfully planned the future of those children now with God these many years. It was an amazing happening to the sisters, yet they had long been aware of the special favors God was showering upon her. That miracle of the rose has often served the artists who have sought to portray the gentle Saint Rita.

It was a beautiful prelude to the end. The rose was to bloom forth in undying glory. Forty-four years had Rita been a nun, and then, in the year 1457, in the seventy-sixth year of her life, this glorious rose was transplanted to the gardens of heaven.

And the rose has never lost its fragrance. Even when Rita died there was an odor of sweetness from the poor emaciated body, even from that sore which had always been so repellent to the onlooker. That odor has continued ever since. Her body has never seen corruption, and even the poor garments in which she was laid to rest have been saved from destruction.

From the very day of her death, Rita’s power with God has been most manifest. Countless are the cures that have been effected through her intercession. There has been devotion to her almost since the day of her death, a devotion that has in these latter days spread with such rapidity over the face of the earth. Pope Leo XIII, in pronouncing her canonization in the year 1900, referred to her lovingly as “Umbria’s precious jewel.” She is even more than that, she is a cherished jewel, not only of Umbria, but of the whole world.

Surely the life of Saint Rita is one to marvel at, and one cannot be surprised at the hold which her devotion has upon the hearts of the faithful. She may be called a cosmopolitan saint, since she is a model for womanhood in every walk of life. The nun in her cloister can look to her for lessons in the hidden life; the child just beginning to understand the mysteries of God can see in her the kind of maid that God would have her be; the maiden can find in her an example of humility, obedience, and sweetest purity.

But what a lesson she is to the wife and mother! And perhaps the reason that God in these days has so popularized the devotion to Saint Rita is that wives and mothers particularly may learn from the saint their awful responsibility before God in this sphere. We are living at a time when marriage outside the Church has become a farce. The bond that was to endure till death is severed on the slightest provocation. There is little danger that Catholic women will ever take that attitude towards a holy sacrament; nevertheless, seeing this disregard of the sacred bond by so many of their neighbors, there is always the danger of being infected with some of that spirit, of becoming impatient under the trials of the marriage state. What an example is Rita the wife! For years she endured insult and brutality; her loving affection was profaned, yet she bore it all with patience using this suffering to sanctify her soul, and praying incessantly for the one whom many another woman in her pride would have despised.

What an example, too, to the mothers of men! One gets a truer insight into the soul of Rita, beholding her on her knees begging God either for the conversion or the death of her beloved sons, than from all the ecstasies with which God rewarded her. Even if God had called her from earth in that moment of supreme sacrifice, we do not hesitate to say that He would have found her a saint. What a wonderful thing is mother-love even at its lowest! What a heavenly thing it is when it shines through the sanctity of a Rita! That is what we may call her, then – the Saint of Mother-love.

– text taken from the book Great Wives and Mothers by Father Hugh Francis Blunt, 1917