Friday, February 15, 2013

Lenten Talk: St. Rita of Cascia

My friend Melissa drove me to Staten Island tonight so we could attend an inspiring talk about St. Rita of Cascia at a parish called Saint Rita Church.  Call it food for our Lenten journeys.

The speaker was Father Michael Di Gregorio, O.S.A., who grew up in the parish and graduated from its grammar school. He is an Augustinian priest who now serves as vicar general of the Augustinian order in Rome. He also is the author of a biography of Saint Rita called The Precious Pearl: The Story of Saint Rita of Cascia.

 "We think of a saint as someone who is out of this world." he told the audience of about 70 in the church sanctuary. "But a saint is someone who is attuned to the Voice that speaks within and who tries to respond openly and honestly. " Saint Rita, he said. "had her feet on the ground."

While my own life story is not as dramatic as Saint Rita's,  her life is a lesson for me in obedience, persistence, peacemaking and love.

Saint Rita was born in 1381 in the tiny town of  Roccaporena in Umbria, Italy. At the time, the Church was deeply divided; two different men were claiming to be Pope. Her region was deeply divided too, with various families feuding and a culture of vendetta predominating, Father Michael said. Rita wanted to join the convent of Augustinian nuns in Cascia, but her parents, known as local peacemakers and mediators, felt even that was unsafe. They arranged for her to marry at age 14 a local man. She accepted her parents' decision, seeing it as God's will for her.

Even the marriage could not protect her from turmoil. Her husband was murdered as part of an ongoing feud between two political factions. Her teenaged sons died of natural causes within the year. Rita sought to join the convent but was rebuffed three times. Finally, the nuns told her she must reconcile the two feuding political parties and only then, could she enter the convent. Father Michael  said when she returned with a signed peace agreement, she was admitted to the convent, where she spent the next 40 years.

Saint Rita of Cascia is one of the most popular of Catholic saints, but her story is full of misconceptions. (The wikipedia page about her, for example, is filled with inaccuracies and errors.) For example: for centuries it was believed her husband was abusive, an inaccuracy wikipedia continues. As it turns out, Father Michael told us, the myth of the abusive husband comes from a misreading of  a poem on the outside of her coffin. The lettering was hard to read because it was obscured by centuries of candle smoke. When the coffin was restored, it was discovered the words were not about an abusive husband, but rather about the pain of the stigmata she received while a nun.

When we think of miracles, Father Michael said, we think of something big, really big, But the first miracle ascribed to Saint Rita has to do with something small. As a way to test her vocation, Rita as a novitiate was asked to water a dead twig. The twig revived and remains to this day as a grapevine at her convent.  God gives us signs in the smallest of moments.

The last thing Father Michael told us was that even though Saint Rita often is depicted as praying before a crucifix, it is believe she actually prayed before a painting of Christ on Easter Saturday because a copy of that painting is on her coffin. In other words, he said, Saint Rita prayed to the Christ at the moment between death and resurrection.

Likewise, during this Lenten season, he said, "we walk the path to the hopeful Christians. We die with Christ in order to rise with Christ."


  1. One of my favourite Saints! Thank you for sharing this :)

    1. The book that Father Michael wrote - I didn't have cash or check on hand - but it is modestly priced and looks quite good, Celeste!

  2. I live in Philadelphia, near the Shrine of Saint Rita, where Father Michael used to be stationed, and did a lot for the furtherance of the Shrine - - probably still does.
    There are a lot of tales associated with Saint Rita. One is that she was an alcoholic when she was younger, and another that she was transported to the convent from which she had been rejected, and upon finding her inside the locked building in the morning, the nuns accepted her.

    1. Kelly: Father Michael did not say anything about alcoholism. He did mention the story about her appearing inside a locked building as a legend - as in not true.

      What he said about that is that the convent SYMBOLICALLY had been locked to her and that through God's grace, became open to her.

      Thank you so very much for stopping by!

  3. Yes, I meant that those stories were just that -- stories. St, Rita is an awesome saint without all that. :) Her shrine here is lovely, if you ever get to Philadelphia you probably would enjoy seeing it!

  4. St Rita is the saint that I pray to everyday and will continue to as long as I live. There is no doubt that she has interceded on my behalf in many situations. I pass out her holy cards to new members of our RCIA classes and ask them to consider her as their saint when joining the church. I feel blessed to have her as my advocate in heaven.

  5. Glad to know others who share a love for and admiration of St. Rita. I too am a Philadelphian and urge all who can make it to visit her shrine. Fr. DiGregorio was definitely a significant influence here and an amazingly devoted religious. We can all be thankful for his dedication. With respect to his biographies, he writes of St. Rita with comfort and ease and helped me understand her life and perspective simplistically. I'd recommend purchasing and reading any thing he wrote.