Margherita Lotti, who would later become St Rita, was born in 1381 near Cascia, in Umbria, a few hundred kilometres north east of Rome. An only child of ageing parents, she married Paolo Mancini. Of this union, two sons were born. At a time when life seemed bright and secure for this young wife, tragedy abruptly struck. Cascia, at this time, was a place rife with factions and vendettas. Paolo Mancini, a victim of this unrest, was brutally murdered. Rita then had to struggle to bring up her children as a single parent. Added to this was the worry that her husband’s assassins would seek to kill her two sons. She attempted to avert this by endeavouring to make peace with her husband’s enemies; however, her efforts were in vain and served only to alienate the Mancini family.
Further sorrow visited Rita when both her sons were struck down by illness and died. Rita certainly knew what it was like to live with untold grief; however her suffering did not lead to despair. She was a strong and courageous woman who realised that, “It is in giving that we receive”. She decided that she would devote her life to serving Christ and attending to the needs of others by joining the Augustinian Sisters in Cascia. Rita entered the Augustinian Convent at Cascia in 1413. While there, she became known for her charitable works and devout prayer life. Such was her piety, that when a thorn pierced her forehead leaving a wound that wouldn’t heal, those around her associated this with Christ’s suffering and crowning with thorns. Shortly before her death on May 22nd 1457, as she lay on her sickbed, she asked a visiting relative to go to her family home and bring her a rose from the garden.
The home was located in the mountainous region of Cascia, which in January, in the depths of winter, was blanketed with ice and snow. As the relative approached the house, she looked at the garden and, to her astonishment, there in the winter’s gloom was one rose in full bloom. This story is a powerful image of Rita’s life, spent bringing the peace and beauty of Christian love into the wintry society of strife-torn Cascia – a peace won by her great suffering, faith, courage and determination.
St Rita is our patron – a strong and wise woman, one who knew suffering, but was able to rise above it and bring Christ’s peace and love to others.