By Carolyn Shields
I sat by myself in the back pew with two red roses as the pilgrims filed in from the rain. St. Rita has interwoven herself into my recent past in profound ways, and today I came to pay her homage for her intercession and to once again invoke her aid. Her shrine is located in a gritty part of south Philly but once you cross the threshold into that sacred space, the only chaos that isn't left on the streets is the kind that's within, and you can deposit that at the altar.
This Italian woman was born in the 14th century and her life was pretty much hell on earth; yet, despite this, she never gave up, which is why today she is the patroness for the impossible, for loneliness, Church abuse, and difficult marriages. I like to equate her to St. Jude's female equivalent, and I call the two of them my dynamic duo. They are powerhouses for miracles, and as I watched the amount of pilgrims flooding the shrine, their numbers only gave testament to her intercession.
When St. Rita was baptized, she was surrounded by a swarm of white bees but was not harmed, causing her family to recognize something miraculous in her at a young age. A few short years later, she begged her parents to allow her to enter a convent but instead, was married off at age twelve to an abusive man. Her husband Paolo naturally had many enemies and eventually his life was ended by the hands of them, leaving this young widow to tame her two sons' passionate thirst for revenge.
Her witness for forgiveness spoke louder though. With her public compassion towards her husband's murderers and fervent prayers to God, her sons were saved from falling into mortal sin. It was around this time that St. Rita pursued her vocation to the convent, though again and again she was denied. Her determination deepened and eventually, through the intercession of some of her dear saints, she was permitted entrance at the age of thirty-six.
Her earthly trials were not enough and she began to invoke the Lord to share in His own burdens. That's when she received the wound we so often see depicted on her forehead, as if a thorn from Christ's crown pierced her with a mark that would never heal and inflicted daily burdens until her death. As if that weren't enough, St. Rita also became bedridden from tuberculosis.
Because she could no longer go outside, she requested a rose be picked from her garden in her old home. Though it was January, there was miraculously a single rose in bloom.
St. Rita's body remains incorrupt, and her life is marked with frequent occasions of never giving up even when the trials sent her way seemed too heavy to bear. Her feast day is May 22nd.