rita in the Mall

St Rita of Cascia

Courage                          Justice                                       Hope

 

On 22 May each year the community of St Rita’s College celebrate the feast of our Patron Saint, Rita of Cascia. Born in 1381 near Cascia, Italy, as a young girl Rita frequently visited the convent of the Augustinian Nuns in Cascia and dreamed of one day joining their community. Her parents, however, according to the custom of the day, had promised her in marriage and at the age of twelve she was married to Paolo Mancini a man of strong and impetuous character. Rita resolved to see her parents’ decision for her marriage as God’s will for her.

As a young mother of twin sons, Rita was widowed by the age of twenty-four. Having to endure the grief of her husband being ambushed and killed at the hands of war faring political factions as he returned home from work one day, disaster struck her yet again as she witnessed the death of both of her children to disease.

Such tragedies would have crushed and embittered most people, but not Rita. Although completely alone, filled with sorrow and facing black despair, she allowed God to fashion a new life for her, turning her thoughts to the desired vocation of her youth – that of joining the Augustinian nuns.

Initially her entry was denied. Finally, in 1413, the Order gave her entry and she earned much admiration over the next forty years for her austerity, devotion to prayer and charity, striving especially to preserve peace and harmony among the warring citizens of Cascia, and alleviating the pain, anxieties and sorrow of those in need.

Various iconography is associated with St Rita, among those being the forehead wound – the ‘Gift of the Thorn’. At about sixty years of age, she was meditating before an image of Christ crucified when suddenly a small wound appeared on her forehead, as though a thorn from the crown that encircled Christ’s head had penetrated her own flesh. Up until her death Rita bore this external sign of stigmatisation and union with the Lord.

The ‘Legend of the Rose’, however is the most beautiful of all.

As Rita lay dying, she asked a relative to bring her a rose from the garden of her parents’ former home in the mountains. It was a small favour to ask but an impossible one in the depths of winter. It was bitterly cold, the little streams were frozen and the trees were barren – no leaves, no flowers – and the roads were icy and dangerous. Nevertheless, the relative pledged to meet Rita’s desire and walking from one village to another along the steep, mountainous paths, discovered, to her amazement, a single brightly-coloured rose on the bush where Rita had said it would be in the inhospitable environment. Thus, the saint of the thorn became the saint of the rose and she, whose impossible requests were granted her, became the advocate of all those whose own requests seem impossible as well.

Rita’s final words to the Sisters who gathered around her were, “Remain in the holy love of Jesus. Remain in obedience to the holy Roman Church. Remain in peace and fraternal charity.”

The tradition of Rita is that of bringing the peace, won by her great suffering, faith and courage, and beauty of Christian love into the wintry society of strife-torn Cascia. Rita was a woman of strength and faith – the role model of St Rita’s College, Clayfield.

Rita returned to God on 22 May 1457 and her body is venerated in the shrine of Cascia which bears her name.