Rita of Cascia (1381–1457)

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Rita of Cascia (1381–1457)

Italian patron saint of parenthood and the impossible. Name variations: Margarita of Cascia; Rita La Abogada de Imposibles. Born in Roccabornena (also seen as Roccaparena), Umbria, Italy, in 1381 (some sources cite 1377 or 1386); died of tuberculosis on May 22, 1457 (some sources cite 1447) at the Augustinian convent at Cascia; married a noble at age 12; children: two sons.

Born in 1381, Rita of Cascia was exceptionally pious during her youth and intent on joining the Augustinian convent in Cascia. Her parents insisted she wed, however, and when she was 12 they arranged her marriage to a young noble. Rita endured physical and emotional abuse from her ill-tempered husband. He was also unfaithful. For the next 18 years, she remained patient and forgiving, continuously praying for him, as well as for their two sons who were increasingly influenced by their father's cruelty. Rita felt that her prayers were answered when her husband realized the consequences of his behavior and ceased his abuse. Her joy was short-lived, because he was soon stabbed to death by an assassin. While her sons craved retaliation, Rita did not want them to avenge their father's death. Rather, she prayed for the death of her sons. Again, she felt that her prayers were answered when they both took ill. Rita then attempted to comfort them, convincing them that forgiveness would ease their minds. In the end, her sons died pardoning their father's assassin.

After their deaths, Rita returned to Cascia to join the Augustinian convent, but was denied entry because she was no longer a virgin. She persevered, however, and in 1413, after her third application, the rules for entry were relaxed and she was accepted. As a member of the convent, Rita worked tirelessly to aid the ill and to convert negligent Christians. In 1441, reacting to a sermon regarding the thorns of St. James della Marca, Rita experienced extreme pain in her forehead, and an open wound appeared, possibly from a thorn. The wound became so unsightly that Rita was secluded from her convent sisters for nine years. In 1450, healed, she traveled with her convent sisters to Rome for the year of the jubilee. The wound returned, however, and Rita was again secluded from others until her death on May 22, 1457. She was canonized on May 24, 1900.

Due to the belief that St. Rita of Cascia has provided so many miraculous responses to her devotees, she has been referred to as the "saint of the impossible." Traditionally, she has been appealed by those suffering from spousal abuses, infertility, difficult marriages, and desperate or insurmountable causes. Her feast day is May 22.

Ann M. Schwalboski , freelance writer, University of Wisconsin, Baraboo/Sauk County