st.Rita of Cascia-Augustinian nun
Patronage: bleeding; desperate, impossible and hopeless causes; infertility; against marital problems; parenthood
Also known as: Margarita
Rita was born in Roccaporena, near Spoleto, Italy, in 1381, to elderly parents. At an early age, she begged her parents to allow her to enter a convent. Instead they arranged a marriage for her at age 12 to a man known for his harsh temper and cruel treatment of others. Rita bore two sons. After nearly 18 years of marital misery, Rita was released from her marriage when her husband was stabbed in a fight. According to lore, before he died, Rita prayed for him and he repented. Her sons sought to avenge his death, but Rita prayed that they might die rather than commit murder. Soon thereafter, Rita’s two sons contracted a fatal illness and died.
She turned to her original desire to be a nun, but the Augustinian convent at Cascia, Umbria, refused to admit her because they required novitiates to be virgins, and she had been married and was a widow. Three times she applied and three times she was rejected. Finally the order admitted her in 1413. She distinguished herself with her piety, devotion and charity. She filled her days with prayer, fasting, good works and penances. She undertook the most severe austerities. To test her obedience, the mother abbess instructed her to plant a dry stick and water it every day until it bloomed. Rita did so dutifully for an entire year, to the amusement of her sister nuns. Then the stick miraculously bloomed and grew grapes, and reportedly continues to do so today. The leaves are ground to powder and given to the sick.
Rita had a great devotion to the Passion of Christ. In 1441 she heard a sermon on the suffering of Christ from his crown of thorns, and prayed for a thorn to experience this suffering. Immediately she felt as though a thorn from the crucifix detached and penetrated her forehead. It left a deep, ugly and open wound that so revolted the nuns that Rita spent most of her time in her cell as a recluse for the last 15 years of her life. The wound caused her great pain. In 1450, it healed long enough for her to accompany her sister on a pilgrimage to Rome, but returned after she was back at her convent. Rita died on May 22, 1457.
In death her thin and frail body took on a radiant splendor and the ugly wound became like a beautiful jewel. The body gave off a sweet smell that filled first her cell and then the entire convent. Her body was still incorrupt in contemporary times. For centuries after her death, her body was reported to move and levitate inside its glass reliquary. These events had numerous witnesses. One incident was recorded on May 21, 1628. A large crowd had gathered in Cascia for Rita’s feast. A dispute arose between the Augustinians and the secular clergy concerning who had the right to conduct the Vespers of the Office of the Saint.
The nuns prayed to Rita for a solution. To their amazement, her eyes opened and her body levitated to the top of the reliquary. Others were summoned to witness the miracle. The secular clergy was allowed to conduct vespers. The eyes remained open for years. Rita’s body levitated again in 1730, when earthquakes forced people to come to the church of St. Rita in Cascia for protection. Cascia was spared damage. On numerous occasions, witnesses reported seeing Rita’s body move: it changed position inside the reliquary to turn from one side to the other, and the head would turn toward people. Miraculous manifestations have been reported as the result of prayer to Rita after her death. On one occasion the superior at Cascia urgently needed money to pay a debt; after prayer the superior found exactly the sum needed in the alms box.
On another occasion, the nuns needed wine for their meals but had none. Shortly after prayer, a man appeared at the door with a barrel of wine. As soon as it was placed in the cellar, the man and his donkey and cart vanished. A relica scrap of woolen cloth that had touched the veil of Rita—was credited for extinguishing a fire in Narni on April 27, 1652. A fire broke out in a house, and there was not enough water available to extinguish it. The relic was thrown into the flames, which immediately were extinguished.