On this feast of Saint Maria Goretti, July 6, we wished to share with you the story of the first beneficiary of her heroic purity and of her mercy: Alessandro Serenelli (1882-1970), the man who killed her in 1902 after she refused to yield to his demands. He served a long prison term for his crime, but also experienced a miraculous vision of her in Heaven handing him lilies–one for each stab wound he had inflicted on her.
Saint John Paul II referred to the power and relevance of her message during the Centenary celebration in 2002:
“In the heroic testimony of the saint of Le Ferriere, her forgiveness of the man who killed her and her desire to be able to meet him one day in heaven deserve special attention. This spiritual and social message is of extraordinary relevance in our time.”
The story of her forgiveness of Alessandro Serenelli from her death bed shows the true holiness of this daughter of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” and “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.”
In the same text, St John Paul II also draws attention to the figure of Alessandro Serenelli who also became capable of receiving mercy:
“May humanity start out with determination on the way of mercy and forgiveness! Maria Goretti’s murderer recognized the sin he had committed. He asked forgiveness of God and of the martyr’s family, conscientiously expiated his crime and lived the rest of his life in this spiritual frame of mind.”
Here we wish to share a brief time-line of his life, and of the open “spiritual testament” he wrote in 1961.
The Life of Alessandro Serenelli
1882 June 2 – Born in Paterno (An) to Giovanni and Mengoni Cecilia. The last of 8 children all died tragically.
June 3 – Baptized in the parish church of Barcaglione, town near Paterno.
1888 August 15 – Receives Confirmation (age 6).
1890 October 16 – Maria Goretti is born.
1894 Autumn – The family moves to Torrette (Ancona) (age 12).
1895 May – Receives First Holy Communion in Torrette; Works as a fisherman (age 12).
1896 February – First move to Olevano Romano, and then to Paliano, working under Senator Scelsi. In this year, he meets the family of Luigi Goretti and started to work alongside him (age 13).
1899 February – Moves to Ferriere di Conca working under Attilio Mazzoneli (age 16).
1900 May – Luigi Goretti dies, leaving his widow Assunta to begin laboring in the fields, and Maria at the age of 10 to serve as “mother” to the younger children and housekeeper for both the Gorettis and the Serenellis.
1902 May 29 – Maria Goretti makes her first Holy Communion after extensive preparation and with great spiritual fervor.
June 5 – Attempting to rape her, Alessandro (age 20) mortally wounds 11-year-old Maria Goretti with a knife.
June 6 – Maria Goretti dies shortly after three o’clock in a hospital room in Neptuno after forgiving her killer, “Yes, I too, for the love of Jesus, forgive him…and I want him to be with me in Paradise…May God forgive him, because I have already forgiven him.”
October – Alessandro is condemned to 30 years in prison.
1910 After years without repentance, Alessandro experiences a dream in which Maria appears to him in a field of flowers, holding out white lilies to him.
November 10 – Writes to the bishop of Noto publicly recognizing his fault. He begins a path of true conversion (age 28).
1910-1929 Transferred through various prisons in Augusta, Bitti, and Alghero (age 28 – 46).
1929 March 11 – Released for good behavior (age 46).
March 21 – Returns to Torrette and to the house of his brother Pietro.
1935 December – Gives his deposition to Fr. Albano Laziale for the canonization process of Maria Goretti (age 53).
1937 Christmas – At Corinaldo, officially asks for forgiveness from “Mamma Assunta” (mother of Maria Goretti) (age 55).
1937-1956 Lives with the Capuchin Friars in Ascoli as a gardener (age 55 – 74).
1947 Pope Pius XII beatifies Maria Goretti.
1950 June 25 – Pope Pius XII canonizes Maria Goretti, her mother Assunta is present as well as Alessandro Serenelli.
1956 Autumn – Transferred to the Infirmary of the Capuchins of Marcherata (age 74).
1961 May 5 – Writes his famous spiritual testament (age 78).
1970 May 6 – Alessandro dies in Macerata, 89 years old.
Below is the text of his “spiritual testament”:
Marcerata, 5th of May, 1961
I am almost 80 years old and close to the end of my days. Looking back to the past I recognize that in my early youth I took a wrong turning into the evil road that led to my ruin. I saw in the newspapers the spectacles and bad examples that the greatest part of the young people follow thoughtlessly, I too was thoughtless. I had believing and practicing Christians close by me but I paid no attention to them, blinded as I was by the brute force that pushed me along an evil road. At twenty, I acted out the crime of passion of which the very thought today horrifies me.
Maria Goretti, today a saint, was the good angel that Providence placed before me in order to save me. I still have impressed on my heart her words of reproach and pardon.
She prayed for me, interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed. If I had not been under-age I would have gotten life imprisonment. I accepted with resignation the sentence I deserved, I recognized my offence. Little Maria was truly my light, my protector. With her aid I behaved well during my 27 years in prison and I tried to live honestly when the community accepted me again as one of its members. The sons of St. Francis, the Capuchins Minors of Marche, welcomed me with seraphic charity, as a brother not as a servant. I have been living with them for 24 years. Now I wait serenely for the moment to be admitted to the sight of God, to embrace my loved ones, to be close to my protecting angel and her dear mother, Assunta. May those who read this letter of mine draw to themselves the happy teaching to flee from evil and to follow always the good, even from youth.
May they come to know that religion with its rules is not something we can do without, but that it is true comfort, the only sure way in all circumstances of life even those most painful.
Peace and well being,
As Cardinal Sodano said during his homily for the closing of the Celebrations for the First Centenary of the Death of St Maria Goretti (Friday, 25 April 2003):
“In the case of Maria Goretti, the power of divine grace was manifested not only in her fortitude, but also in her splendid gesture of forgiveness to young Alessandro Serenelli. The girl from the village of Ferriere di Conca had learned from her pious mother that it was impossible to separate love of God from love of neighbour. Even in her agonizing pain, she could pray for her persecutor.”
May the true light of purity and mercy from the Heart of Jesus continue to illumine our world through His saints, and His sinners turned saints.
Against the rising spirit of indignation and intolerance for forgiveness in our current culture, we learn to forgive as Christ forgave, even under the most extreme conditions. Saint Maria Goretti, pray for us!
 Republished in Italian and English in La Stella del Mare; Mensile del Santuario Madonna delle Grazie e S. Maria Goretti, Nettuno (RM) [Monthly magazine of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Graces and of St. Maria Goretti, in Nettuno (RM)], Year 89, N. 6, July/August 1998, p. 13. Minor editorial corrections have been made to the original English translation.