“Alessandro, pray to St. Maria Goretti for me.”
“Intercede with your Marietta to save my dying child.”
“Only you can ask the little martyr for this grace.”
“I ask your blessing and your prayers to save my family from a desperate situation.”
At a home for aging friars in the 1950s and 60s, an old layman named Alessandro took prayer requests like these to Maria—the young saint who had died as a martyr for purity many years before.
Alessandro was a gentle soul. He had come from a Capuchin monastery nearby, where—as a lay brother—he had done humble tasks for eighteen years: answering the door, greeting visitors, sweeping the floor, caring for the garden, keeping the same prayer schedule as the friars.
He was peaceful and prayerful. If you met him, you would never have guessed his past.
Alessandro Serenelli was twenty years old when he murdered eleven-year-old Maria Goretti in 1902 for refusing his impure advances. As she lay dying in the hospital from fourteen fatal stab wounds, she said, “I forgive him, and I want him to be with me in heaven.”
At the outset of his thirty-year prison sentence, Alessandro showed no remorse. But one night, six years later, he had a dream.
He saw Maria picking fourteen lilies—one for each of the stab wounds he had given her—and giving them to him one by one. It was a sign of her forgiveness and a call to repent.
That’s just what he did. He was a different person from that night on: repentant in his heart and calm, obedient, and docile in his behavior. He was such a model prisoner that he was released a few years early.
After his release, he sought out Maria’s mother, Assunta, to ask her forgiveness. She gave it wholeheartedly, and they went to Christmas Mass together. The family he had so deeply grieved became a source of healing for him.
But not everyone was as forgiving as the Gorettis. He met with consistent rejection from the people of the region, where Maria was well-known.
Unable to find steady employment or stability, he at last found refuge in the Capuchin monastery, where he would spend the next two decades in prayer, penance, and work.
He credited Maria with his salvation and was deeply devoted to her for the rest of his life.
As word of his repentance spread, the attitude of the local people changed. They not only let go of their suspicion—they actually started to ask the “monster” for prayers, especially to Maria. He gave them gladly.
He died like a saint on May 6th, 1970, happy to be released from this world and—as he said—to join Maria, who was waiting for him in paradise. In a letter from 1961 found after his death, he said:
“Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me.”
Some even think Alessandro will be a saint himself someday!
We aren’t sure if there’s a more powerful story of grace and redemption than this one—and it’s fully told in a beautiful little book: Alessandro Serenelli: A Story of Forgiveness. You will be deeply moved as you read about Alessandro’s difficult childhood, the heroic mercy of Maria, his conversion in prison, and his life of repentance and sanctity among the Capuchins. Order your copy from The Catholic Company today!