St. Rita of Cascia, whose feast is celebrated on May 22, was born at Rocca Porena, Italy of elderly parents. Being along in years, they did not want to see their only child alone in life and so they opposed her desire to become a nun and persuaded her to marry a man against her will at the age of 18.
After eighteen abusive years, her husband was killed in a brawl but not before Rita had converted him from his wicked ways. To obtain his conversion, she added severe penance to prayer. She kept, not one Lent, but three a year; and penance in those days was extremely rigorous. Only one meal was permitted, (either of fish or vegetables) and this was taken in the afternoon, without anything between meals. Gradually her husband grew calmer, less violent. But Rita had won this change through great suffering. She was insulted in public and private, yet showing her husband not an ounce of resentment. She forced herself to obey him to the point of not even visiting church without permission, the most difficult sacrifice of all!
From this marriage, she had two sons. After the death of her husband, Rita's two sons, resolved to take revenge, but through her prayers and devotion, they repented.
When her two sons died, a year after their father, she applied several times for admission into the Augustinian Convent at Cascia, but was refused each time, as its rule permitted only virgins. Finally in 1413, she was allowed to enter, where she remained for 42 years! She became known for her austerities, penance’s and concern for others, and brought many back to their religion with her prayers. She was tempted by the devil in may ways, but she remained steadfast to her faith. Wishing to test Rita's obedience, the superior told her to water a dried-up vine twice daily. Rita did so without objecting while most of the nuns chuckled. To their surprise, the brown vine sprouted and blossomed! In time it yielded delicious grapes.
Devotion to the cross was particularly widespread during the Middle Ages. Upon hearing an ardent sermon about Christ's passion, Rita prayed to God that He might share with her at least part of His pains. Slowly one of the thorns from the crucifix was loosened, and implanted itself so deeply into Rita's forehead that she fainted. Her wound became putrid and fetid. She was banished to a small room far removed from the others' rooms. There she remained cheerfully for 15 years while the wound grew steadily painful and made even sleep very difficult.
During her isolation, a woman form Cascia knocked on the convent door. Tearfully she begged Rita to pray for her daughter who was seriously ill. The woman returned home to find her daughter completely cured! News of this and other 'favors' brought crowds of people to the convent. No one left without having received every benefit and aid.
During Rita's last winter on earth, she asked a relative to bring her back the beautiful rose that is blooming in her unattended garden and under a heavy blanket of snow. The relative thought her delirious from her suffering but obeyed her wish and found that rose!
At the moment of her death, with all the nuns surrounding her, the convent bell began to chime, the chord being pulled by a spiritual force. At the same time, the nuns realized a wonderful fragrance had filled the room. Rita's wound had healed and her face glowed with an eternal smile. They decided to lay her body at the foot of a portable altar because many wanted to see her. Her saintly remains, which were preserved so well, spread a sweet odor throughout the church. She remained there for 138 years before being moved into the church. People still come to see her to this day.
Rita was not born with a halo around her head. She learned every step of life's way to deny her own wants and will. She forced herself to bend to the will of God. She did so in the commands and wishes of her parents, secondly in the will of her husband and lastly, as a religious, in the will of her superior and sisters. She trained herself to see everything with a view to eternity.
In 1900, on May 24, Pope Leo XIII canonized the humble mountain woman whom the world had come to love and venerate as the "SAINT OF THE IMPOSSIBLE."