St. Rita lived a tumultuous life, from a young marriage at 12 years old to an abusive husband, his involvement with a family feud that was so bad no convent would take her in after his death, to the death of both her sons. By today’s viewpoint, she should have gotten out of the situation as fast as possible and picked up the pieces of her life.
But she didn’t. And that always struck me. She’s become the patron saint of impossible causes because she KNOWS what impossible causes look like.
Her husband was abusive and went after other women, but she prayed for him constantly, and over time he changed. He saw the errors in his way and began advocating for the end of the family feud, a stance which got him murdered by one of his own men.
After his death, Rita forgave the murderer, but her sons did not. Encouraged by their uncle, they became involved in the feud and soon became the spitting image of their father when he married Rita. She saw the dangerous route they were going on, that they would soon commit the mortal sin of murder, so she petitioned God to kill them before they would loose their souls as nothing she said could dissuade them. Within the year they fell prey to dysentery and both died.
Following their death, Rita sought religious life, but no convent would take her on account of the family feud. If she wanted to join, she would have to convince the families to stop fighting. So she did. The Bubonic plague was ravaging Italy, and on his deathbed, the leader of one of the families declared the feud over.
Finally in the convent at age 36, Rita lived peacefully, growing in holiness. She had a great devotion to the Passion of Christ, and when she was 60 years old she received the stigmata of a thorn wound from the crown of thorns on her head. She died in 1457 at 76 years old.
On the painting:
St. Rita is generally depicted young, as many Saints are, but here I wanted to show her maternity and maturity from not receiving the stigmata until she was 60. She holds the cross and crown of thorns of her great devotion, and a single rose from a miracle story as she was sick from tuberculosis.
A cousin of hers visited her when she was bedridden in January, and she petitioned for a rose to be cut from her garden and brought to her. Given the winter season, the cousin didn’t expect to find any, but followed her instructions only to find a single rose blooming.
She’s dressed in the traditional habit that she is buried in, despite some articles claiming the Sisters of St. Mary Magdalene would have worn brown or beige. Since this is the most common way we know St. Rita, it’s fitting to remain in the tradition, and the sisters who take care of her incorrupt body have chosen this habit for her to be known by.