Monday, July 6, 2009

Maria Goretti's Murderer and the Death Penalty

Following is a guest post by Jude Huntz, Director of the Human Rights Office for the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph:
Today is the feast of St. Maria Goretti, virgin and martyr. Maria was born in 1890 to a pious family in northern Italy. At age 12 she was killed on July 6th by Alexander Serenelli, son of one of her father’s work partners. Alexander had lived in the same house as the Goretti’s and had attempted to seduce Maria. In his rage at Maria’s resistance, Alexander stabbed her to death. Pope Pius XII canonized Maria in 1950.

While many today reflect on the sanctity and heroic virtue of Maria, let us today reflect upon her killer, Alexander. Alexander would have faced the death sentence in our state today for his crime, and yet he was spared that fate in Italy. Alexander would have a vision of Maria on the anniversary of her death that caused a complete transformation of his life. He went on to live a very holy life and was present at Maria’s canonization in 1950.

Proponents of capital punishment point to the issue of justice in calling for the continuation of the practice. We as Catholics need to highlight the stories of Alexander Serenelli and others who have had a profound transformation in their lives after a long practice of sin and vice. The Christian tradition is filled with such examples: St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola, and many others.

Justice alone is not sufficient to operate any society. The world also needs mercy and love, for it is only these two things that lead to conversion and transformation. We have the ability to protect society from dangerous criminals while also providing them the opportunity to reform their lives. We have an obligation to provide those opportunities. Let us ask for the intercession of St. Maria Goretti for the grace we need to end the practice of the death penalty and for the conversion of criminal offenders.

If anyone is interested in becoming a volunteer in Missouri prisons through our diocese, we are conducting training on Saturday November 7th at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in St. Joseph, MO. To register or to obtain more information, please contact the Human Rights Office at 816-756-1858 ext. 532 or

Bottom pic is Serenelli praying before a picture of St. Maria Goretti.