Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

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even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of St. Rita of Cascia

St. Rita was born in 1381 in Roccaporena, a suburb of Cascia, in Umbria, Italy, along the spine of Italy formed by the Appenine Mountains. She was blessed to have been born to good parents, Antonio Mancini and Amata Ferri, a couple who were known for their charity and piety. Given their advanced age and former barrenness, Rita's birth had something of the miraculous about it.

On the fourth day of her life, she was baptized, and on the fifth day, a strange thing occurred:

[A] swarm of bees, all of the fairest white colour, and such as were never before seen, made their appearance. They flew a-buzzing about the cradle of the child, and after alighting for a moment on her angelic face were seen to go in and come out of her slightly open mouth in a sort of regular order, as if to take from her lips the honey of Paradise. What feelings of wonder and awe must have been awakened in the heart of Amata and those who were present by so marvellous an occurrence! 1

She grew to be a virtuous and religious girl, one prone to deep contemplation. She even turned a spare room into a little oratory which she decorated with pictures of Christ's Passion. She longed to become a nun -- but her parents wanted her to marry, and so she did. The man chosen for her was ill-suited to marriage, a very irascible and nasty, abusive man named Paolo Mancini. As Fr. Connolly puts it in his book on the Saint, "To the hour of her marriage Rita had been an excellent example to all virgins. In those few years she had given enough lessons to show how virginal candour and pure innocence should be preserved; she had now to follow another path to become a bright example of virtue to all who live in the married state."

For years and years she endured his abuse, and along the way she gave him two sons -- Gian Giacomo and Paolo Maria -- who shared their father's temperament. Her charity and example, though, finally ended up having some effect on her husband, and he came to change his ways. But the change came too late to save him temporally; an old, unsettled feud resulted in his being murdered -- stabbed to death just outside the town. After eighteen yeas of marriage, Rita's husband was dead. Even worse, Gian and Paolo dedicated themselves to revenge their father's death, causing their mother unspeakable spiritual torture. She dedicated herself to prayer to save her sons from committing murder, and her prayers were answered in a way that invited both grief and relief: within a year, both boys died of dystentery. They'd been saved from becoming murderers, but they were gone from Rita's earthly life.

She was now a widow and free of domestic obligations, so she returned to her original and deepest desire: to enter the convent. She tried, but some of the nuns there were members of the clan involved in her husband's murder, and Rita couldn't join without bringing division with her. She was told that if she could unite those clans and bring about a reconciliation, she would be free to become an Augustinian nun.Through the intercession of her saintly advocates -- SS. John the Baptist, Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino -- and the work of going to members of the clans involved in the dispute and making peace between them, Rita was able to resolve the situation. And, so, she became "Sister Rita" some time around 1414.

In art and the popular imagination, the story of her Saints helping her to enter the convent is portrayed thus: One night, while deep in prayer and seeking guidance, she heard a knock at her door. But no one was there. Once more this happened. Then again, but this time opon answering she saw a vision of SS. John the Baptist, Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino who bade her follow them. She did, and they led her to the convent she'd tried before to enter -- Cascia's Augustinian Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene. Miraculously, she was able to pass through the gates and into the sisters' locked enclosure. The sisters, seeing this, allowed her to join.

Her religious life was marked by exemplary devotion. She perfectly practiced the evangelical counsels, was known for her charity, had the practice of keeping silence, nursed the sick among her sisters, and mastered the cardinal virtues. And then there were the miracles.

The Prioress, who had observed her great spirit of submission, commanded her to water every day a dried-up tree that was in the convent garden. Rita made no objection against so strange a command; she did not say that such an order was outside the matters to which the Rule obliged her; she did not even submit that it would be time lost, for she was convinced that the time in which any work of obedience is done is time well spent. Therefore, with her will in complete accord with the orders she received, she continued to obey them for several seasons, and in this she was imitating the example of the holy abbot John, of whom we read in the lives of the Fathers that, in order to follow the instructions of his director, he humbled himself so far as to carry a pail of water a considerable distance to water a dry trunk of a tree. So did St. Rita likewise, and not in vain; for so pleasing to God were her acts of heroic obedience that, as tradition tells, the tree bloomed again, and began to bear flowers and fruit, and from that fact it was called the 'Saint's Tree.'

This "tree" -- actually a grape vine -- still thrives today in the cloister of St. Rita's convent.

She voluntarily underwent penances to an extreme degree, enduring long periods of fasting, and eating so little in her later years it was wondered how she could even remain alive. She kept her cell dark and bare, and often slept on the ground. She scourged herself for the conversion of sinners, wore sackcloth under her habit, and wore there, too, thorns that would prick her at any movement.

Above all, she was given to prayer, often falling into ecstasies. During one such prayer session, on Good Friday of 1443, she was given a stigma: her forehead was pierced as if by a thorn from Christ's crown of thorns. The wound was painful and fetid, unable to heal, a great cross to bear, and this sign of her sanctity remained for fifteen years -- but for one exception:  when she was sixty-nine, she and her sisters wanted to go to Rome for the Jubilee indulgence proclaimed by Pope Nicholas V. Her superior told Rita she shouldn't go until the wound on her forehead was healed. She asked God for such a grace, and was given it. Her head all healed-up, she and her sisters left for Rome. En route, she threw into the river all the money the women had for their pilgrimage. "Her companions blamed her for what she had done; but not God, who had secretly urged her to that act of generosity, and who afterwards provided herself and her companions with all they needed until their return to the convent."1

When she was seventy-two, she became ill, likely with tuberculosis. She spent her remaining years confined to her bed. During this time, she was once visited by a relative who asked if there were anything she could do for her. Rita told her to go to the garden of her house in Roccaporena and retrieve a rose for her. But it was January -- the dead of Winter. In spite of thinking the trip futile, the woman went to the garden as she was asked -- and found a single rose blooming there, which she took to the Saint. Rita then told her to go to the same garden, but to this time bring the two figs she'd find there. Lo and behold, the two figs were there, growing on an otherwise lifeless-looking tree in Winter.

St. Rita finally died on May 22, 1457. After her soul left her body, the wound on her forehead, once purulent and physically repulsive, began giving off a fragrant scent, and resembling a precious ruby-like jewel; the rest of her body took on an appearance of youth and health. It's said as well that the bells of churches in and near Cascia rang by themselves. Among the mourners who came to her wake was "a woman who was a near relative of Rita, whose arm had been many years paralysed. This woman approached the sacred body, and, to relieve her feelings of love, sorrow, and devotion, clasped it around the neck. On the instant her withered arm suddenly regained feeling and strength. She began to cry out that a miracle was wrought for her, and all the bystanders took up the cry of 'A miracle! a miracle!' whilst she who was healed kissed again and again the body of her deliverer, and returned thanks to God for His great mercy." 1

From that day 'til this, many miracles have been brought about through St. Rita's intercession. She is the patroness of the abused, parents, those suffering from sterility, and, like St. Jude, impossible causes. Unofficially, she is the patroness of baseball, too, a story told best by the Augustinians who run her national shrine in the United States: 2

It all started during the roaring 20s. Oil business was booming, Texas was hot, and investments spread like wildfire. A group of Catholic nuns and women in New York invested in one oil rig project in Reagan County, Texas, but the project seemed ill-fated, plagued by slow progression and insufficient funds. Because of this, the men hired to work the oil rig had little to do. Cash was slim and the oil wasn’t coming, so they set up a baseball field in the shadow of the derrick. When they weren’t attending to drilling at the dry well, they played America’s favorite pastime.

Meanwhile, the women asked a priest for advice. What do you do when you’ve invested in an oil well that isn’t striking oil? The priest suggested they pray to Saint Rita, the patroness of impossible causes. He blessed a rose in Saint Rita’s name. That rose was given to Frank Pickrell, a partner of the oil project. Pickrell returned to Texas and scattered the rose petals from the top of the derrick, naming the well Santa Rita No. 1.

On May 27, 1923, the drill hit dolomitic sands, called “Big Lime” in the oil business. They had to stop drilling. The next day (just five days after Saint Rita’s Feast Day), the miraculous happened! Even though there had been no more drilling, oil burst into the sky! Here was the answer to the nuns’ prayers. The oil sprayed over a 250-yard area, and those baseball players quickly had to put down their gloves. It was time to get to work. Santa Rita No. 1 had struck oil!

The story of the Santa Rita oil rig and the ragtag group of oil men who played baseball in its shadow isn’t a well-known tale, but it was the beginning of Saint Rita’s association with the boys of summer. And even if you’re not convinced that an unofficial patron saint can help you out in the bottom of the ninth, just remember that Saint Rita most certainly is the Patroness of Impossible Causes!

St. Rita can be recognized in art by her black Augustinian habit, the thorn piercing her forehead, or by the presence of roses, figs, and/or bees. She is often depicted contemplating death by gazing at a skull or Crucifix.


The monastery in Cascia once dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene is now known as the Monastero di Santa Rita da Cascia. Between 1937 and 1945, a basilica was constructed there to house St. Rita's incorrupt body, and today it's a site of many pilgrimages, especially on and around her feast day, where costumed historical reenactments of events in Rita's life are made. At the monastery, one can see the vine that St. Rita revived, and also a very small and special colony of bees that recall the tale from her infancy:

Going from Rocca Porena to Cascia, and entering the convent where our saint resided, there, in an old wall opposite the convent gate, at a point midway between the cell which Rita inhabited and the spot in which her body was laid to rest, we are met with a sight that cannot fail to move us to admiration. For there, even to the present day, the bees, commonly called St. Rita's bees, have their nest. They are called St. Rita's, for they have been there since her time, and have come there, we may believe, owing to her, and, as it were, to do her honour. There is only a small number of them—some twelve or fifteen—and everything connected with them is extraordinary and wonderful. In the first place, ...the species to which these bees belong has never, as far as we are aware, been determined.

They live each one to itself in a hole which it has dug in the wall, and as often as these holes have been stopped up in the process of plastering the wall they have again excavated them. They spin a sort of white substance, with which they stop the entrance to their retreat, as if to hide themselves from view during their long retirement and fast of eleven months. They appear only on those days dedicated to the memory of our Lord's Passion, and, be it noted, these are mostly movable feasts; and they betake themselves to retirement about the time of the death of St. Rita, who was meditation on the Passion of our Lord. For four centuries they have been found in the same place, without ever having changed their place of abode. 1

Those who can't travel to Italy and who live in North America might consider a pilgrimage to or retreat at the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Otherwise, many Catholics around the world make a special novena to St. Rita beginning on May 13 and ending on the eve of her feast. Some practice a devotion called The Fifteen Thursdays of St. Rita on the fifteen Thursdays that precede her day and which recall the fifteen years she bore the stigmata on her forehead. Yet others may make a shorter devotion called the Triduum in Honor of St. Rita of Cascia (this last devotion may be made any time of the year).

And in parishes all over the world, roses are blessed in her honor and given to those who celebrate her feast (or roses are purchased beforehand and brought to church to be blessed). These sacramental roses are especially nice for the sick.

Blessing of the Roses for the Sick,
on the feast of St. Rita of Cascia, Widow of the Order of St. Augustine3
P. Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.

R. Qui fecit coelum, et terram.

P. Domine exaudi orationem meam.

R. Et clamor meus ad te veniat.

P. Dominus vobiscum.

R. Et cum Spiritu tuo.

Oremus. Deus, creator, et conservator generis humani, dator gratiae spiritualis, et largitor humanae salutis, benedictione sancta tua bene + dic has rosas, quas pro gratiis exdesolvendis cum devotione et veneratione beatae Ritae, hodie tibi praesentamus, et petimus benedici, et infunde in eis per virtutem sanctae + Crucis benedictionem; ut quibuscumque infirmitatibus appositae fuerint, seu illorum, qui eas in domibus suis, vel locis cum devotione habuerint, aut portaverint, infirmitates sanentur; discedant diaboli, contremiscant, et fugiant pavidi cum suis ministris de habitationibus illis, nec amplius tibi servientes inquietare praesumant. Per Dominum nostrum, etc.

R. Amen.

(The roses are then sprinkled with
holy water and incensed)

Oremus. Exaudi nos Deus Salutaris noster; ut sicut de beatae Ritae festivitate gaudemus; ita piae devotionis erudiamur affectu. Per Christum Dominum nostrum.

R. Amen.
P. Our help is in the name of the Lord.

R. Who hath made heaven and earth.

P.O Lord, hear my prayer.

R. And let my cry come unto Thee.

P. The Lord be with you.

R. And with thy Spirit.

Let us pray. O God, Creator and Preserver of the human race, giver of spiritual grace and dispenser of salvation to men, with Thy holy benediction bless these roses which out of which devotion and veneration to blessed Rita we present Thee today and in thanksgiving beseech Thee to bless. Infuse into them Thy benediction by the power of the + Holy Cross, so that all infirmities, to which they may be applied, whether of those who with devotion preserve them in their homes or other places, or who carry them about with them may be healed. May the devils, put to confusion, and terrified, flee from these habitations and never more dare to disturb those who serve Thee. Through our Lord, etc.

R. Amen.

(The roses are then sprinkled with
holy water and incensed)

Let us pray. Hear us, O merciciful God, that as we rejoice in the feast of Blessed Rita so we may be enlightened by the love of pious devotion. Through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

Giving sacramental roses to others, especially those in ill health, is a beautiful thing to do on this day. Be sure to keep one for yourself, maybe pressing it in a book as it begins to fade (place it between two pieces of parchment inside a very heavy book, pile other books on top of the one holding the flower, and leave it for 4 weeks. Pressed flowers in lots of different colors can be gathered together and put inside frames to make colorful displays).

And as to foods, remembering St. Rita by eating figs and honey at a table adorned by at least a single rose seems perfect.

Honey-Fried Figs

12 figs
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons tawny port, Madeira, or other sweet, fortified wine (optional)
Vanilla ice cream, yogurt, or whipped cream

Rinse the figs clean and pat them dry. Trim off and discard any excess stem and cut the figs in half lengthwise. Set them aside.

In a medium frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the honey and gently stir it into the butter. When the mixture is fully combined, set the figs cut-side-down in the honey-butter mixture and cook. Shake the pan now and again to keep the figs from sticking and spoon the honey-butter mixture over the tops of the figs until everything is bubbling and the figs are starting to brown, about 5 minutes.

Remove the figs from the pan, and whisk in whichever alcoholic beverage you may be using. Once the beverage is whisked in and a smooth sauce forms, let it simmer and bubble for a few minutes to thicken.

Add the figs back in the pan, spoon the sauce over them to heat everything together. Serve the figs warm, on top of vanilla ice cream or topped with yogurt or whipped cream.

There's a film -- Rita da Cascia -- about our Saint, made in Italy in 1943, directed by Antonio Leonviola and starring Elena Zareschi. To my knowledge, the movie isn't available in English, but it can be seen on Youtube as I write.

To read more about St. Rita, see
"The Life of St. Rita of Cascia, O.S.B." (pdf) by Fr. Richard Connolly in this site's Catholic Library.


1 From "The Life of St. Rita of Cascia, O.S.A." by Fr. Richard Connolly

2  Source: Retrieved August 23, 2022.

3 From "Devotions to St. Rita : a compendium life of St. Rita, devotional exercises, novena and triduum, instructions on novenas, etc" by The Augustinian Fathers, 1914. Imprimatur: Jacobus E. Quigley, Archdiocese of Chicago.

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