She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer and grew up in Nettuno (Italy). On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it,” she cried out. “It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger.
She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack. Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother.
Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66- year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.