St. Maria Goretti's Biography

Alessandro Sernelli

The character of Maria's assailant, Alessandro, known to us through an interview he had with a Passionate priest at the time of Maria's Beatification. He was born in Paterno di Ancona, on June 2, 1882, confirmed about 1889. and was the youngest of eight children. He made his First Communion in 1891. One of his brothers had even entered the seminary to study for the priesthood, but an incident occurred which affected his mind and caused him to be institutionalized. The shock of this affected his mother's mind also, and she tried to drown Alessandro in the well, but he was saved by another brother. When asked what she was doing, she responded crying out with a horrid laugh, that it was better for the little boy to die at that moment than to live and suffer. The woman had been obviously affected mentally and was locked up also. Alessandro affirmed that he loved his mother, maintaining that she was a good mother and that he missed her terribly. His education had been just enough to teach him to read and write a little. He started work to earn money, and felt the call of the sea, which he loved very much. It satisfied his yearning for liberty in the wide open spaces. He got a job on a fishing smack, and made some friends. In such surroundings it was not easy for him to keep his purity. He developed evil habits and declined morally and spiritually.

Alessandro testified that although he forgot God, God never forgot him. "Once the boat that I should have sailed on ran into a storm and the boy who took my place never returned. Later I joined my father and with another brother we moved to Colle where we met and worked with the Gorettis." At this time he was twenty years old. Alessandro was not intrinsically evil, and did not indulge in drinking, went to the Sacraments, attended Mass on every feast day, and assisted at the family Rosary. Assunta claimed that he treated her and the rest of her family respectfully.

Monotony set in and the desolation of the Marshes caused him to become introverted. Alessandro admitted that vain dreams and longings took possession of him and began to seek escape in reading, locking himself in his room. Shortly afterwards, he said, "The awful crime took form in my mind. I fought it for months. Maria was so good, so sweet and pure. I loathed myself, but hid my dark secret carefully. When I finally took the fatal step I expected an easy victory." Twice in vain he assailed Maria's virtue. At the second attempt, he added a threat to his solicitations, "Heaven help you if you repeat what I have said." Maria was not ignorant of Alessandro's desires, nor too young to understand that he wanted to take her chastity from her, so tried to escape his company. Alessandro himself recounts that she never gave him the least occasion for him to interpret consent in her actions. So well did he hide his evil plan of action that Assunta suspected nothing.

Then about a month prior to the murder, Alessandro began to act roughly toward Maria and seemed unsatisfied with any services which she rendered. Once Maria had just brought some water from the fountain. Alessandro drank some of it and then kicked the bucket over claiming that the water wasn't fresh, and demanding that she go back and get some more. Assunta feared to further irritate him and told Maria to do as he said. She quietly told her not to mind Alessandro because he would soon be off to become a soldier. Obediently Maria went to fetch the water. The change in the young man's behavior indicated something was very wrong, but no one recognized the warning signs.

Before her canonization, Church authorities had to determine whether Maria had indeed used the means before her to preserve her chastity. The catechism tells us:

"The chief means of preserving chastity are: to avoid carefully all unnecessary dangers, to seek God's help through prayer, frequent confession, Holy Communion, and assistance at Holy Mass, and to have a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin."

Though she did not know the exact, memorized answer of the catechism, she knew the means better than many and, more importantly, she utilized them all. Her solid devotion to Our Lady has already been remarked upon. On that score Alessandro testified that during these weeks of temptation, "Maria stopped saying the Rosary only to work." Her appreciation of confession and communion as a means of preserving chastity is quite apparent in the account of the last day of her life.

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