Thousands venerate relics of St. Maria Goretti in Madison Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
st maria goretti veneration

One of more than 13,000 total pilgrims venerates the relics of St. Maria Goretti at St. Maria Goretti Church in Madison on October 16. In back, Sir Robert Winter of Platteville serves as honor guard. He and his wife, Lady Judith Winter, along with other members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in the Diocese of Madison stood watch over the relics throughout the nearly 24-hour veneration. To view or purchase photos, go to

(Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON -- It was a birthday party unlike any other.

“This has been unbelievable . . . the greatest experience ever for this parish.”

Those words from Msgr. Michael Burke, pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Madison, are the simplest way to sum up the 24-hour period in which the relics of St. Maria Goretti were at the parish from the morning of October 16 -- the 125th anniversary of her birth -- to the morning of October 17.

More than 13,000 people took part in venerating her relics.

Pilgrimage of Mercy

From September to November of this year, the major relics of St. Maria Goretti are making a pilgrimage to the United States in what is called the “Pilgrimage of Mercy” -- an effort to prepare and catechize the United States for the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy beginning December 8.

With his parish not originally on the schedule, Monsignor Burke personally contacted Fr. Carlos Martins and Treasures of the Church -- a ministry that gives people an experience of the living God through an encounter with the relics of saints.

He told Father Martins of the large number of children at the school and in the parish’s youth ministry program.

St. Maria Goretti -- patroness of youth -- was added to the schedule.

The relics arrive

The relics -- the remains of the saint inside a wax statue likeness enclosed in a glass and metal casket -- arrived at the church in the early morning hours.

Before a Mass for children and their families, pallbearers from the parish carried the relics out of a vehicle and touched them to a statue of St. Maria Goretti outside the church -- making it a third class relic.

While Mass was being celebrated, members of the public began to line up in the parish hall for public veneration -- which would begin after the children and families had their time with the saint.

Pilgrims from the Diocese of Madison, as well as other Midwestern states and from as far away as Colorado would come to venerate as the hours went on.

“I can’t wait to touch the casket that holds her. It’ll be amazing!” said an excited 11-year-old Claire Seifert from Sauk City.

“I think it’s a big deal . . . something once in a lifetime,” said Lois O’Connell from Black Earth.

As pilgrims waited in line, they had the opportunity to learn about St. Maria Goretti, her repentant killer Alessandro Serenelli, and relics in the Catholic Church via information banners.

Long lines to see relics

The morning hours had some of the longest veneration lines -- wrapping around outside the church building. These people had to wait about an hour in line to venerate St. Maria Goretti.

The line moved at a steady pace, with several people pausing around the casket at once adhering to a 15-second time limit.

Following veneration, people received a St. Maria Goretti prayer card and one of Alessandro Serenelli -- both third class relics, touched to relics of their respective person.

At one point, more than 900 people an hour were going through the line.

“It was pretty nice. We all got to touch holy items to the [casket] . . . it was a once in a lifetime experience,” said James Staples, a senior at St. Anne’s Academy in White Bear Lake, Minn. -- a four-and-a-half hour drive from Madison.

“Once in a lifetime” puts it lightly for one of the teachers from St. Anne’s Academy -- Sr. Maria Goretti, who was able to venerate the relics of her patron saint for the first time.

“It’s a dream to see the relics of your patron saint,” said the Sister from the Daughters of Mary Mother of Our Savior. “She’s such a model for all the students and for everyone, so it’s a very moving thing to be able to see the relics of your patron.”

While pilgrims venerated, Confessions were heard by sometimes three or four priests at a time -- some retired or from other parishes in the diocese who came to help out.

Bishop celebrates Mass

In the evening, Bishop Robert C. Morlino celebrated a Pontifical Mass honoring St. Maria Goretti.

“How wonderful it is that our sister from Heaven brings us all together tonight,” Bishop Morlino said at the start of Mass. “It’s a wonderful time to think about her and all her heavenly friends and to ask her intercession.”

Father Martins gave the homily and told everyone the life story of St. Maria Goretti -- martyred at the age of 11 after refusing the sexual advances of Serenelli, then 20. He stabbed her 14 times.

As she lay on her deathbed, St. Maria Goretti said, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli, and I want him in heaven with me forever.”

Serenelli would later repent of his sin and upon his release from prison, later served as a lay Brother in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin until his death in 1970 at age 87.

St. Maria Goretti was canonized in 1950 by Pope Pius XII -- to this day, she is still the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic Church.

“When you come forward, know that you are greeting a friend who is interested in you,” Father Martins said to those who would venerate following Mass. “I have never known her to leave a heart untouched and a petition unmeddled with in a holy way to anyone who puts their trust in her.”

Veneration continues

The veneration line swelled again following Mass and into the overnight hours.

As was the case all day, parents and children venerated the relics together.

The handicapped and elderly were escorted to the front of the line and pilgrims gladly waited their turn to be close to the saint.

As veneration concluded the next morning, another Mass was celebrated by Monsignor Burke and Fr. Tafadzwa Kushamba, parochial vicar.

Following Mass, the parish representative pallbearers escorted the reliquary out of church, as she was about to make her way to the next stop.

“We’re so blessed and just thankful to God to have her with us,” Monsignor Burke said as the vehicles started up to depart.

For more information on the Pilgrimage of Mercy, including future stops, go to

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