NIEMANN: 14th century saint shares a coincidence with writer's family

Posted: Dec. 24, 2012 9:43 am Updated: Jan. 21, 2013 10:15 am

Last week's story was about art imitating life. This week's story is about life imitating life, with history repeating itself. Well, sort of.

Rita Mancini was born in Cascia, Italy, in 1381. She was canonized a saint in 1900. Saint Rita was an only child born to Antonio and Amata. Her parents were very religious Catholics who were very respected as the peacekeepers in their town. Any time someone had a dispute, it was Antonio and Amata who solved it.

Saint Rita was every bit as pious as her parents, and she planned on becoming a nun. As her parents aged, she attended to their every need. Antonio and Amata, though, wanted her to marry, and they even chose her future husband for her. He came from a very successful family, and appeared to be a good and decent man at first.

Saint Rita was just 12 years old when she married, and her husband proved to be very difficult to live with. He had a bad temper and would get angry at nearly everything she said or did. Yet through her patience and humility, she converted him into a good man.

She and her husband had two sons. Then, after 18 years of marriage, Saint Rita's husband was killed by a member of a rival family. Saint Rita publicly forgave her husband's killer while at his funeral, but her two sons vowed revenge upon their father's killer. When Saint Rita encouraged them to forgive him, they ignored her; her two sons both ended up dying a year later of dysentery.

Saint Rita went on to become known as the "Saint of the Impossible," and I'm pretty sure that her family life had something to do with that.

Coincidentally, my Mom's name is Rita, and there is something about Saint Rita's story that provides an even bigger coincidence with our family. Saint Rita's husband was named Ferdinand (although some historians referred to him as Paolo). Ferd is short for Ferdinand, which was also my Dad's name. Saint Rita, meanwhile, was the first person to ever be named Rita, suggesting that her name may have come from God instead of from her parents.

Do you know of any other couples where the husband and wife both have the same names as your parents?

My Dad was very different from Saint Rita's husband, though. My Dad was always telling people about his wonderful wife, because she was the most important person in his life. Unlike Saint Rita's husband, my Dad never had an enemy in his life.

Saint Rita eventually achieved her most important desire in life: To become a nun, which she did at age 36 when she joined the Augustinian order in Cascia. One day, a thorn from a crucifix fell and left a deep wound in Saint Rita's forehead, forming what is known as a stigmata.

The wound never healed, and even carried a terrible odor with it. On the day she died, the odor changed to a beautiful rose-filled scent.

Saint Rita is also credited as being the patron saint of baseball, as stated in the 2002 movie "The Rookie." The movie is based on a true story about a pro baseball player named Jim Morris, but the scene in which Saint Rita is said to be the patron saint of baseball may have been the result of a producer taking some creative liberty with the film.

For the record, my Dad -- you guessed it -- also played pro baseball.