ST. ZITA: PATRONESS of DOMESTIC WORKERS
1218 – 1278
Her Early Life
Even a servant can become not only a saint but also a patroness of people like her and other domestic workers!
The fact that Zita (surname unknown) was born to an extremely poor farm labourer in Bozzanello, Mon-sagrati near Lucca, Italy did not prevent her from becoming as devout as the rest of her family. In fact her elder sister was a Cistercian nun and her uncle Graziano became a hermit whom the local people regarded as a saint.
Growing up in such a household it is no wonder that besides going to daily mass Zita was ever ready to obey and do God’s will as pointed out by her devout mother who taught her not only how to pray but how to discern right from wrong. Zita consoled herself with the knowledge that if they were extremely poor there were certainly a lot more people worse off than they.
Her Life as a Domestic
When she was just twelve years of age her career and life as a domestic servant began. Hired by Pagano di Fatinelli, a well-to-do weaver in the Tuscan city of Lucca, Italy who lived just eight miles from her native village of Monte Sagrati,the family were so overjoyed that she had landed such a prized position in such a rich household that they brought along with them a basket of fruit to thank them.
While Zita was so happy at the fact that her new home was just next door to Lucca’s basilica still all was not easy sailing for her. First of all because the city was soon put under an interdict so all churches were closed. So for the next three years Zita had to walk 1.5 miles to Pisa to attend mass. Then the other servants in the house initially resented the fact that because Zita was so hardworking and industrious she made them all look bad. However Zita deeply believed in the adage that, “A servant is not pious if she is not industrious: work-shy piety in people of their position is sham-piety.” She also regarded her job as her Christian vocation.
Besides resenting her diligence and conscientiousness as a silent reproach to themselves they also disliked her for her holiness, austerities and abhorrence of foul language. Thus for some time they succeeded in even prejudicing her employers against her. However she endured every contempt, calumny and trial uncomplainingly with great meekness and patience so that eventually her humility and attitude of forgiveness overcame their enmity.
Instead of eating all of the good food that she was meant to eat or even eating anything at all she would save the great portion of it to give away to the beggars and poor folk of Lucca. Once more at first her fellow servants would make fun of and laugh at her piety and kindness but in the end she won them over and even gained their admiration.
As to her relationship with her employers understandably in the beginning they were upset by her gifts of food to the poor and destitute. Once when there was a local famine Zita had secretly given away much of the family’s store of beans. Unbelievably when her master made a surprise inspection of the kitchen cupboards the beans had been miraculously replaced to the utter relief of the terrified Zita. This was just the first of several miracles that figured in her life.
Besides bearing the cruel insults of her master and the bullying tactics of her mistress and the continued harassment of the children Zita remained ever patient, kind, faithful and sweet of character.
Finally realizing what a pearl they had in Zita one by one they began to regard and treat her differently. She was entrusted with the care of the whole household, became their close confidant and could even cure her master’s loss of temper with just a look.
Because they all now realized the value of her presence in the household she was allowed to rearrange her time to give her more time to visit the sick and those in prison.
More and more people began to hear of Zita – her good works and even the supernatural heavenly manifestations that appeared to her. Not only did angels supposedly bake her bread while she was busy praying, but even the water in the pitcher that she intended for some pilgrims, turned into wine. It’s no wonder that even the prominent people sought her out.
A Most Phenomenal Experience
But the most phenomenal experience she ever had happened one Christmas Eve after the interdict had been lifted.
Her master upon seeing Zita leave home to go to mass on that freezing Christmas Eve hurriedly followed her and insisted that she borrow his fur overcoat. Of course he told her to be sure to take good care of it.
But when kind-hearted Zita saw this shivering poor old beggar standing outside the church door she unhesitatingly took it off to lend it to him. Imagine her horror and dismay when she couldn’t find a trace of him after the mass!
Naturally her master was visibly irate and extremely furious when he saw her come back without his coat. Some stories say that as he sat down to his Christmas dinner (others say the next day) a stranger – an old man – came to return the fur coat to Zita and then quickly vanished. Since then the portal of the church of St. Frediano, Lucca where he first appeared became known as the “Angel’s Door” or “Angel Portal”.
Her Death and Canonization
Zita was to remain the rest of her life (48 years) with the Fatinellis. When she became fatally ill on April 27, 1278 her now foster family wanted to lavish her with luxuries but she steadfastly refused.
However on the night she died at the age of 60 after having served the same family for forty-eight years,the mansion was all lit up by a star as if it were the middle of the day. People took this to mean that Zita was already in heaven and so they acclaimed her already as a saint.
Canonized on 5 September 1696 by Pope Innocent III St. Zita became the patron of domestic workers on 26 September 1933. If you’re losing your keys try calling on her to help you.
St. Zita is also the patron of housewives and waiters. She is venerated for her devotion (being a lifelong servant) and for her care of the poor and condemned convicts.
It is said that if you visit Lucca in the spring you will find the city abloom and fragrant with daffodils. This is supposedly in honor of St. Zita. Her body still lies in the church of San Frediano at Lucca which she attended so regularly during her lifetime.
SOURCES of REFERENCE
Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Vol. II pp 173 – 174
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints – pp 90, 91, 247
Pocket Dictionary of Saints – p 516
The Watkins Dictionary of Saints – pp 254 – 255
A Calendar of Saints – p 80
Illustrated Lives of the Saints – Vol. I pp 179 – 180
Saint Companions – pp 152 – 153
The Big Book of Women Saints – p 129
Saints – A Visual Guide – pp 224 – 225
The Everything Saints Book – p 270
Book of Saints – Part 7 – pp 10– 11