“A househelp is not holy if she is not busy. Lazy people of our position is fake holiness,” Saint Zita said.
Inspired by faith, she performed her tasks diligently, giving her best for 48 years. With constancy of faith, she reflected on God’s will in all circumstances. Faith enabled her to accept with serenity the harsh treatment of household members and unkind remarks about her spirituality.
“Faith so alive is most pleasing to God,” her parents taught her, which she lived to the letter.
Exemplar of goodness
Zita was born in 1218 in Monte Sagrati, Italy. She came from a religious family. An uncle was a hermit and an elder sister a Cistercian nun.
Her pious parents taught her how to be modest, humble and prayerful. At 12, she started to work as a servant in the family of Pagano di Fatinelli, a prosperous citizen in the wool- and silk-weaving trade in Lucca, Tuscany, 8 miles away.
The Fatinelli lived near Saint Frigidian Church, where she attended Mass everyday by getting up a few hours before the others. She shared her food to the poor, giving the good food provided her and “living on scraps from the kitchen.”
The other servants “resented her well-known dislike of sinful suggestions and foul language, as well as her exactitude in supplying for their deficiencies,” Joan Carnoll Cruz said in Secular Saints.
They called her modesty, “want of spirit and sense” and her diligence “affectation and secret pride,” according to EWTN.com/library.
Treated as a common drudge by her fellow servants and even her employers for years, she never lost her temper, patience, humility and peace of mind. A member of the 3rd Order of Saint Francis in Lucca, she was unaffected by all the antipathy, malice and jealousy, Marion Habig, OFM, said in The Franciscan Book of Saints.
Her goodness to seek God’s will in all circumstances paid off. All the servants and even her master changed their attitudes toward her. They realized how fortunate they were to have Zita with them.
The Fatinelli children were entrusted to her care. Later, she was assigned to take charge of all the affairs of the Fatinellis. She became the trusted friend of all the servants. She overlooked their shortcomings and defended their cause, except in wrongdoings.
Thankful for considerable freedom granted her, she continued her apostolate for the poor and the sick. She was most devoted to prisoners who were awaiting death and spent hours praying with them.
Heaven seemingly came to her rescue when confronted with a problem caused by her charity.
Once, she left her task of baking bread to attend to someone’s need. The servants told the Fatinelli family of the oversight. They went to investigate and saw angels baking the bread for Zita (Wikipedia.org).
Another instance was when a padlocked gate leading to a bridge where Zita drew water for wayfarers opened by itself. The water turned into sweet wine, said the Daughters of Saint Paul in the Lives of Saints.
There was a time when food was scarce. Zita gave all her food to the poor and even took some of the stock of beans entrusted to her by the master.
She confided to the mistress the unauthorized withdrawals she made. She prayed fervently for a solution to the problem, and awaited the master’s rage. To her surprise, the supply was intact, the beans miraculously multiplied.
One Christmas Eve, her master, seeing her in clothes that would not withstand the bitter cold, lent her his expensive fur coat and told her not to loose it.
When she went to church, Zita saw at the door a man in scanty clothes who asked for the coat. She gave her master’s fur coat for him to wear while she is inside the church but which he should return it when she gets out.
However, the man was nowhere to be found when she came out of the church. As expected, her master was furious. As he sat to take his meal, a stranger appeared at the door. He returned the coat and disappeared, leaving the heavenly joy of Christmas in her master’s heart.
Since then, the door of Saint Frigidian Church, where the stranger sat, is called “Angel’s Door.”
Even when Pope Gregory issued and interdict, a temporary suspension of Divine Service in the city of Lucca, Zita walked to Pizan territory to attend Mass. That many feared for her safety did not stop her. She would share stories of friendly strangers she met on her way. Once, she related a story about the beautiful lady who accompanied her.
Patron saint of domestic workers
Saint Zita foretold her death—April 27, 1278—when she was 60. There was an immediate public veneration for her. One hundred fifty miracles were attributed to her, which have been proven ecclesiastically. The bishop of Lucca approved the testimonies in May 1278, just one month after her death. (Cruz, 749)
Her body was seen to be incorrupt in 1446, 1581 and 1651. On September 5, 1696, she was declared saint by Pope Innocent XII, and patroness of domestic workers on September 26, 1953.
Damo-Santiago is a former regional director of the Department of Education National Capital Region. She is currently a faculty member of Mater Redemptoris Collegium in Calauan, Laguna, and of Mater Redemptoris College in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija.