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St Zita

St Zita
  • Century: 13th Century
  • Patronage: domestic servants, waiters, homemakers, lost keys, rape victims, the pious
  • Feast Day: April 27th

Born into a Christian household, humble and devout, St. Zita was a younger sister to a sibling who went on to be a Cistercian nun, and she was the niece of a hermit monk.  By the time she was 12 she had been thoroughly instructed in managing a household and keen on domestic crafts.  It was then that she went to work in the home of a textile merchant—a job that provided a secure position with abundance and surplus.  It was then that St. Zita began to share many of her blessing to the poor and less fortunate. 

Her compassion for others, as well as her generosity, was looked upon with suspicion by her fellow servants.  Gossip and rumors regarding her character and her fitness were circulated, as well as unwelcome advances made by male servants.  Nonetheless, St. Zita bore all wrongs patiently and defended herself physically only to ward off the abuse of hostile men.  The years that she endured this disrespect ultimately gained her the respect that she enjoyed the rest of her life.  Many of her peers and masters eventually came to see in this woman’s life a true witness to the Gospel. 

Besides her holy attitude in dealing with others, St. Zita was dedicated to her work.  Her attention to detail and diligence in carrying out tasks led to her master appointing her as governess and housekeeper over his children.  Her master, while usually hard and prone to violence, was confident in St. Zita’s ability and wisdom.  It is recalled that she could prevent him from rages by simply talking to him in her saintly forthright manner; that her counsel ultimately led him to overlook the periodic messes that St. Zita’s charity made on the home and its storehouses. 

There are a number of miraculous events that occurred in proximity to this woman’s life.  A storehouse full of beans multiplied (which she pillaged for the poor and destitute); loaves of bread appeared in the kitchen (which she neglected due to being enraptured in prayer); and a fur coat was delivered to the household’s door by an angel (a coat which she lost by loaning it to a cold beggar).  In honor of the miraculous appearance of the loaves of bread, many honor St. Zita by baking loaves of bread on her feast day—loaves called “Zita Bread.” 

Eventually, St. Zita became the most respected and authoritative member of the household—respected by everyone.  By the end of her life she was able to withdraw more from domestic chores and devote herself to the poor, the sick and those in prison (especially those sentenced to death, for whom she had a special devotion).  By the time she died on April 27, 1278 at the age of sixty she had served the same household faithfully for 48 years.  On her deathbed it is said that a star appeared in the room and shone over her body.  St. Zita, too, is incorrupt. 

Practical Take-Away: Sham Piety

St. Benedict had a rule that an ordered life was established through prayer and work (ora et labora).  It is an important conjunction—‘and’—as it means both, not just one or the other.  Catholics, alongside all Christians, are called to do both—pray AND work.  Recall the Thessalonians who were so eager for the Lord’s return that they became lazy and complacent in their tasks; St. Paul admonishes them to “work quietly.”  Indeed, the economic order of our world envisions “the good life” as being that which is total leisure-filled and footloose, fancy-free.  Whatever this attitude is, it is certainly not Christian—we are called to engage the world, to work, to re-create.  This work ethic combined with diligence to prayer is precisely the witness of St. Zita.  Heed her words: “A servant is not good if she is not industrious: work-shy piety in people of our position is sham piety.”  The beauty of being a faithful and devout Catholic is that no matter what the economics of the day may present, we will never be unemployed (perhaps underpaid and/or under-appreciated, but never unemployed).