Alessandro Serenelli (2 June 1882 - 6 May 1970) was an Italian, who in 1902 attempted to seduce an eleven-year-old girl named Maria Goretti. Not succeeding, he attempted to rape her, and failing in that, he stabbed her 14 times, mortally wounding her. While serving 27 years in prison for his crime, he reported seeing a vision of his victim in which she repeated to him how she had forgiven him on her death bed. From this point he was converted and became a model prisoner. Upon his release, he worked as a gardener and porter in a convent of Capuchin friars in the Marches. Goretti was later proclaimed a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
Serenelli was born into a peasant family. His father, Giovanni, is often portrayed as an alcoholic, although Maria's mother said he rarely drank to the point of drunkenness. His mother died in a psychiatric hospital when he was a few months old, apparently after trying to drown Serenelli when he was a newborn. A brother of the young man committed suicide while studying in the seminary. His father worked as a coachman and a laborer but was unable to keep any job for a long time and moved to Paliano to work as a metayage. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he attended school until the second grade, learning to read and write. Alessandro later worked as a longshoreman. At eighteen, his father called him to work with him in Paliano. Here, he knew the Goretti family with whom he established a relationship of cooperation and neighborliness.
In 1902, twenty-year-old Serenelli, a virgin described by all as a very shy and quiet young man, began to harass Goretti, then eleven and 3 quarters old. In testimony given by him about his thoughts before the brutal incident he related: "After the second attempt, in my mind was formed more than ever the intention to succeed in the vent of my passion and I conceived the idea to kill her if she continued to resist my cravings."
On 5 July 1902, Serenelli returned to the house and threatened Goretti with death if she did not do as he said; he was intending to rape her. However she would not submit, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning him that he would go to hell. She desperately fought to stop him from proceeding. She kept screaming, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" He first choked her, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. She tried to reach for the door, but he stopped her by stabbing her three more times before fleeing the scene.
The psychiatric evaluation made during the process determined him to be mentally sane and therefore liable for his actions, but he recognized that his unfortunate youth, including the multiple cases of mental disorders and alcoholism within his family, to some extent attenuated his responsibility.
After due process, Serenelli was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He avoided life imprisonment because Italian law at that time set the age of majority at 21 and so he was not yet of age in order to be subject to that penalty. He was released from prison in 1929, after serving 27 years. Of the 30 to which he had been sentenced, one year was remitted by the general pardon to all prisoners after the Italian victory in World War I, and a further two were each in recognition of good behavior.
On the night of Christmas 1934, Serenelli begged forgiveness on his knees from Assunta Goretti, Maria's mother. She forgave him asking how she could not when Maria had done so already on her death bed.
Having worked sporadically as a farmer and laborer, Serenelli eventually retired to a monastery of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, where he served as their gardener and porter, eventually being accepted as a lay brother.
On June 24, 1950, Pope Pius XII canonized Goretti as a saint, the "Saint Agnes of the 20th century." Assunta was present at the ceremony, along with Maria's four remaining siblings. She was the first mother ever to attend the canonization ceremony of her child. Serenelli is reported on several Catholic websites to have also been present however whether or not these reports are accurate has been questioned. An Associated Press article printed in The New York Times the next day reported that he was absent.
Serenelli died on 6 May 1970 in a convent at Macerata from complications relating to a fracture of his femur following a fall. He was almost 88 years old. Around a decade earlier, he had written the following as part of his will: