Blessed Margaret's life is one of the most heart-wrenching
stories in the calendar of saints. She was born blind, with
severe curvature of the spine; her right leg was an inch and
a half shorter than her left, and her left arm was malformed.
She never grew beyond four feet tall.
Her parents kept little Margaret hidden away in their house
in Metola in the Italian province of Umbria. She was 6 years
old when the family traveled to a shrine at Castello, hoping
for a miracle. When no miracle took place, Margaret's mother
and father abandoned her.
Some women of Castello found the terrified child and took
care of her until they could arrange for her to be adopted. A
husband and wife, Venfarino and Grigia, invited Margaret to
live with them; they treated her like their own daughter,
with love and kindness. She appears to have spent the rest of
her life with her adoptive parents.
There was a convent near Margaret's home, and the nuns became
fond of her. When she was about 13 years old, Margaret asked
to be admitted as a postulant. Given her years of friendship
with the sisters, Margaret expected that she would be happy
in their convent. She was in for a disappointment. The nuns
were lax in keeping the rule of their order, and even in
keeping the routine of daily prayer and meditation. Margaret,
on the other hand, was intensely devout. The lack of fervor
in her sisters surprised and confused her, while Margaret's
zeal made the nuns self-conscious, angry and resentful.
Ultimately the superior of the convent asked Margaret to
leave. She returned to her adoptive parents, and at age 15
she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, which permitted
her to wear the habit and take the vows of a nun but live at
home where she felt loved and secure.
Margaret's disabilities did not make her bitter; rather, she
became one of the most generous, sympathetic people in
Castello. She nursed the sick, consoled the dying and visited
prisoners. Margaret said that in the sufferings of her
neighbors she saw the image of the suffering Christ. As for
her own disabilities, she regarded them as a means to unite
her pain with the pain Christ endured on the cross. Her
courage, her patience and her deep religious devotion won her
the affection of everyone in Castello.
Margaret died when she was 33 years old. At her requiem Mass
the crowd was so great it seemed that the entire town and all
the peasants from the countryside had come to the funeral.
The parish priest planned to bury Margaret in the churchyard,
but after the Mass was over the mourners insisted that she
must have a tomb inside the church, with all the other
distinguished dead of the parish. The priest and the
congregation were still arguing the point when a girl whose
legs were crippled dragged herself to Margaret's coffin. She
touched the casket, then stood up and began to walk. The
miracle convinced the priest to give Margaret a tomb inside
the church. Today her remains lie beneath the high altar of
Castello's Church of St. Dominic.
Craughwell is the author of numerous books about the saints,
including Saints Behaving Badly (Doubleday, 2006).