Bl. Margaret of Castello

(1287-1320)

We are living today in an age that is at war with children. One question often raised is: What use are those children who enter the world (or are about to do so) physically or mentally incapacitated?

One of the best answers to this question is the case of Blessed Margaret of Castello. Though born blind and disabled, though rejected and abandoned by her parents, “Little Margaret” came to be hailed as a saint and a triumphant instrument of God’s love.

Margaret was born in the castle of Metola, southeast of Florence, Italy. Her surname is not known. This is just as well, for her parents Parisio and Emilia certainly added no luster to that family name. But Parisio is known, however, to have been a prominent soldier and civic leader.

What was this proud, socially conscious couple to do when their first and only child was born dreadfully disfigured? She was sightless, homely of face, dwarfed, hunchbacked and had one leg shorter than the other. Unfortunately, these selfish people rejected their daughter with revulsion. Because they were embarrassed to have her thought their own, they kept her hidden at home for six years. Then they had a little cell built for her attached to the local church, and shut her up in it.

Already a devout child, Margaret appreciated being so close to God; but actually her cell was a prison until she was 13. Then an alarm spread around that Metola was going to be invaded. The parents, shrouding her in a heavy veil, spirited her off to their castle at Mercatallo. Here they locked her into the cellar. Margaret, to her grief, was now deprived of the ability to attend Mass and to confess.

When their unwanted daughter was 20, her father and mother made one last effort to “normalize” her. It was reported that at Citta di Castello miracles were being wrought at the tomb of a holy man named Fra Giacomo. The couple took Margaret to Castello and prayed for her cure. Their prayer was more for themselves than for her, however, for when the cure was not forthcoming, they went off for good, leaving their sightless daughter at the shrine church without provision.

If the parents had abandoned this sweet-tempered, if misshapen, young woman, at least the poor of Castello responded to her need. During the next few years, they gave her shelter in one home after another. God rewarded their charity, for each of her host families received some sort of benefits – even financial – from His hand.

Eventually a convent of nuns of Citta di Castello decided to take Margaret in as a member. She was delighted. But it turned out that the nuns were slack in observing their rule. Margaret, by her strict obedience to that rule, embarrassed the sisters so much that they eventually expelled her. For a while, thereafter, the local citizenry assumed that the little cripple had been ousted for misbehavior, so they began to mock and malign her. Eventually, however, that subsided, and she was invited to join the Third Order of Dominicans as a “Mantellata” (a tertiary who wore the religious habit and veil).

Margaret finally had a recognized position. Living prayerfully in the attic of a worthy family, she spent her days in hobbling about the streets to take care of the sick and to visit prisoners. Miracles of body and soul were attributed increasingly to the blind woman’s prayers.

Once she was visiting a prison in an effort to exorcise the hatred in the heart of one of the prisoners. As she prayed for his change of heart, her body was lifted up from the floor in the presence of all and remained for some time suspended. Eventually, the man broke down and expressed contrition.

When “Little Margaret” died at 33, the people of Castello, believing her to be a saint, insisted that she be buried within the Church. Margaret confirmed their view with one more miracle. A crippled girl was laid down beside the dead body. Those on hand saw the arm of the corpse reach over and touch the girl’s stretcher, curing her! Two hundred other miracles were later attributed to Blessed Margaret’s intercession.

Would it have been better for this blind cripple to have died as an infant? Margaret would not have thought so. God evidently didn’t think so either. In her, He has given to us an illustration of how handicapped persons fit in with His eternal plan.

Take courage, then, you who are handicapped. God loves you doubly!

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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