By Dennis Polselli special to The Anchor
On April 13, 2021, Pope Francis signed a declaration naming Blessed Margaret of Castello a saint. She will be officially canonized on Sept. 19, 2021.
In the Apr. 11, 2011 edition of The Anchor, I introduced the readers to Blessed Margaret of Castello.
In that edition I wrote: “One of the things I enjoyed the most in my 25-and-a-half years working as Disability Services Coordinator at Framingham State University, was my off-campus work with the Archdiocese of Boston, volunteering in and with the Office for Persons with Disabilities. I joined a number of colleagues with a variety of disabilities besides my own total blindness to go around different parishes conducting disability awareness training.
“In 1998, during the 20th anniversary year of the bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities, I wondered who among the communion of saints or blesseds could we look to as persons with disabilities? I contacted the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities and the then-executive director, Mary Jane Owen — herself totally blind, in a wheelchair and hearing impaired — who encouraged me to get a book called ‘The Life of Blessed Margaret of Costello,’ by Father William R. Bonniwell, O.P. I got the book on audiotape and listened to it, loving it so much that I got it in Braille to keep. And I began my devotion to Blessed Margaret.”
A brief review of Margaret’s life is in order here.
Blessed Margaret was born in Metola, Italy in 1288. Her parents were a powerful political dynasty; Pareicio was the captain of the People and Commander of the Army while his wife Amelia, well we’re not sure what she did for incomplete records were kept then. They were hoping for a boy to keep the power going in the family but, much to their surprise, the baby born turned out to be a girl and not only that, she was hunched-back, dwarfed, twisted and in the words of her biographers, “ugly.”
Later, it was discovered that she was totally blind. Her parents started the reports that she was very sick and not scheduled to last long and they kept her out of sight. But Margaret, at the age of six, learned the layout of the castle where they resided. She was not allowed to go near the parents’ residence. One day, on her way to chapel, she was discovered and this presented a crisis. So her parents had her locked away in prison near a small church at the age of six, where she spent 10 years.
One day the parents heard of a miracle worker whose shrine was in a town called Citta de Castello so they took Margaret there in hopes that her sight would be restored and her other disabilities would be cured. When they weren’t they abandoned her in the shrine and returned to the castle.
Margaret had to learn how to beg. The beggar community took her in, taught her the trade. And later, residents took her in to their homes until they no longer had the means to support her at which point, other residents took over. Eventually, she joined a convent and challenged the nuns to abide by their rules, she was expelled and for a while; the city reviled her as a hypocrite, even making fun of her disabilities.
Eventually, Margaret joined the third order Dominicans where she visited the sick and the imprisoned, ministering to their needs. Even in life, Margaret was mastering theology and performing miracles, such as putting out a house fire where she was staying with her cloak.
She died on April 13, 1320, the second Sunday after Easter.
Remember the demonstration at St. Pope John Paul II’s funeral, people chanting that “he is a saint”? Well, when Margaret was about to be buried in the Community Cloister, the people blocked the procession and ordered that Margaret be taken and buried in the church for she is a saint. A couple brought with them a child with curvature of the spine and unable to speak. They brought the child next to Margaret, and Margaret raised her hand and cured the child who began to walk and cry out, “I’ve been healed by Margaret.” Margaret performed miracles; she was unable to say no to anyone’s requests.
She was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609.
On Sept. 19, 2021, 701 years after the residents of Citta de Castello declared her a saint, People Francis will officially canonize her as a saint. The declaration was signed on Apr.13, 2021, the feast day of Blessed Margaret. Margaret joins the Communion of Saints and we rejoice and are glad.
Dennis Polselli is an Anchor online reader and lives in Fall River.