She was born into a family of wealth and privilege in a castle near Perugia, Italy in 1287. She was born to parents who wanted a son to carry on their noble ancestry … but instead God gave them a daughter who was blind, lame and deformed.
“Little Margaret,” as she was known, was a scandal to her parents because she was a hunch-backed dwarf. At six years old, she was taken from the castle and imprisoned for the next 13 years in a cell next to a chapel in the forest. Despite her infirmities, she was intelligent and full of goodness, and she loved God with a contagious fervor.
When she was 19, her parents brought her to the city of Castello hoping for a miraculous cure, but when there was none, they abandoned her and she had to beg on the streets until poor townspeople took her in. She eventually became a lay Dominican and spent her years visiting prisoners, educating children, caring for the sick and poor, and comforting the dying.
Despite her own suffering, she brought joy and love to those who were tormented by a spiritual affliction common in our time; they were “unwanted”. Little Margaret died at 33. In 1609, she was declared blessed, and today her incorrupt body lies under the altar at the Church of St. Dominic in Castello. Over the centuries, her story has inspired countless people.
Armida Oradei of Stratford first learned about Blessed Margaret of Castello as a child growing up in Italy, when she visited her aunt who owns the castle in Metola where Margaret was born. The cell and the chapel remain to this day.
“It was like she was part of our family,” Oradei recalled. “My aunt would say, ‘Let’s pray to Blessed Margaret’, and on her feast day, April 13, we would go to Mass.” Oradei, whose name means “pray to God,” moved to America seven years ago and is working to spread devotion to Blessed Margaret.
Last year, Father James Sullivan, pastor of Church of the Assumption in Ansonia, was the first American priest to visit the castle in Metola and say Mass in the chapel where Margaret was hidden away as a child.
For more than 25 years, Father Sullivan has had a special devotion to her.
He also has one of the few first-degree relics of Margaret, which was given to him by his late uncle, a Dominican priest.
Oradei says that a series of events she attributes to Blessed Margaret’s intercession led her to move to Connecticut last year and meet Father Sullivan. Frank and Silvana Monaco from Assumption had reached out to her aunt and helped Oradei relocate to Stratford after she was offered a job in the state. Through their help, she was able to make contact with Father Sullivan and combine their efforts in furthering devotion to Blessed Margaret by forming a prayer group and distributing a rosary that has a centerpiece with images of the Holy Family and a daisy, a symbol of Margaret.
Father Sullivan’s devotion began in 1991 and afterward he made a pilgrimage to St. Patrick Church in Columbus, OH, where there is a shrine to Blessed Margaret.
“I was attracted by the fact that she had so many handicaps and suffered so much rejection, and yet she had a joy-filled heart,” Father Sullivan said. “I loved her emptiness. She gave everything to God. She was a victim soul. Others would have given up under similar circumstances, and yet she touched many lives. Today, in a different world, she would have been aborted.” Father Sullivan said that when he gives talks about Margaret, students and adults are always moved by her story.
“I explain the dignity of all life, that life is worth living and that God can work through any infirmity and through a life the world considers not worth living,” he said.
On a pilgrimage to Italy last year, his friend Aurora Daly surprised him by arranging a visit to the chapel in Metola, which is owned by Oradei¹s family. He said Mass there, beside the cell where Margaret was locked away as a child, and he later celebrated Mass at St. Dominic¹s in Castello.
“She is a saint for outcasts,” Oradei said. “She reminds us never to lose courage, hope or faith when people try to put you down or slander you. She is a wonderful example of surrender, acceptance and humility. She did not allow despair to lead her to bitterness or away from God. And she is a pro-life saint; a patron saint for the unwanted.” The “unwanted” can have many different faces. They’re the unborn, the incurably ill, the handicapped, the elderly, the poor and the dispossessed, and they share one thing in common: Their dignity as human beings is threatened by a callous society that has lost respect for life.
With pre-natal testing, Father Sullivan says that some 90 percent of children who suffer Down Syndrome are aborted. And in America, 1.2 million babies are aborted each year. “Margaret’s message of love for the world needs to be told,” Father Sullivan said. “She’s a saint for our times because now more than ever there is disrespect for human life.
Her example shows us that all life is worth living. Over the centuries, some 200 miracles have been attributed to her intercession. The lesson of her life is a timely one in our age: A child that had no value to her parents had incalculable value to God.
By Joe Pisani