New documentary explores ‘Patron saint of unwanted’

STRATFORD — Armida Oradei first learned about “Little Margaret” as a child growing up in Italy, when she visited the ancient castle in Metola where the saint was born.

After 700 years, the deformed young woman who was cast aside and abandoned by her noble family, was canonized by Pope Francis and is being proclaimed the “Saint of the Unwanted,” an intercessor for our troubled times.

“It was like she was part of our family,” Oradei of Stratford recalls. “My aunt would say, ‘Let’s pray to Blessed Margaret.’ On her feast day, April 13, we would go to Mass to honor her.”

Oradei, whose name means “pray to God,” is working to spread devotion to St. Margaret of Castello and recently completed a documentary about her.

“My idea is to promote Blessed Margaret because I’m local to where she was born,” she says. “I grew up with her. We would talk to her and celebrate her feast, and I never thought much of it because I thought she was only known in a few towns around there.”

St. Margaret of Castello was born into a family of wealth and privilege in a castle near Perugia, Italy in 1287. Her parents 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 family. At 6-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. The girl had to beg on the streets until the 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.”

The “unwanted” 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.

Little Margaret died in 1320 at 33 years old. In 1609, she was declared blessed, and on April 24, 2021, she was canonized by Pope Francis. Her incorrupt body lies under the altar at the Church of St. Dominic in Castello.

Over the centuries, her story has inspired countless people, and more than 200 miracles have been attributed to her intercession, Oradei says.

“I grew up with her, and when I came to Connecticut, I discovered she was known in the United States and the Philippines and other places,” she said. “I think I was overwhelmed by the love I found for her in people’s hearts. She is the saint for the unwanted and anybody who has challenges. She is the protector of them all. Her message is so important today. It is so contemporary.”

The idea of creating the documentary first came to Oradei when she moved to the United States several years ago and met Fr. James Sullivan, then pastor of Church of the Assumption in Ansonia, who had one of the few first-class relics of Little Margaret.

Oradei later commissioned a copy of an Italian painting of the saint, which she gave to Assumption, where there is a prayer group dedicated to her.

This past Christmas, when she returned home to Italy, she began filming the documentary with Chebac Romeo Marian in the Umbria region, where Little Margaret was born — in the castle and in the cell in a nearby chapel, where she was banished for 13 years. Oradei says her goal is to bring Little Margaret’s story to a wider audience

The documentary, which took seven months to complete, is in Italian and English and was filmed in Italy and in the United States. Among the people Oradei interviews is Rossella Bernardini, who created a special rosary in honor of the saint, which has a centerpiece with images of the Holy Family and a daisy, which is a nickname for Margaret.

She also filmed in Castello and interviewed Msgr. Antonio Rossi, pastor of the Church of St. Dominic, where the saint’s incorrupt body lies under the altar. In the United States, she interviewed artist Paul Armesto, who painted a modern interpretation of Little Margaret, and Fr. Sullivan and members of the prayer group.

Oradei, who hopes to find a distributor for the documentary, says, “She is a saint for outcasts. 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. She is a pro-life saint — a patron saint for the unwanted.”

By Joe Pisani