A Saint For Our Time
St. Margaret of Cortona
1247 – 1297
Feast day: May 16
Like many of the poor in our region, she was an unwed and abandoned single mother. Her story of conversion was provided by Andrea Wilson with web resources.
St. Margaret of Cortona was born in 1247 in Laviano, Italy, a small farming village. When she was seven, her mother died. Two years later, her father remarried a woman who had little care for Margaret. Under her stepmother’s constant criticism and her father’s neglect, Margaret at seventeen ran off with a nobleman’s son to Monteculpiano, where they lived together for nine years. Margaret often begged her lover to marry her, especially after she bore him a son. He never did keep his promise to wed her.
One day, Margaret’s lover left to check his property. When he did not return that evening, she became very worried. After a couple of days, her lover’s favorite dog returned to the castle without him. Pulling at her dress and barking, the dog persuaded Margaret to follow it to the pile of sticks and dirt that formed her lover’s makeshift grave. He had been beaten to death and hastily buried in the woods. Upon seeing her lover’s broken body, Margaret underwent a total spiritual conversion. She blamed herself for his death, and immediately set out to do public penance for her sins.
Margaret returned all the gifts her lover had given her to his family, took her little son, and returned to her father’s house in Laviano. She threw herself at her father’s feet, weeping and begging for his forgiveness. But, at the urgings of his wife, Margaret’s father refused to allow her to return to his house, and he cast her off.
Lost and abandoned, Margaret wandered about Laviano trying to figure out what to do for her and her little son. After a while, she heard an inner voice urging her to go to Cortona to seek refuge. So, Margaret and her son walked to long way to Cortona, meeting two sisters who welcomed them and took them in. These sisters presented Margaret to the Franciscans, who finally gave her much-needed spiritual guidance. She appeared in Laviano at Mass with a rope around her neck in penance for her past scandals. Margaret was always fighting temptations to return to her old flesh-loving ways. She even wanted to disfigure her face with a knife, but her confessor, Friar Giunta, persuaded her not to do so. Even so, Margaret continued her intense self-mortifications, not eating meat, and sleeping on the ground.
After three years of intense purification, Margaret was allowed to receive the habit of a Franciscan tertiary. During this time, she tended to the poor sick, accepting only alms. The good food she begged she gave to the poor, while keeping only the broken scraps for her and her son. In 1277, while meditating in the Church of the Franciscans, she heard these words: “What is thy wish Poveralla?” and she replied “I neither seek nor wish for aught but Thee, my Lord Jesus.” From this moment on, Margaret lived in deep communion with Christ Crucified, spending more and more time in seclusion. She was favored with visions of Christ and divine communications, some of which pertained to others. She was directed to rebuke the Bishop of Arrezo for his warlike ways, but he did not listen and was ultimately killed in battle. Even while she communed deeper with Christ, Margaret still remained active and helped all who came to her. Many people returned to the Sacraments because of her direction.
Though she had progressed a long way from the sinful girl of her past, there were those gossips who did not believe Margaret could convert so completely. Rumors were spread that she and Friar Giunta were involved. These stories were so severe that Friar Giunta was sent away to Siena, and was not able to return to Cortona until Margaret was near death. In the end, the stories were proven false, and Margaret’s sanctity increased. She founded a hospital for the poor sick and instituted a group of Tertiary Sisters called Le Poverelle.
Margaret died at the day and hour revealed to her, February 22, 1297. She spent 29 years of her life in penance for the sins of her youth. Now, her body in incorrupt and preserved over the altar of the church that now bears her name in Cortona. Although the people in Cortona treated her as a saint immediately after her death, she was not officially canonized until 1728.
Today, St. Margaret of Cortona serves as inspiration for all those who feel that they are such terrible sinners that God could not possibly forgive them. Jesus said to her “I have made you a mirror for sinners. From you will the most hardened learn how willingly I am merciful to them, in order to save them. You are a ladder for sinners, that they may come to me through your example. My daughter, I have set you as a light in the darkness, as a new star that I give to the world, to bring light to the blind, to guide back again those who have lost the way, and to raise up those who are broken down under their sins. You are the way of the despairing, the voice of mercy.” How true these words are St. Margaret has guided me and continued to help me follow the path to righteousness. Without her intercession and influence, I would still be on the path to damnation.
Patron saint of:
- against insanity
- against mental illness
- against sexual temptation
- against temptations
- falsely accused people
- homeless people
- loss of parents
- mentally ill people
- penitent women
- people ridiculed for their piety
- reformed prostitutes
- single laywomen
- Franciscan Tertiaries
- Cortona, Italy, diocese of
- Patroness of the St. Margaret of Cortona Region of the Secular Franciscan Order: Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia
Prayer to St. Margaret of Cortona by Saint John Paul II
O Saint Margaret of Cortona, I too come today as a pilgrim and I pause to pray with you at the feet of the image of Christ Crucified and Risen, whom, as a penitent, you contemplated at length. Lord Jesus, crucified for us, in offering yourself on Calvary for all humanity, you have revealed to us the wellsprings of everlasting life. May the mystery of your Passion enlighten our life making us ready to follow you on the way of holiness and love. Rekindle our faith; teach us to recognize and welcome in our everyday life the plans of your mysterious Providence. Give us the courage to confess our sins and open our hearts to sorrow, in order to receive the gift of your mercy. Empower us to forgive our brethren following the example of your love that knows no bounds. Help us to be humbly disposed to repair the harm we have done by actively and generously serving the poor, the sick, and all who are marginalized and without hope. Give everyone the joy of persevering faithfully, in full harmony with the Church, along the way of the particular calling. Above all others, show the young the splendid plan of love that you intend to bring about for them and with them at the threshold of the new millennium. Enable us to be peacemakers, tenacious weavers of daily relationships of fraternal solidarity, artisans of reconciliation, witnesses and apostles of the civilization of love. O glorious Saint Margaret of Cortona, present this request to your Crucified Lord and ours. Guide us with the strength of your example, support us with your constant protection, be our companion we beg you, till we reach our Father’s house. Amen. – Pope John Paul II, 1999