Saint of the Day – 16 May – Saint Margaret of Cortona TOSF (1247-1297) “The Mary Magdalene of the Franciscan Order,” Third Order Franciscan, Penitent, Mystic, Founder of a Third Order Franciscan Apostalate the “Le Poverelle” (Italian for “The Little Poor Ones”) who worked in the Hospital for the homeless, the sick and the poor that St Margaret had founded – born in 1247 at Laviano, near Perugia, Italy and died on 22 February 1297 (aged 49–50) at Cortona, Italy. Patronages -against temptations, falsely accused people, homeless people, insanity, loss of parents, mental illness, mentally ill people, midwives, penitent women, single mothers, people ridiculed for their piety, reformed prostitutes, sexual temptation, single laywomen, third children. Her body is incorrupt.
Margaret was born of farming parents, in Laviano, a little town in the diocese of Chiusi. At the age of seven, Margaret’s mother died and her father remarried. Sadly, the Stepmother and stepdaughter did not like each other. As she grew older, Margaret became more wilful and reckless and her reputation in the town suffered. At the age of 17 she met a young man, according to some accounts, the son of Gugliemo di Pecora, lord of Valiano and she ran away with him. Soon Margaret found herself installed in the castle, not as her master’s wife, for convention would never allow that but, as his mistress, which was more easily condoned. For ten years, she lived with him near Montepulciano and bore him a son.
When her lover failed to return home from a journey one day, Margaret became concerned. The unaccompanied return of his favourite hound alarmed Margaret. The hound led her into the forest to his murdered body. That crime shocked Margaret deeply, she began to be burdened with a great sorrow for the life of sin which she had accompanied him into and for the final destination of his soul. She resolved to enter into a life of prayer and penance. Margaret returned to his family all the gifts he had given her and left his home. With her child, she returned to her father’s house but her stepmother would not have her. Margaret and her son then went to the Franciscan Friars at Cortona, where her son eventually became a friar. She fasted, avoided meat, and subsisted on bread and vegetables.
In 1277, after three years of probation, Margaret joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and chose to live in poverty. Following the example of St Francis of Assisi, she begged for sustenance and bread. She pursued a life of prayer and penance at Cortona and there established a hospital for the sick, homeless and impoverished. To secure nurses for the hospital, she instituted a congregation of Tertiary Sisters, known as “Le Poverelle” (Italian for “The Little Poor Ones”).
While in prayer, Margaret recounted hearing the words, “What is your wish, poverella?” (“little poor one?”), and she replied, “I neither seek nor wish for anything but You, my Lord Jesus.” She also established an order devoted to Our Lady of Mercy and the members bound themselves to support the hospital and to help the needy.
On several occasions, Margaret participated in public affairs. Twice, claiming divine command, she challenged the Bishop of Arezzo, Guglielmo Ubertini Pazzi, in whose diocese Cortona lay, because he lived and warred like a prince. She moved to the ruined church of Basil of Caesarea, now Santa Margherita and spent her remaining years there; she died on 22 February 1297.
After her death, the Church of Santa Margherita in Cortona was rebuilt in her honour. Her incorrupt body is preserved in a silver casket inside the church. Hundreds of reports of miracles, both physical and spiritual, are still reported by those who come here to venerate her. Margaret was Canonised by Pope Benedict XIII on 16 May 1728.