The Catholic Defender: Saint Margaret of Cortona
Saint of the Day 16 May: Margaret of Cortona, penitent, was born in Loviana in Tuscany in 1247.
Margaret was born of farming parents in Laviano, Tuscany. Her mother died when Margaret was seven; life with her stepmother was so difficult that Margaret moved out. For nine years she lived with Arsenio, though they were not married, and she bore him a son. In those years, she had doubts about her situation. Somewhat like Saint Augustine, she prayed for purity—but not just yet.
One day she was waiting for Arsenio and was instead met by his dog. The animal led Margaret into the forest where she found Arsenio murdered. This crime shocked Margaret into a life of penance. She and her son returned to Laviano, where she was not well received by her stepmother. They then went to Cortona, where her son eventually became a friar.
In 1277, three years after her conversion, Margaret became a Franciscan tertiary. Under the direction of her confessor, who sometimes had to order her to moderate her self-denial, she pursued a life of prayer and penance at Cortona. There she established a hospital and founded a congregation of tertiary sisters.
Saint Margaret of Cortona was possessed of rare beauty, and ere long this became a snare for her. For the space of 9 years she gave herself up to a life of sin and scandal. Then one day she waited a long time in vain for her accomplice in sin to return home to the place where she lived with him.
Presently his dog came to her whining and tugging at her dress. She followed the animal into the heart of the forest, and there she suddenly stood before the blood stained corpse of the unfortunate man; his enemies had murdered him.
At the appalling sight, Margaret of Cortona was stunned like one struck by lightning. Filled with terror she asked herself, "Where is his soul now?" Then and there she firmly resolved in future to be even greater in penance than she had been in sin. Like the prodigal son she returned repentant to her native town of Laviano.
Margaret began to preach repentance. Her efforts were rewarded, and her fame spread. Conversions through her preaching were many, and people came from all over Italy, Spain, and France. Miracles of healing also occurred through her. Even the people of Cortona, who had distrusted her, were won over.
She died on February 22, 1297 at the age of 50. She was publically proclaimed a saint on the day of her death, and the people of Cortona built a church in her honor. Maragaret was not canonized until 1728 by Pope Benedict XIII. Her feast day is celebrated on February 22.
The poor and humble Margaret was, like Francis, devoted to the Eucharist and to the passion of Jesus. These devotions fueled her great charity and drew sinners to her for advice and inspiration. She was canonized in 1728. St. Margaret of Cortona’s liturgical feast is celebrated on February 22.
As a young woman, Margaret had made a bad decision, but she turned her life around, found a stable home for her child, found a career for herself, and found spiritual and emotional comfort from the Franciscans of Cortona. For these reasons, she is a good role model for single mothers. St. Margaret of Cortona is the patron saint for women raising children alone, and invoked against sexual temptation.
Margaret was an incredibly pious, one of her most significant achievements was to establish a crossing point on the Firth of Forth for pilgrims on their way to St Andrew's Cathedral. Boats worked the “Queen's Ferry” from the 11th century all the way through to 1964, when the Forth Road Bridge was opened.
After her death, the Church of Santa Margherita in Cortona was rebuilt in her honor. Her body, found to be incorrupt even after 400 years, is preserved in a silver casket inside the church. Margaret was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 16 May 1728.
Seeking forgiveness is sometimes difficult work. It is made easier by meeting people who, without trivializing our sins, assure us that God rejoices over our repentance. Being forgiven lifts a weight and prompts us to acts of charity.
She is the patron saint of the falsely accused, hoboes, homeless, insane, orphaned, mentally ill, midwives, penitents, single mothers, reformed prostitutes, stepchildren, and tramps.