2011 was a hard year for Marilyn Pinkerton of San Marino, Calif. The 57-year-old’s baby grandson, Nicholas, was diagnosed with nail-patella syndrome (NPS), a rare genetic disorder that adversely affects the nails and kneecaps and sometimes other parts of the body.
Prominent among Nicholas’ symptoms was that he had no kneecaps. Therefore, doctors wondered if he would ever be able to walk.
Near Pinkerton’s home was the Motherhouse of the Carmelite Sisters of Alhambra, a traditional community whose apostolates in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles include health care and retreats. The sisters suggested she pray for the boy’s healing to Blessed Margaret of Castello, an Italian virgin born in 1287 who herself suffered from severe disabilities.
Although she was not Catholic, Pinkerton followed the sisters’ suggestion. Every day she attended Mass with the sisters in their beautiful retreat chapel, pleading with God, the Blessed Mother and Blessed Margaret: "Please, help him to grow. Please help him."
Nicholas was undergoing constant therapy for other NPS-related symptoms (e.g., his arms were bent at the elbows so that his hands were flat against his shoulders). Marilyn was delighted to discover that, "while I kept praying and praying, he got better and better."
But the most impressive change occurred a year after Marilyn began her devotion to Blessed Margaret. Last March, the doctors were again examining Nicholas, and, for the first time, they discovered he had kneecaps. He is now able to walk and run like other typically developing children his age.
As Pinkerton said, "Nicholas is our miracle baby. He has defied the odds of everything they thought he’d be able to do."
Nicholas’ grandma is grateful not only to God, but to Blessed Margaret, and she continues her devotion to her: "She had so many handicaps, but through it all had great faith. I pray I can have that great faith, too."
At Easter 2012, Pinkerton, her husband and daughter (Nicholas’ mother) all entered the Catholic Church. The family has found great joy in their new faith. As the thankful grandmother said, "It’s given me so much strength."
Blessed Margaret of Castello was born into a well-to-do family near Florence, Italy. To the great distress of her parents, upon her birth, they discovered that she suffered from a variety of severe physical ailments. She was a dwarf, had a curved spine that left her hunched over, was lame to the point that she could barely walk and blind.
Her family was embarrassed by her and kept her hidden away for many years. As young as age 6, she was walled up in a room beside a chapel. Fortunately, the family’s chaplain taught her about God.
Seeking a miracle, her parents took her to a Franciscan shrine. They didn’t receive one, so they abandoned her. Some in the community took pity on her and provided for her needs. Margaret became a member of the Dominican Third Order of Castello, developed a deep prayer life and devoted the remainder of her 33-year life to penance and acts of charity.
Many cures have since been attributed to her intercession. She was declared "Blessed" in 1609. Her incorrupt body lies under the main altar of St. Dominic Church in Castello. She has become a patron for people with handicaps and pro-life groups.
In the United States, there is a Blessed Margaret Shrine at St. Patrick Church in Columbus, Ohio. The parish was originally established in the 19th century to serve Irish immigrants. The parish is operated by the Dominican Fathers, and, due to their influence, devotion to Blessed Margaret began there 80 years ago.
The shrine itself was established in the 1950s, and today it is a separate chapel attached to the main church. Its chief features include a statue of Blessed Margaret, which has a reliquary containing a quarter-size piece of her incorrupt heart. It’s not a well-known shrine, but it still draws a handful of visitors each week. On Wednesdays in the church, there are special devotions to Blessed Margaret.
Dominican Father Michael Dosch, pastor of St. Patrick’s, oversees the shrine. "Every week I get contacted by people who say they’ve experienced a miracle through her intercession." Those contacting him include Pinkerton, who shared with him the story of her grandson.
Blessed Margaret is on the road to canonization, but an approved miracle attributed to her intercession is needed before she can be declared a saint, Father Dosch said. He shared Pinkerton’s story with the Dominican father in Rome postulating Blessed Margaret’s cause, but since the Carmelite sisters were praying to their own founder for the boy as well, it might not be the miracle needed.
Father Dosch noted that many Columbus-area clergy are devoted to Blessed Margaret. These include Father Stash Dailey, a young priest serving at Immaculate Conception parish in Kenton, Ohio. Father Dailey grew up in St. Patrick Church and remembers attending Wednesday devotions to Blessed Margaret. Whenever he makes a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at St. Patrick’s, he stops by Blessed Margaret’s shrine to offer some prayers to her. He refers to her as "Little Margaret."
As he said, "Little Margaret was forgotten by everyone who should have kept her close to them. But with all her physical defects, her love for the Lord was paramount."
Father Dailey attributes his surviving an accident to Little Margaret and the Blessed Mother. Six years ago, he and a fellow seminarian were driving home to Columbus for the Thanksgiving holiday when their car became disabled. They had exited the vehicle and were standing beside it when a large truck struck them both. His friend died upon impact; he was severely injured and spent months in the hospital. The St. Patrick’s community prayed to Little Margaret for his recovery.
As the priest recalled, "It’s a miracle that I survived and a miracle that I went on to holy orders. Some people recommended I not go on in seminary due to my injuries."
Today, although he sometimes experiences back pain, Father Dailey is able to walk and perform his duties as a priest. He regularly offers his thanks to Little Margaret for her assistance: "It’s a strange coincidence that she was so unwanted by her family yet is such a powerful intercessor."
Father Dailey recalled many other instances of miraculous cures. A baby boy in the community, for example, was born blind due to a birth defect. The parish prayed to Blessed Margaret, and "he was granted a miracle; he was able to see." Today, the boy is in high school and still sees normally.
Father Dailey also sees Blessed Margaret as an ideal role model for the pro-life movement: "Today, if a pregnant woman were to discover she was carrying a baby with Little Margaret’s disabilities, many doctors would recommend killing the child.
"Little Margaret was a woman despised and rejected by the popular society of her time. The irony is that she achieved sanctity and became a role model for us all. We who are devoted to her hope she will become better known and eagerly await the day she is canonized."
Jim Graves writes from
Newport Beach, California.