Susan Klemond is a freelance writer living in St. Paul, Minn., who writes news and feature articles for the Register, OSV Newsweekly and the Catholic Spirit, the diocesan paper for St. Paul-Minneapolis. She also has worked in marketing, editing and magazine production. She thinks about St. Peter’s exhortation to ‘always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.’ While some days it’s probably better that no one asks, she keeps working on it.
It’s likely that St. Margaret Clitherow would understand Catholics’ feelings at not being able to see their priests or receive the sacraments because of COVID-19-related restrictions.
She harbored and aided priests as a recusant Catholic during the English Reformation in the 16th century, but there were times when it was hard for her to find a priest during the country’s persecution of Catholics.
St. Margaret, who was martyred for her faith on March 25, 1586, believed the way to please God was to humbly submit herself to the advice and direction of his priests, according to Father John Mush, her confessor and biographer. Even when priests were scarce, she had strong confidence that God would provide them when she most needed their direction.
On St. Margaret’s March 26 feast day thousands of women in the United States and other countries who share the saint’s love of the priesthood have dedicated the day to fasting for the strengthening and sanctity of all priests. Planned before the coronavirus outbreak, the fast seems especially timely as priests and bishops seek ways to minister to their congregations, many of whom temporarily can’t attend Mass or receive other sacraments.
Seven Sisters Apostolate is made up of about 1,490 groups of seven women who each pray a weekly Eucharistic holy hour for a priest or bishop located at one of more than 1,350 parishes, chanceries, seminaries, hospitals and other locations around the world.
Group members each pray for a specific priest or bishop — their pastor, associate pastor, bishop or other priest — on different days of the week, so the priest or bishop receives prayer each day of the week.
Formed in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis in 2011, the apostolate is seeking approval from the Catholic Church as a Private Association of the Christian Faithful.
During the coronavirus crisis when most Catholics have limited or no access to Eucharistic adoration, Seven Sisters adorers are encouraged to pray for their priest or bishop at home.
While praying their holy hour, Seven Sisters members invoke the intercession of St. Margaret Clitherow, along with the Blessed Mother in the Madonna of the Grapes and St. John Vianney.
St. Margaret also fasted while maintaining the good humor she was known for. She was born in York, England, in about 1556. She married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and a treasurer of the city in 1571. Three years later she learned about Catholicism and converted, though her husband remained in the Established Church.
During more than 12 years, she fervently practiced the faith and harbored priests in her home, sometimes two or three at a time. She suffered for her faith and spent periods in prison, where she learned to read.
St. Margaret’s charity so inflamed her that it overruled her worldly fears and natural inclinations, as Father Mush wrote:
To serve God she neither feared the world, neither the flesh, nor the devil, neither yet all the cruelty that hell gates, heretics or other creatures could work against her, and therefore in all her actions it evidently appeared that she loved Him whom continually she served, and joyfully served Him whom she loved above all things, and that her industry to keep earnestly in her heart this true and chaste love of God, far surpassed the diligence of any other foolish lovers in seeking to give and accomplish inordinate desires.
St. Margaret was arrested on March 10, 1586, and was sentenced to be crushed to death for harboring and maintaining priests.
On March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, known as Lady Day in England — and also Good Friday that year — she was martyred with her arms tied straight out in cruciform under a door loaded with weights.
Urged to confess her crimes before her death, St. Margaret said, “No, no, Mr. Sheriff, I die for the love of my Lord Jesu.”
Catholics who are inspired by St. Margaret’s deep love for Christ and his Church, Catholics and want to support the clergy and hierarchy during this difficult time can join members of the Seven Sisters Apostolate on her March 26 feast day, as they fast for the strengthening and sanctity of priests.