I chose Margaret of Scotland for my patroness upon joining the Church as a young adult for many reasons, not the least of which was the move she made from one country to another early in life. Before explaining my choice, I must say that joining the Church overall wasn’t an easy process.
Being a veritable dinosaur, I like to remind my children that I joined before there was an internet, a Universal Catechism, wide access to EWTN, and before we really understood the gift of John Paul II, who had only recently been elected pope. Drawn by lots of reading—especially history (and, of course, God’s grace)—I wanted to be a member of this great and mystical institution that I knew to lay claim on having been born from the side of our crucified Lord. But getting “in the door,” so to speak, was like banging on a wall in search of a hidden tunnel.
The “inquiry class” I took did its best to hide the marvelous teachings I thought were there, the pre-Cana class watered down the Catholic understanding of marriage (especially concerning contraception) and the Masses I attended were informal and trendy to the point of banality. Somehow, I knew there was more.
But the last hurdle came when I was to be confirmed and I came with my chosen saint.
“We don’t do that any more,” the priest said with finality.
“Are you kidding me?” I said exasperated, as much from seeing hours of research going down the drain as from the overall disappointment.
“Look at the form,” he insisted. “There’s no room for a patron saint.”
“Then make ‘Margaret’ my middle name,” I countered. She was going to be a part of this process one way or another. And there she remained, incorporated in the name of the stubborn convert. I’ve never been sorry for the choice.
Having pored over my Butlers’ Lives of the Saints for weeks on end, I knew that saints came from all walks of life and lived myriad paths in their search for holiness. God’s grace is infinitely creative, and no circumstance was beyond redemption if one chose to live his will amidst the mundane details of daily life. There were kings and slaves, priests and poets, hermits and profligates, pious children and ne’er-do-wells—who eventually “did well” when they saw the light. The book was a marvelous window into how broad and magnificent Holy Mother Church was through the graces won by the Bridegroom.
Margaret, who was the niece of Edward the Confessor, was born a Saxon, raised in Hungary and was taken to England when her uncle died. Despite her desire to enter the religious life, she impressed Malcolm of Scotland who convinced her to marry him, and together they had seven children.
Despite the turmoil over the succession battles of various thrones in the region (which was par for the day) Margaret focused on establishing the Benedictines in Scotland and fostering their growth through the endowment of the first monasteries. She was intent on bringing the manners and customs of other royal courts to Scotland, which was somewhat primitive at the time, and she is also credited with helping to establish English-style feudalism and parliament in that isolated land.
Dedicated to prayer, acts of piety and charity for the poor, she established hostels for their care that would flourish through the royal endowment. All of this was done with the blessing of her husband, though with an independence of spirit that exemplified the best of complementary relationships. Indeed, while King Malcolm was absorbed in the affairs of state, it had been his intention from the start to choose a wife who could provide for his family—and the kingdom—a devoted wife and queen who would pray and work for the benefit of all.
I certainly couldn’t see all of this at the brink of marriage myself. It was a more romantic detail that caught my eye and clinched my decision: she died four days after her husband’s own death in battle—some say an illness, others a broken heart. As I prepared to tie the knot with a young man in the military, I thought this was a crowning element that was in keeping with young love. If two ardent souls are to be bound in marriage, who could endure such a death? Wasn’t that nice of God to collect them each to his bosom in such quick succession?
That was over a quarter century ago. My husband survived his military years intact, we have our own family and mission, and who knows how it will end? Yet, I still cherish dear Margaret, who is a model of motherhood and wifely companionship, and honor her mission to civilize her little corner of the globe. I have no kingdom, no anguish over succession, no rivalries concerning political authority, but I do insist on a certain standard for manners, have spent years incorporating feasts and fasts into our family culture, and love the order of monastic life that is an excellent counter-point to the spontaneity of a large family. I’ve never regretted choosing this motherly queen, and beg for her intercession for families everywhere, so that they may build up the domestic churches on which our faith depends. Saint Margaret, pray for us!