Eva Lee Matthews vs. Margaret of Castello

"Get thee to a nunnery!" could be the theme of today's matchup between Eva Lee Matthews of the Community of the Transfiguration and Margaret of Castello of the Dominican Sisters. These faithful women meet in this sure-to-be hotly contested Saintly Sixteen battle.

Yesterday, in a serious rout, Brother Lawrence soundly defeated Margery Kempe 81% to 19% (insert joke about weeping and gnashing of teeth. Brother Lawrence becomes the third saint to reach the Elate Eight, joining Herman of Alaska and Joseph.

If you missed yesterday's episode of Monday Madness with Tim and Scott, you can watch it here. This historic episode includes the first-ever post-credits scene. Check it out and then go vote!

Eva Lee Matthews
Jordan B. Peterson described the Christian cross as representing the intersection in which suffering and transformation occur; not just the crossed beams on which Christ was hung. To be transfigured, means to be transformed. Jesus was transformed. Often when we look at the saints, they are transformed individuals. As the founder of the community of the Transfiguration, Mother Eva Lee Matthews knows of transformation. Eva Lee transformed from a wealthy, young debutante into a servant of God. As a servant of God, by works, deeds, action and prayer, she then transformed others who were poor, disenfranchised, and neglected. Mother Eva Lee said, “The vision of the King is his beauty is given that the light may shine through us and guide others to know, love, and glorify him.” Eva Lee knew that to be transformed and to transform others was to share the light of God. This is the sort of transformation that awaits us all when we take up God’s calling in our lives.

One of Mother Eva Lee’s contributions to the transformation of others was The Bethany Home. Mother Eva Lee said, “A home in the cool green country…such an institution is Bethany Home.” There, individuals were nurtured in their own transformation to see the light of God in themselves and those around them.

The Community of the Transfiguration continues today. The sisters continue to shine God’s light, glorify God, and guide others to God in an active realization of Mother Eva Lee’s vision. They established the Transfiguration Spirituality Center where “the Community of the Transfiguration and the world come together, enriching each other in a spirit of kindness, simplicity and joy. All are welcome, in the name of Christ, to a peaceful place apart for time to rest, reflect and pray.”

If you want to see this light, check out these real live/living saints. Their beautiful, joy-filled faces will also make you feel transformed in your day (the are ALL smiling—their joy is palpable): View here.

As you think of your own transformation this Lent, smile, and share it with others.

A collect for Eval Lee Matthews: O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us, we pray thee from an inordinate love of this world, that, inspired by the devotion of thy servant Eva Lee Matthews, we may serve thee with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. Retrieved from the Episcopal Church's website.

--Anna Fitch Courie

Margaret of Castello

Margaret of Castello was born sometime in 1287, and died on April 12, 1320. She was born blind, with severe scoliosis, and also with dwarfism. Her parents considered her condition a punishment from God, and a familial shame, and so they proclaimed her dead, and sealed her up in a back room of the castle. (Their family name means “of the castle”—her father, Parisio, kept the castle garrison in Perugia.) However, a maid snuck in to make sure she was fed, and the maid named her Margaret. The maid also snuck in the priest, who taught Margaret literacy, and her prayers.

After her parents abandoned the 13-year-old Margaret on the streets of Castello, she found a temporary home in a convent. However, Margaret was more devout than the nuns. They became jealous, and soon kicked her back on the streets, where she again got by through caring for the children of the workers, and teaching them psalms and prayers.  (As a sidenote: blind people are very able to care for children. “Watching children” is a metaphor in Margaret’s case.)

When she met some traveling Dominican friars, she demanded to be inducted into their order, and was granted admission to the third order of St. Dominic. This came in handy one night, when the house where she was staying caught fire, and the family became concerned that Margaret, alone in the attic, wouldn’t be able to evacuate in time. “Never fear” called Margaret from above, and she calmly extinguished the fire with her holy habit, saving herself and the house. She also visited the sick, attended prisoners and comforted the dying.  While at prayer, observers said she would hover several feet off the ground.

For the faithful who deal with disability in their daily life, Margaret is a special source of inspiration. Robert Orsi writes, in an article about Catholic attitudes towards suffering, that his Uncle Sal, who had cerebral palsy in the 1960s and attended mass daily, had a special fondness for Margaret. Sal tells him about his friends who were hidden away in institutions and back rooms, by families who were ashamed of them and what they represented. “‘You know what I like about [Margaret]?’ my uncle asked me at the end of the story. ‘I like it that there’s somebody up there’—he glanced heavenwards—‘like us.’ He was smiling.”

--Megan Castellan


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Image credit: http://anglicanhistory.org/women/evamary/pictures.html


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106 comments on “Eva Lee Matthews vs. Margaret of Castello”

  1. Words of Wisdom from Mother Eva Mary, C.T., aka Eva Lee Matthews

    Let us not think that life is too small to be made great.

    To envy is to shrink, to be dwarfed in all spiritual things, to cling to earth and its worms instead of soaring to the stars,

    The objective side of a Sacrament is the gift as God gives it, the subjective side is our use of the gift – what we make of it ibn the course of our daily living.

    Truthfulness is not incompatible with courtesy.

    If our salvation cost so mighty an effort and agony to Christ, shall it not cost us something also? Would we have him to it all and we nothing? Truly a sorry sort of immortality that would be!

    If in prayer we are going to stand always in our own shadow, the dull list of our own grievances, we shall not catch the reflected glory of God’s joy.

    Wherever and whatever God’s will is for me, there is my heaven.

    If we are going to be friends with God, we must sometimes let him do some of the talking; listen for his voice, strive to penetrate the thick veil of self that envelops us.

    We grow in spiritual stature by the choices our wills make from day to day.

    We want to compel the world to righteousness – God wants to love the world into righteousness.

    Love grows on what it gives.

    We are in danger whenever we begin to applaud ourselves. Praise is always dangerous and self-praise is deadly.

    Prayer should begin with praise – not with self but with God – God in his glory, in his Holiness.

    If you pray “Thy Will be done” who is there to do it but you? How could you think to pray with your lips and not in your life?

    1. Oh, I love these! Thank you, Eva! Is this a list you collected or could I find it somewhere online? (I'd like to share the list and link if possible with my Facebook friends. So much profundity!)

      The "salvation cost" quote is reminiscent of Bonhoeffer. I wonder if he ever had opportunity to read her words or if the Holy Spirit simply moved in them (and likely others) in the same way?

      I confess, I voted for Margaret (before reading any comments) because with disabilities of my own I really connect with her. But today's write up and now these quotes of Eva you've shared have endeared me more deeply to her as well.

      1. Sorry, Diana! My mind must have slipped between seeing your name and starting to type! I meant to thank YOU for the list of Eva's quotes!

    2. I voted for Eva because of you and others in the Community of the Transfiguration. I still make the prayer beads as you taught me.

    1. Thank you for all your laugh-provoking "comments"! In the midst of the 21st century plague, laughter is one great source of relief!

    2. the best one yet!! Grew up watching a&c movies ... Thank you for bringing back great memories that instantly made me smile!

  2. As a disability advocate and a person with a disability herself, I had to vote for one of our own. Margaret shows that her abilities were greater than her disabilities.

  3. Another tough choice. My parish is The Church of the Transfiguration and so, of course, my first inclination was to vote for Eva Lee Matthews. After reading Margaret's bio, I had to vote for one who was born with severe challenges but who overcame every one. There's the saying, "He (or she) ain't got sense to know he's (or she's) licked." It's a high compliment.
    All honor as well to the maid who cared for Margaret when she was locked away as a child. I'm sure that she and people like her are wearing a golden halos in heaven.

  4. Eva Lee Matthews started life from wealth and ministered to these: "...then transformed others who were poor, disenfranchised, and neglected." "...All are welcome, in the name of Christ..."
    Margaret started life being extremely challenged: "...blind, with severe scoliosis, and also with dwarfism." ...and was essentially abandoned as dead as a child. She overcame her many difficulties, cared for children, attended the sick and dying.
    Both worthy, we have to choose. I'm thinking of the scripture, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
    It's a difficult choice but my vote goes to Eva Lee Matthews.

  5. I just watched the movie 'The Greatest Entertainer'; Margaret of Castello reminded me of my favorite song from that musical, 'This is Me,' which is sung by the bearded lady and all the sideshow "freaks" in Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth. I'll share the first verse and chorus:

    I am not a stranger to the dark
    "Hideaway" they say
    "Cause we don't want your broken parts"
    I've learned to be ashamed of all my scars
    "Runaway" they say
    "No one will love you as you are"

    When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
    I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
    I am brave, I am bruised,
    I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
    Look out 'cause hear I come
    And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
    I'm not scared to be seen
    I make no apologies, this is me

    Margaret is to me a wonderful example of a person standing up for herself unafraid to be seen and share her light and her love in the world - a world and even her own family who keep trying to tell her that she is repulsive.

    1. Jim, it's interesting that the song that came to your mind is 'This Is Me!" The story of Margaret of Castello reminded me of Leonard Cohen's great song 'Anthem', and the refrain thereof:
      "Ring the bells that still can ring.
      Forget your perfect offering.
      There is a crack, a crack in everything,
      That's how the light gets in."

    2. OK, Jim and Rene, I was going to vote for Eva Lee (especially after looking at the photos of the current sisters) but your references to songs about persistence in the face of great odds have changed my mind, especially "There is a crack, a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."
      Hooray for Margaret! (Which just happens to be my sister's name.)

  6. Thamks for the link to the Community of Transfiguration website. Love those smiling nuns and Patches the dog, especially! It's good to see Eva Lee's legacy lives on and brings such joy to her followers. But I had to vote for Margaret as one who rose above so much hardship and apparently with such a positive spirit as well. Especially loved the story about the fire and her call, "Never fear".

  7. Sister Eva’s bio had very little real information: no dates, places, etc. making it difficult to evaluate her accomplishments in context. This is the first time I have noticed this.

    1. All that stuff appeared in the earlier contest she won. Check it out in the archive on the right hand side of the screen on the website.

    2. The Saintly Sixteen wrote-ups aren’t bios; they are quirks and quotes. For the biography you need to look back at the original write-ups in the round of 32 saints.

    3. Exactly! I reread it trying to figure out where Mother Eva was from and where her community is.....

      1. Hi Lynn, Mother Eva was from Glendale, Ohio, now part of greater Cincinnati. We are still here.
        Sr. Diana, C.T.

        1. Oh is that your picture on the web site? So wonderful now to put a face to your name & posts

  8. Aging having three grandchildren with ‘special needs’ you know who I voted for!
    Those with ‘special needs’ are especially ‘special’ with our Lord and Saviour, HE always seems to send the meek and mild to do HIS work!
    On a side, note. Please everyone out there practice social distancing at least 6 feet apart and no more than 4 together at any time! We will get thru this together, if we stay the course!

  9. A great way to start the morning? Here, Down under in Australia I wait till almost midnight to get my vote in. I can't go to sleep if I haven't done it,in case my day gets busy quickly and I miss the vote. I live in a Dominican parish, so Margaret for me!

  10. I'm torn. For me the vote is one of affirming the right of people to be seen, not to be locked away, versus one of embodying a life of charity in community. I chose community. I voted for Mother Eva. I myself would not try to put out a fire with a cloth habit; I would instead stop, drop, and roll wearing it. I doubt very much I hover while I pray; my matins are definitely poor affairs of me sitting bleary eyed with coffee making my way through morning prayer in the New Zealand book of common prayer. I often look for shorter rather than longer psalms. But I imagine the sisters perform the daily office with much love; way to go, Ohio.

  11. Had to vote for Eva Lee Matthews! I am currently reading a book loaned to me by the convent that is written about her life, her initial calling, and her work. Honestly, this woman followed Him closely. Also, my family was fortunate enough to welcome some of the children from the Bethany Home YEARS ago at Thanksgiving time...what a joy and privilege!

  12. The gift of my daughter with disabilities has transfigured my faith. She has changed my life in so many ways, but the most powerful has been seeing the purity of God’s love and light in her. It’s a vote for Margaret for me today!

  13. Agonizing decision, but I had to go with Eva. This is a time for the corporal works of mercy in abundance for those in need.

    1. Agree. Today's Forward Day by Day (executively directed by someone near and dear to us in this community) is dedicated to Oscar Romero. Romero spoke of the need to advocate for the poor from within the framework of the church. The church speaks collectively with a powerful voice, both aloud in advocacy and silently in prayer.

  14. I’m the Godly Play leader at our church and have always done children’s education—both in the church and outside. I feel such affinity with Margaret and the important work of caring for the little ones. I do wonder what it would be like to live in a little community like Eva Lee’s, but I vote for Margaret.

  15. As a founder of Bethany Mission
    Mother Eva sought no-one’s permission.
    Blending service and prayer
    Proved a powerful pair:
    To support her today’s my ambition.

  16. The photos of the Sisters and the community they nurture are wonderful, thank you for that link Anna Fitch. My vote is for Eva Lee.

  17. My friend Joe has CP and we grew up together from 3d grade on. He taught me to treat those with physical disabilities as PEOPLE with disabilities. My life is richer for this subtle teaching to this day. As adults we still maintain that relationship. I wouldn't have had the blind magician in my life, a deaf cheerleader from Gaulledet Univ., or as fully appreciated my brother in law who became a dentist practicing with one hand after an accident. -

  18. I still don't understand how Margaret could be taught "literacy" and teach children how to read when she is blind. they did not have Braille yet. My vote is however for she who knew the pain of rejection and neglect, and through grace rose above it to share her gifts and service with others.

    1. Remember my blind colleague who taught music in a public school--including teaching children to read music!

  19. I went to the Transfiguration website and thought the nuns looked moderately happy. I didn't get 'palpable joy.' I don't know, maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I've been watching too many episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and picking up a Larry David vibe. Voted for Margaret.

  20. It is probably too late for this, but people seeking insight into Eva's biography and personality should definitely check out the link from the Bethany site that Diana posted above, a biography/memoir written by her sister. She was, I think, a remarkable (and highly intelligent and empathetic) woman. Even a cursory reading shows that she (and her sister) too are fascinating people. http://anglicanhistory.org/women/evamary/

  21. I became totally disabled after an accident and was unable to sit--my only positions were lying down or standing. I refused to go hide in the dark and instead went out to parties and restaurants where I stood (and ate spaghetti) and enjoyed friends. When the pain got to be too much I often would just lie down on the floor for a time (not in the restaurant, though) My mother was so embarrassed by me and my refusal to "go quietly" . Margaret all the way!

  22. Voted for Eva although she seems to be losing. "Hovering" always is a bit off putting to me but I admire all Margaret overcame and accomplished.