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


[poll id="289"]


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


* indicates required

Recent Posts



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

  1. I was blessed to have had a father who, having the same visual disability as I, taught me that I was a normal person who did not see very well, not a "HANDICAPPED PERSON". When I was in seminary, in a time when I was in danger of succumbing to fear, I asked God how I could possibly serve as a pastor when I couldn't see well. The answer came immediately: "Don't be afraid, you will see what you need to see." It's one of the few times in my life when I received an answer to prayer so definitely and immediately. And that promise has been fulfilled, even in retirement. I vote for Margaret.

  2. I have struggled all my life with large hearing loss due to a childhood case of measles. Early on, when I said I couldn't hear, I was told by a family member "well, just don't tell anyone." When I finally got the courage to tell people my life, my career and my relationships improved dramatically. Go, Margaret!

  3. Well that was surprising, I cast my vote for Margaret, expecting the more recent (and so in some eyes, more verifiable) saint to be ahead. Both are no doubt worthy, but my vote was swayed today by Margaret's enforced social isolation in her early years, and the faith that enabled her to overcome such significant disadvantage to reach out to others and care for them.

  4. Another difficult decision today. As an associate of the Sisters of St. john the Divine, a Canadian order of Anglican Nuns, I was very drawn to Eva Lee Matthews, but the story of Margaret is also very compelling. In reflection on these two worthy women, it occurred to me that two of the most Christ-like and Christ-filled people I know have cerebral palsy. One of them I have known since he was a boy, the other is a young man whom I met when we were members of the same EfM group. Both are shining examples of Christian love and compassion, and neither of them have ever let their physical limitations get in the way of their ministry to others. They are, if you like, my personal experience of Uncle Sal. I give thanks to God for putting them in my life. In their honour, I voted for Margaret of Castello today.

  5. This is hard! Could we not be able to vote twice once in a while. Results might be the same as cancel each other, but my heart would feel better. Those smiling faces and Patches. Margaret, such a dear soul. Well, my name being Margaret Elizabeth... (I have not voted for a Margaret before and I may have only voted for 1/4 Elizabeths) did not influence me. I did vote for M.

  6. To all of you who have experienced something of what Margaret did (perhaps excluding hovering) and overcome, bravo! No one, no one! should have to hide their light under a bushel. Eva Lee, you’re lovely, but in honor of all the children I’ve worked with, disabled and otherwise, it’s Margaret for me.

  7. It takes great courage to walk away from a privileged life, and Eva Lee Matthews did so right at the height of the Gilded Age. Especially in light of last year’s Golden Halo and the back-and-forths on Lent Madness between active and contemplative lives, I’m delighted that she and Beatrice Henderson called the home they founded Bethany House to recognize the value of the ways of both Martha and Mary, active and contemplative, service and prayer Thank you, Diana, for sharing her words. Wise, straightforward, good-natured, and often gently witty. “Truthfulness is not incompatible with courtesy.” It’s “not incompatible” that’s the zinger. I’m glad to have met her through Lent Madness and I bet I would have liked her a lot.

    That said – I’ve got to vote for Margaret. What a person! So much horror in her life and yet she was determined, brave, and cheerful throughout. Amazing, and yet someone from whom anyone can draw inspiration for daily life.

    Although the reports of Margaret hovering above the ground during prayer are most likely the exaggerations that accrue to people of recognized holiness during and after their lives, there’s nothing else that even remotely strains the boundaries of credibility. I'd love to know the primary sources from which we know her story.

    Speaking of stories, somebody needs to write a historical novel about Margaret!

  8. Thank you, everyone for this community! Diana, the Eva quotes you provided greeted me right after I voted, and since Eva was my choice, I was delighted.

  9. What a hard choice today! Both are deserving so I decided to read the comments before deciding. I was swayed by the great website of the smiling sisters and beautiful retreat center but am choosing to vote for those who overcome disabilities in honor of my son. Have a blessed day everyone.

  10. Both worthy, and I know who will win, but the smiling faces on the Community of Transfiguration’s website told me all I needed to know after reading the write-ups today. Eva Matthews, a breath of fresh air.

  11. My take away from today is neither of these women would have cared about which one of them got the most votes. They were too busy to doing their Father's work. Really appreciated their stories today. Confined at home with most of the country I have to think of new ways to be about my Father's work.

  12. My late wife’s and my love affair with Italy began with a stay in the restored house of an American friend. It was looked after by a devoted though poor and ignorant couple. Their daughter, who would have been in her twenties or thirties, had been born with scoliosis, and out of shame they kept her indoors. She wasn’t even allowed to cross the street to the shop in their little village. Our friend, who was a physician, pleaded with them to be seen and treated at the nearby teaching hospital, but they refused.

    I only glimpsed her once when I came to their front door for something, but her distant, shadowy face remains in my mind like an old photograph. It literally put a face onto Margaret for me, and my vote goes to her in honor of all the faceless who, even up to the present day, have been literally or figuratively shut away out of ignorance.

    1. Oh my, Davis, that you would see a Margaret in our lifetime—! And in Italy! That is heartbreaking.

  13. For many years the congregation where I had the privilege to serve as pastor had a congregation composed primarily of people living with all type of disabling conditions. I have never experienced such joy and community and caring as in this congregation. I recall one time one of members named Dorothy told me how she was kept in a back room of her family's home and only came out when they were sure no one else was around. It was her face I saw and her story I heard as I read this morning. I had to vote for Margaret, just as I did the first round. A blessed life.

  14. Three quiet cheers for Eva. It's good to know there are places, including Bethany House, to find refuge in this alarming world.

    1. LA, I chose the quotations from a collection we have here. You are certainly welcome to copy them for you own use.
      Sr. Diana, C.T.

    2. It does-“Megan” means “pearl” in Welsh, I think and my last name denotes the person who cares for the castle. My family hails from the Italian-speaking parts of Dalmatia—right across the Adriatic from where Margaret was, so who knows? Maybe we are distantly related! Though I had never heard of her until this year.

  15. Jordan B Peterson? Is there another, less inflammatory Jordan B Peterson that I don't know about? My vote would have gone for Margaret on her own merits anyway, but opening with a quote by that Questionable Opinionator did Eva no favors in my eyes. An especially curious choice given that Eva herself apparently said many wise and quotable things (which I only know about because of the comments).

  16. While both saints have compelling biographies, I voted for Mother Eva. A was at Bethany Home as a young child. We met at Margaret Hall a small Episcopal boarding school in Versailles KY run by Sister Rachel Hosmer, of the Order of St. Helena. I knew of the good works at Betheny Home and voted for Eva.

    1. A close friend of mine was in that order for several years before realizing that she was not called to that life. Her name is Deanna Bowling, and I can't remember her nun's name, though it may have been some form of Johann. She was at Versailles for some time. Eventually she left the order, married, and has lived an interesting and musical life ever since. I was wondering if you had known her?

    1. I am a lifelong Methodist, and have been part of this community for years also. I really didn't think there were such limitations on it at all.

      1. No limitations re: denomination or faith tradition. What a nasty thought that earlier comment was.

    2. Lent Madness, like Lent, and the saints we study, is for everyone.

      Although I wonder if our friends in the Orthodox churches feel a little cheated, because Lent Madness conforming to the Western calendar means that the fun is all over before the Orthodox start in on Holy Week.

      1. If Lent is good, then a Lent that was twice as long would be extra good! If I were Orthodox, I'd be totally down for 2 x Lent! But I would want an extended Easter as well . . .

    3. We are a big tent, and "via media" means "big honking highway to heaven" in Latin. All pilgrims are welcome, and all share in our triumphal entry into Canterbury. We have secured a special band for our Easter party. You might have heard of it; it's Dé-Pécher Mode.

  17. This is really hard. I worked with children with disabilities for many years, and I empathize hugely with their families and lifelong obligations involved. I have also fought for better community access for those with disabilities, especially in public bathrooms. But ... what we need right now, right here, is the beauty and hope that love provides. The radiant faces of the nuns brought me solace today. Mother Eva Lee gets my vote.

  18. As an (Anglican) Dominican, and as a pediatrician with a special interest in children with special needs/handicaps/developmental disorders, I'll vote for Margaret.

  19. I lean towards Eva and voted for her in round #1. However...I will vote for Margaret today in honor of my wife of 45 years. She has a Master’s in “Orientation & Mobility” and worked for many years in Special Ed focusing on blind youth and adults teaching them how to travel. When I first knew her she took me on a visit to a woman who was blind, deaf and mute. She lived alone and could go to. Ammazza!

  20. Apologies to the saintly and worthy Eva Lee, but I voted for Margaret, who seems to have had not only disabilities but also superpowers.