ScomaNii is soon to have its own parliament which will recognise its distinct identity within the United Kingdom. Most Scots will welcome this, as will a good number of Sassenachs, myself included. For this small nation has made an immense contribution to British annals over the centuries with doctors, engineers and statesmen, including an abundance of Westminster Prime Ministers, among them James Ramsay Macdonald, Alec Douglas Home and Tony Blair,
In the Christian Church too there have been some remarkable Scottish saints such as Ninian, the bishop missionary of Whitehom and Galloway who preached the Gospel some 100 years before the arrival of St Columba, and John Ogilvie (15801615), the Jesuit priest and martyr who was the last Scot to be cannonised in 1976.
Yet, surprisingly, no Scottish-born woman has ever been included in the calendar of saints. I am aware of the immense contribution that St Margaret, Queen of Scotland (1046-93) has made to the Scottish Church, but she was born in Hungary.
This situation may change come the year 2000 and the woman who could break the mould is also named Margaret, though a more contrasting lifestyle to that of the Scottish Queen could not be imagined.
Margaret Sinclair, the centenary of whose birth will fall on March 29, 2000, was born in the slums of Edinburgh, one of nine children of Andrew and Elizabeth Sinclair. They attended Mass regularly at St Patrick's Church in Cowgate, part of the old city where a former parish priest named Canon Edward Hannan had founded the famous Hibernian Football Club to raise money for the poor, mostly Irish. Margaret was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at the parish school before leaving at 14 to become an apprentice French polisher in McVitie's biscuit factory, polishing the biscuit boxes.
She enjoyed life and her favourite pastime was to go window-shopping with her younger sister Bella in Prince's Street, knowing that she could never afford any of the clothes on display, g but imagining what it would be like to wear them.
Margaret was quite devout and spent much time before the Blessed Sacrament after morn ing Mass.
She also enjoyed dancing and for a short time was engaged to be married. But the call to a spiritual life was growing stronger and after talking it over with her mother and parish priest she decided to end the engagement and become a Poor Clare Colettine.
There was a place for her as choir nun in the order's Edinburgh monastery, but Margaret considered herself lacking in education and instead opted for Notting Hill in London where she became an extern. The year was 1923 and that part of the capital was somewhat up-market, which posed problems for the girl from Cowgate whose doorstep appeals for money and food to keep her sisters going often failed because they couldn't
understand what she was saying.
She wrote home regularly explaining how difficult life was becoming, but she offered up all her setbacks to God.
On February I lth 1924, she received the habit as an extern sister with the name Mary Francis of the Five Wounds, and the following year on February 14, St Valentine's Day, she made her religious profession which she described as 'a heavenly experience'.
Within a few months it was all to change. Margaret contracted tuberculosis of the throat, a killer disease before the discovery of penicillin, and was sent to Warley Sanatorium in Essex to be cared for by the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. She felt more alone than ever and cried all the way to Warley in the ambulance. The date was April 9, 1925. The next eight months were to bring her closer to God and put her in direct line to sainthood. For this frail, shy and rather insignificant young nun was to bring inspiration to Watley Sanatorium. Her fortitude and cheerfulness under great pain and suffering made the Sisters of Charity compete with each other for the privilege of taking her breakfast each morning because her smile and happiness made their day. Visitors, including priests, left believing they had encountered a heavenly experience, just as Margaret had enjoyed on the day of her religious profession.
tion became so bad that she had to be moved into a private room because her constant cough ing disturbed the other patients. She was given a canary in a cage at her bedside to keep her company and it sang all day long. Margaret said it was a song from heaven. There was one incident in that long, hot summer when she gasped for breath during a coughing fit and breathed in a wasp which stung her infected throat. She told. the sister who rushed to her aid: `It's nothing, just a Wee splinter from the cross!'
She spent much time looking out of the window at the sky and one day she was heard to say: 'Great things are coming to Warley, great things! Did she anticipate her sainthood? Margaret died at the age of 25 on November 24, 1925, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London, alongside the other Poor Glares of her order.
However, on December 27, 1927, her remains were exhumed and taken to Mount Vernon Cemetery, Edinburgh, and placed in a marble tomb because her cause was about to be opened. People on both sides of the Scottish border no longer prayed for her, but to her.
On August 1, 1931 the Informative Process was introduced in Edinburgh by Archbishop McDonald and on February 3, 1942, her cause was introduced in Edinburgh by Archbishop McDonald. On February 3, 1942, her cause was introduced to the Sacred Congregation of Rites by Pope Pius XII.
Margaret then became The Servant of God. Archbishop Gray, later to become Cardinal, presided over the Apostolic Process in Edinburgh on August 15, 1952, the Feast of Our Lady's Assumption, and on February 6, 1978, Pope Paul VI, declared that she practised the Christian virtues to an heroic degree and she was given the title the Venerable Margaret Sinclair.
Now her supporters in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland and in the Diocese of Brentwood which covers Warley where she died, are praying for a miracle to complete her Beatification.
Archbishop Keith O'Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh leads an annual pilgrimage to Mount Vernon Cemetery where she is buried and Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood presides over regular Masses for her cause. The two dioceses are united in prayer.
The descendants of the Sisters of Charity who nursed her in the sanatorium are still in Warley, though nowadays they care for incurable patients at the Marillac Nursing Home.
They, too,are praying for that miracle. And the Poor Clares of her old community, now based at Arkley, Barnes, in rural Hertfordshire following the sale of the land in Notting Hill, offer many Masses and pray constantly to her. She is their spiritual inspiration.
Pope John Paul has urged her supporters to keep on praying and awaits word from Fr Stephen McGrath, OFM, the Franciscan priest based in St Patrick's Parish, Edinburgh, as Vice-Postulator, that a miracle has been recorded so that the Beatification can take place. Those who believe in Margaret Sinclair's sanctity are quite sure it will come about by the Year 2000.