Margaret Sinclair (nun)
|Margaret Anne Sinclair|
|Sister Mary Francis of the Five Wounds|
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
|Died||24 November 1925
Warley, Essex, England, United Kingdom
|Major shrine||St Patrick's Church, Edinburgh, Scotland|
Margaret Anne Sinclair was born in Middle Arthur Place, Edinburgh in a basement flat of a dilapidated tenement block, one of six children of Andrew, a dustman for Edinburgh City Corporation, and Elizabeth Sinclair. She was baptised at St Patrick's Church on 11 April. Margaret's family later moved to Blackfriars Street, overlooking St Patrick's Church. She made her First Communion at St Patrick's on 8 May 1910 and was confirmed on the same day.
She was educated at St Anne's School, Cowgate and went on to take a certificate in sewing, cooking and dress-making at the Atholl Crescent School of Cookery and Domestic Economy. She stayed off school to nurse her mother in a protracted illness, and had a spare time job scrubbing floors and running errands for a tailoress. At the same time, she worked as a messenger with a business firm in order to help support the two younger children in the family.
Both her father and her elder brother, John, were called up to fight in the trenches of "The Great War". She left school at the age of fourteen and, from 1914 to 1918, worked full-time at Waverley Cabinet Works as an apprentice French polisher, and became an active member of her trade union. Her one disagreement with the manager was over a discarded picture of Our Lady she found amongst the junk of the cabinet works. She hung it up over her workplace. The manager took it down and each morning she restored it to its place. Margaret, and her sister Bella, struggled to support their mother with their minimal wages and also worked an allotment. It was a cruel struggle to pay the rent and to feed themselves. Whenever her mother broke down and wept, Margaret had one unvarying answer, "Dinnae give in".
After the war ended there was a massive economic slump. The Scottish economy had been heavily war-orientated: arms production, together with coal and steel for the building of battleships on the River Clyde were no longer needed and such skills were not easily transferred. The Great Depression followed and Margaret found herself amongst the unemployed. In 1918 the Waverley Cabinet Works closed down and she eventually found work in one of the biscuit factories run by McVitie.
Despite the hardships of her life she was vivacious, loved pretty clothes and enjoyed dancing. A holiday in the nearby town of Rosewell was, for her and Bella, her first encounter with country life. They celebrated their freedom by going to Mass and receiving Communion daily. Bella had some misgivings as to whether they were holy enough to receive so often, but Margaret replied "We're not going because we are good, but because we want to be good."
Whilst Bella entered the Little Sisters of the Poor who ministered to those living in poverty, Margaret felt called to spend her life in solitude and prayer. Her first choice was to enter the Poor Clares at Edinburgh, her hometown. However, the community there was experiencing a time of great difficulty and her application was turned down. She understood the true meaning of the words of the Psalmist: "Listen daughter and incline your ear; leave your people and your father's house" (Psalm 45:10). She willingly sacrificed the nearness of family and her Scots culture, and wrote to apply to the Poor Clares in Notting Hill, London.
Sister Mary Francis of the Five Wounds
On 21 July 1923, Margaret travelled to London with her brother Andrew, and to another parting, for he was emigrating to Canada. She then caught the tram to Notting Hill in West London, where she joined the Colettine Poor Clares at their convent, taking the religious name Sister Mary Francis of the Five Wounds. She did not apply to be an extern sister (those who deal with outside agencies on behalf of the community) but to become a cloistered Poor Clare. However, the community assessed her as a working class girl with little secondary education, thinking that eight hours of singing the Divine office in Latin would be too much for her. Yet, Margaret was a new experience for the Poor Clare community: a modern woman whose ability to work and pray had emancipated her from her background. To the members of the community, most of whom who had never had to earn a living, (some coming from aristocratic families), Margaret and those like her, who were to enter religious life after the Great War, were something of a mystery.
Living a life where the individual nun has no personal possessions, Poor Clare Colettines live a rigorous daily schedule of prayer and penance. As an enclosed order, each convent relies upon the extern sisters as their link to the outside world, and their absolute poverty requires them to subsist on what can be obtained through donations, gardening, and begging, the last being the exclusive responsibility of the extern sisters. As a member of the convent, Margaret worked to seek alms for her community as well as ministered to the poor. Margaret's experience in the convent was similar to that of many other religious: personality clashes and cultural differences caused friction, and at times, she was regarded as disobedient, languid, and even annoying.
Margaret contracted tuberculosis of the throat and was admitted to a sanatorium run by the Sisters of Charity at Warley, Essex, on 9 April 1925, where she remained until her death on 24 November that same year, and was buried at Kensal Green in north west London. On 22 December 1927 her body was re-interred at Mount Vernon, Liberton, Edinburgh. On 25 October 2003 her remains were again removed and now lie in her home parish church, dedicated to Saint Patrick, in Edinburgh.
Margaret Sinclair was declared "Venerable" by Pope Paul VI on 6 February 1978, the centenary year of the restoration of Scotland's Roman Catholic hierarchy. The cause for her canonisation has persisted and, on 1 June 1982, Pope John Paul II stated: "Margaret could well be described as one of God's little ones, who through her very simplicity, was touched by God with the strength of real holiness of life, whether as a child, a young woman, an apprentice, a factory worker, a member of a Trade Union or a professed Sister of religion'".
Margaret Sinclair has become a household name in the Catholic community in Scotland, and devotion to her has extended across Britain, Europe and North America. During the 1950s, her following in the Netherlands became significant enough to merit the publication of a Margaret Sinclair quarterly magazine. Her spirituality had a unique innocence and people were drawn to her ordinariness: she had regular physical features, was not outstanding in school, enjoyed herself at dances and parties, followed fashion trends, worked as a tradesperson, and had once been engaged to be married. Championed as Edinburgh's ‘factory girl’, the image won her a sizeable, devout following, because many saw her life as being like their own. Margaret is not seen as being remote; people are drawn to her because she experienced their struggles. This may explain why she is more commonly referred to as Margaret Sinclair than by her religious name.
The National Shrine of the Venerable Margaret Sinclair is located within St. Patrick's Church, Old Town, Edinburgh.
- "The Venerable Margaret Sinclair", St. Patrick's Parish, Edinburgh[permanent dead link]
- "Take the Highroad: The Life of Sister Mary Francis of the Five Wounds", Ty Mam Duw Monastery, Hawarden, Wales
- Kehoe, S. Karly, "Sinclair, Margaret Anne", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- "The Venerable Margaret Sinclair", St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Kilsyth, Glasgow
- Margaret Sinclair b. 1900 at sinclair.quarterman.org
- Independent Catholic News at www.indcatholicnews.com
- Address Of John Paul II During The Visit To Saint Joseph's Hospital, Edinburgh, Tuesday, 1 June 1982