Margaret Hallahan was born in London on 23 January 1803. Her parents were natives of Ireland, and were Catholics. Her father, though in reduced circumstances and maintaining his family by the humblest labor, belonged to a good family. Her mother came of a family of pious Catholics, one of them being a Dominican in a convent at Cork. Margaret was an only child, and inherited her mother’s warm religious instincts. Her education began in her seventh year at the school at Somers Town kept by the emigré, Abbe Carron. In the following year her father died, and her mother being in very embarrassed circumstances, Father Hunt, a charitable priest of Moorfields, procured the child admission into an orphanage at Soniers Town. Uere she remained a few months, when, her mother dying and she being dismissed from the orphanage owing to some change in its management, she was placed at service by Father Hunt. She was now about nine years of age, and had received but three years’ schooling, though she had gained remarkable skill as a reader and a solid religious education. About two years later she entered the service of a Mme. Caulier, a French emigré who kept a lace shop in Cheapside. Here she remained some years, though treated with great harshness by her mistress. Nor was this from want of affection on the part of Mme. Caulier, who attests the admiration and esteem with which the character of the young girl inspired her. “I knew well enough,” she writes, “that she was far fitter to be a queen than a servant.” Many anecdotes illustrative of Margaret’s generous qualities of heart are related in a manuscript memoir by Mme. Caulier. It was during the latter years of her residence with Mme. Caulier that she sowed the seeds of that painful affection of the spine from which she ever afterwards suffered. “Possessed of extraordinary muscular strength, she was rather proud of hearing herself called ‘as strong as Samson,’ and when one day some men hesitated to lift a great iron stove, she thought to put them to shame, and carried it unassisted to the top of the house.” But this achievement cost her dear, her back being so badly strained that she was never again quite well. About 1820 she entered the service of Dr. Morgan, formerly physician to George III. He was an invalid, and Margaret, who possessed remarkable skill in the management of the sick, was engaged to attend him. At his death he left her a legacy of £50, the whole of which she secretly expended in Masses for his soul. Margaret continued for the following twenty years to reside with Mrs Thompson, the doctor’s married daughter, by whom she was regarded rather as a friend than a servant. Her first attraction to a religious life began about this time, through the impression made upon her by the piety of a nurse in the family. She was now in her twenty-second year, and possessed great personal attractions. “A person having sought her in marriage, she determined on putting an impassable barrier between herself and the world by taking a vow of chastity.”
In 1826 the Thompsons removed to Bruges, in Belgium, and Margaret, though disliking strange places, accompanied them. Here for the first time she beheld the solemn offices of the Church celebrated with becoming splendor, which excited within her a kind of rapture. “The first time I heard a military Mass at Notre Dame,” she says, “I thought I should have gone crazy.” Margaret remained in Belgium about fifteen years, and while yet in the world, and fulfilling the duties of a domestic, she practised the life of a saint. “When I visited Bruges,” writes Bishop Ullathorne, “I found the whole city full of her fame. People of all classes, from the poor to the bankers, came to enquire after her. Her name introduced me to every one.” She was known among the poor as “the Rich Deba” (Devout Woman), and her customary kneeling-place in the Church of Saint James is still pointed out.
Margaret’s attention was first attracted to the Dominican Order by the Abbe Capron, who recommended her to enter it. This step was opposed by her confessor, M. Versavel. For eight years Margaret’s entreaties on this point were rejected. At length she determined to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Assebroek, to seek her intercession. To do so she had to rise at two in the morning and make a painful journey over five miles of sandy roads, and return in time to fulfil her domestic duties. She persevered for nine days, at the end of which her confessor, without solicitation, announced to her that he withdrew all his objections to her joining the Dominican order. She received the habit on the Feast of the Espousals of Saint Catherine of Sienna, 1834, and on 30 April 1835, she made her profession. After profession she had many interior trials, being constantly haunted by a desire to do more for God. In the latter part of 1839 she was attacked by a severe illness, and was taken to the hospital of the Sisters of Charity, whose doors were besieged by persons of all ranks who came to testify their sympathy and respect. After her recovery she went to reside, with two or three other Tertiaries, in the house of the Abbe Capron. By his advice she attempted to establish a community of Dominican Tertiaries, but the project failed. Reduced to actual distress, she endeavored to support her self by receiving lodgers, but even this failed. At this critical juncture she received a pressing invitation from her friend, Mrs. Amherst, to return to England, and, after some delay, in April, 1842, Margaret returned to her native land, and took up her residence at Coventry.
The Catholic mission at Coventry was then under the care of the Rev. Dr. (afterwards Bishop) Ullathorne. At their first interview the reverend father asked her what salary she would require for teaching his school. “Salary!” she exclaimed; “I am come for the sake of Almighty God, and not for money.” She at once entered heartily into her new work, dividing her time between the school room and the sick poor. She soon acquired great influence among the young factory women, as well as the weavers who worked in their own homes. “Over the people,” writes Bishop Ullathorne, “she exercised a spiritual influence in a very unusual degree.” On 28 March 1844, Mother Margaret, with three others, took up their residence in a house in Spon Street, in Coventry. In June following the postulants received, the habit, hut it was not till 8 December, l845, that their full profession was made and the foundation securely laid of the first English community of Dominican Tertiaries. The life on which these religious now entered was one of labor and hardship, for so meagre were their resources that they were dependent upon the charity of their friends; yet the fervor with which they embraced their hard rule rendered even its austerities delightful to thorn. During this year an event occurred which Mother Margaret loved to recall. Every third year the public sense of decency was offended in Coventry by what was known as the Lady Godiva procession. Both Catholic and Protestant authorities had protested against the evil, and in 1845 Father Gentili began a mission at the time when the procession was to occur. He denounced the exhibition, and concluded his discourse with these words: “You have had a procession of your lady, and now we will have a procession of Our Lady.” He found a hearty co-operator in Mother Margaret, who arrayed with flowers and lights an image of the Blessed Virgin which she had brought from Belgium. Amid great crowds this was borne in solemn procession around the church for three successive evenings. Such a thing had not been seen in England since the Reformation.
In November 1846, the community, now six in number, removed to Bristol. Here again only the benefactions of friends rescued them from the depths of poverty. But such inconveniences as using a crate for a chair and sleeping in a china closet were endured with cheerfulness. In the spring of 1848 the community was removed to Clifton, where a site for a proposed convent had been purchased. Their accommodations here consisted of two living-rooms and seven cells. Notwithstanding the many difficulties they had to contend with, the community continued to grow, and in 1850 it numbered fifteen, besides two novices and six postulants. Many proposals were received for establishing the sisters in various parts of England. In July 1850, an attempt was made to establish a foundation at Bridgewater, but it failed. On 6 January 1851, a little colony of the religious was settled at Longton, amid the Staffordshire potteries. Mother Margaret had long been desirous to establish a novitiate house in some more retired spot than Clifton, and in July 1853, the mother-house was removed to Stone, where a convent had been begun. In 1857, amid many hardships, a small community was established at Stoke-upon-Trent. About this time Mother Margaret began a hospital and orphanage, both of very humble beginnings; the latter was begun in a disused stable. In October 1858, Mother Margaret, accompanied by Rev. Dr. Northcote, went to Rome to obtain a definitive settlement as to the future government of the increasing communities. It was deemed best that they should be united in a congregation under one superioress, with one novitiate, the whole to be under the government of the order. On 26 May 1859, Pope Pius IX ordered a decree to be drawn up granting the petition prayed for. Six months later Mother Margaret was appointed first prioress-provincial of the newly formed congregation, which afterwards received the title of the “Congregation of Saint Catherine of Sienna.” In 1860 a foundation was attempted at Leicester, but failed; one at Rhyl, in Wales, established in 1864, lasted only about two years, but one begun the same year near Torquay was successful.
On 22 October 1807, Mother Margaret left Stone for London, there to personally superintend the establishment of a community at Bow, which was destined to be her last earthly work. She was at this time, and had long been, suffering from severe illness, but she struggled against it. Her whole heart seemed centred on this foundation. “I do not feel a pain,” she said, “when I think of Bow.” It was, however, with the greatest difficulty that she returned to Stone, and she was never again able to leave her bed. Great as were the suffer ings of Mother Margaret’s last illness, they were not without consolation. Novenas of Masses were offered for her in various parts of England, in Paris, at Loretto, and elsewhere. Indeed it is believed that during her six months’ illness as many as a thousand Masses were thus offered. It soon be came evident that she could not recover; she was entirely confined to one position – on her back, with her arms extended in the form of a cross; as one of her attendants writes, “She seemed day and night like a living image of the crucifix.” She bore all with utmost fortitude, her most frequent ejaculations being: “Thy will be done!” and “My God and my all!” At last, on the night of 11 May 1868, the end came, and with an ejaculation of the Holy Name this saintly woman went to her rest.
- “Mother Margaret Mary Hallahan, OSD”. , 1880. CatholicSaints.Info. 14 January 2017. Web. 23 March 2017. <>