Having a mystical encounter with the Blessed Mother was not what Marge Hagan expected when she traveled to Ireland in 1993 to attend a wedding in Sligo. Afterwards, she agreed to accompany some Irish friends to the Knock Shrine in Mayo County. “I always loved Jesus,” explained the lifelong devout Catholic. “But I was so attached to my own mother that I felt less devotion to the Blessed Mother.” That relationship changed when Marge stepped out of a car at the pilgrimage site, where, in 1879, a vision of Mary, along with Joseph and St. John the Evangelist, had appeared to 15 local residents. “Something happened” she said, still struggling today to understand the experience. In a trance, she entered the large basilica amid the sounds of the Rosary being recited over the speakers. She could not stop weeping and lost sense of time. “I feel that the Blessed Mother was trying to get my attention,” she said. “She was asking me to come to her for help. She wanted to intercede for me.”
Marge realized what the encounter was about. Her niece and nephew had both been born with a rare, serious degenerative neurological disorder, now known as BVVL. Marge’s brother, Frank, a colonel in the Air Force, had been struggling to care for them. With her heart now open to Mary, Marge arranged mass intentions and soon her brother relocated the family to Pennsylvania, a state with strong benefits for the disabled. The children, Gretchen and Scott, were able to pursue their educations and enter professional careers, despite being blind, deaf, and seriously disabled. Marge knows the Blessed Mother helped them. “I love her. I praise her, and I give her all the glory she deserves,” she explained. “I know who she is.”
Margaret Mary (“Margie”) Stoffel Hagan was born in North Philadelphia, the youngest of six children of German immigrants. She attended St. Michael’s Parish and was a student at J.W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School. Her parents owned a butcher shop, through which all the Stoffel children had to walk in order to enter their house. “We learned to greet everyone in the shop and to be friendly,” she said of her diverse neighborhood. “Catholics, Muslims, Jews, my parents liked everyone.” That broad-mindedness toward people of different faiths extends to Marge’s social network today. Her family and friends have a wide array of spiritual beliefs and she enjoys engaging them in discussions of religion and religious difference, ever respectful of their views. She said exposure to difference does not disturb the Catholic faith that has been with her since birth.
A former hairdresser, Marge met Tom Hagan, a police officer, on a blind date. They married in 1961. She is the mother of three and the grandmother of four. She previously lived in Fox Chase and Huntington Valley, Pa., where she was always active in her churches. In 2015 she and her husband moved to Ocean City, close to her daughter’s family. Marge cared intensively for her husband of fifty-six-and-a half years before he died in 2017.
Marge said she was thrilled when she moved to Ocean City and learned there were three Catholic churches with many masses to attend and where she was welcomed into the choir and participated in the Holy Love prayer group, among other activities. She always has attended daily Mass, but that has been interrupted temporarily by the coronavirus. Marge lives in a small bayside condo that she wryly calls her retreat, where she engages in prayer and spiritual reading. “I have always asked God for awareness,” she said. “My goal in life is peace for everyone.”