Saint of the Day – 14 May – St Maria Domenica Mazzarello FMA (1837-1881) Virgin, Religious Sister and Founder with St John Bosco of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. They were founded to work alongside Saint John Bosco and his Salesians of Don Bosco, in his teaching projects in Turin. They continue to be a teaching Order worldwide and are now called the Salesian Sisters of St John Bosco. Born
on 9 May 1837 at Mornese, Acqui, Italy and died on 14 May 1881, aged 44, in Nizza Monferrato, Asti, Italy of natural causes. Also known as – Mary Dominic Mazzarello.
Maria was born in Mornese, in what is now the Province of Alessandria, northern Italy, to a peasant family who worked in a vineyard. She was the eldest of ten children of Joseph and Maddalena Calcagno Mazzarelli. When she was fifteen she joined the Association of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, known for there charitable works and run by the Parish Priest, Father, Domenico Pestarino – this Apostolate was a precursor to the founding of the Salesian Sisters.
When she was 23 years old, a typhoid epidemic hit Mornese causing the death of many villagers. Soon, her uncle and aunt were taken ill and Maria volunteered to care for them and their many children. After a week they recovered, however, when Maria returned home, she also became ill with typhoid. Due to the illness, she received the last rites. She recovered, but the illness left her weak. The strength which had formerly sustained her, in her work in the fields, was no more. Maria was now thin and frail; a shell of her formerly robust self.
She took an apprenticeship as a seamstress in the town and worked diligently at the craft. Like St John Bosco, the skills which she learned in her youth, she was able to pass onto those who would come after her. One day, Maria was walking in her village and was suddenly astounded to see before her, a vision of a large building with a courtyard and many girls playing and laughing. A voice said to her, “I entrust them to you.”
The education of girls was a particular need in the nineteenth century and Maria decided to devote herself to this work. Hosts of farm girls , or serving girls, factory workers and street vending girls, filled the streets of the city and all of them were at risk to juvenile prostitution. She wished to educate them and teach them a trade, to save them from the dangers of street life. She persuaded some of her girl friends to join her in this project. Fifteen young women now comprised the Daughters of Mary Immaculate. Fr Pestarino busied himself with training them in the spiritual life and managed to secure a place for some of them to live in community, thus was the beginning of religious life in Mornese. The Daughters took in a few young girls and housed them, schooling them in the faith and handing down to them, their knowledge of dress aking, tailoring and general sewing skills.
John Bosco was told of the Daughters by Fr Pestarino, who himself was training as a Salesian of Don Bosco, under the Saint. Considering his vision of the young girls, Bosco decided to meet with them. He went to Mornese with his boy band under the guise of raising funds for his Oratory but his true intention was to investigate the possibility of founding a female counterpart of the male Salesian religious Order,.
In 1867, after meeting with them and receiving the Daughters’ enthusiastic response to his proposal, St John drew up their first rule of life. A source of the community’s good spirit, sense of humour, optimism and charity, Maria Mazzarello was the natural choice for the first Superior. Eventually obedience won out and she was the first Mother of the young community at age thirty.
After many formation, struggles, the well-intentioned but misdirected advice of others, and difficulties with the townspeople (whose school for boys which they had raised money for and built, st John transferred to the Daughters, for their work). The day of their profession arrived. The fifteen young women, led by Maria, professed their vows as religious women in the presence of the Bishop of Acqui, their spiritual father St John and Fr Pestarino. The date was 31 July 1872, the birthday of this new religious family.
At age thirty-five, donned in a habit, she was now Sister Maria Mazzarello. As the feminine branch of the Salesian religious family, the Daughters sought to do for girls what the Priests and Brothers were doing in Turin for boys.
After being elected Mother General of the Salesian Sisters, Maria Mazzarello felt that it was important that she and the other Sisters, have a good understanding of how to read and write; it was a skill which many of them had never had the opportunity to acquire and which training she now organised. Her dedication to her Sisters was not limited to their intellectual development alone. In every way, she was an attentive mother, which is why to this day, she is still fondly referred to as “Mother Mazzarello” by the Salesian Family.
The first Missionary Sisters set out for Uruguay in 1877. Mother Mazzarello accompanied them to their port of call in Genoa, and then took a boat to France, so that she could visit the SIsters who had already established themselves there.
In Marseilles their ship had to be repaired and all of the passengers were forced to disembark while it was dry docked. Although the Sisters had been told that lodging had been prepared for them, there was a mix-up and they were left without stranded.. Mother Mazzarello was not one to let events such as this discourage her, so she took the sheets that they had brought with them, stuffed them with straw and made makeshift beds for all of them. After a miserable night of sleep, they all awoke but Mother Mazzarello could not get up. A fever was ravaging her body and she was in terrible pain. The next morning,, more out of a concern for her already exhausted companions, she was able to get up, see the Missionaries off and then journey with her remaining Sisters to their house and orphanage in St.Cyr.
Once in St Cyr ,she fainted and was confined to bed for forty days.. The diagnosis was pleurisy. Eventually she returned to Italy, even though the doctor told her not to travel. She said that she wanted to die in her own community. She made her return journey in stages, she was painfully aware of her delicate condition. Fortunately. on one of her stops St John was near and they were able to meet for the last time.
In early April, Maria returned to Mornese. Her native air strengthened her and since she felt stronger she insisted on keeping the community schedule and doing her usual work. Unfortunately, it was too much for her and she relapsed. Near the end of April it seemed that death was approaching. Finally, in the pre-dawn hours of 14 May 1881, Mother Mazzarello began her death agony. After receiving the last rites she turned her attention to those around her and weakly whispered, “Good-bye. I am going now. I will see you in Heaven.” Shortly after she died at the age of forty-four.
Maria was Beatified on 20 November 1938 and Canonised on 24 June 1951. Her incorrupt body is venerated in the Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians, in Turin, Italy, which is the Mother Basilica of the Salesians, built by St John Bosco. A Church in southeast Rome bears her name, Santa Maria Domenica Mazzarello – the Statue below resides there..