Founder of the Salesian Sisters [Feast Day: 13th May]
Maria Mazzarello was born in the last century in a small village called Mornese, in Northern Italy. She was the first of ten children, seven of whom reached adulthood. Maria learnt from a young age how to be a caring and efficient person in the home to her young sisters and brothers.
When she was seventeen years of age she joined a group of young women who helped the parish curate, Fr. Dominico Pestarino, in various activities of the parish: catechism lessons to youth, assistance to the sick, meeting with parents, organisation of leisure activities for youth. Through these experiences Maria was empowered to be a leader amongst those she encountered in her everyday life.
At the age of twenty-three she was stricken with typhoid fever and nearly died. From this point on, the physical strength she always possessed was gone forever. While not losing her love for life, this period was one of confusion and frustration. She was not sure what she could do in life without her former energy and vigour. With her closest friend, Petronilla Mazzarello (no relation) she decided to start a professional school for girls in her locality. Maria’s motivation for initiating this venture was to assist youth to be able to earn their own living in society and develop christian values that would be lived out throughout life.
Maria’s work expanded when a gentleman presented himself with two young girls. They had just lost their mother and he asked Maria to take care of them while he looked for employment. With this incident Maria started the first educational boarding school which would multiply as the years went on. While the professional classes and boarding facilities developed, on Sundays Maria gathered any of the girls around the district and offered them the opportunity to play and pray together. The day was filled with games, amusements and prayer meetings.
In 1864 Don Bosco came to Mornese when Maria was twenty-seven years old. He saw the great work Maria and her friends were doing for youth and was very impressed with what he saw. He himself had been thinking of founding a religious congregation of women who would work for girls as he and his friends were doing for boys.
Over a period of eight years the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians was formed and Maria Mazzarello became the first Salesian Sister and leader of the new congregation. She dedicated herself to children, adolescents and youth. With other religious women Maria founded houses in Italy and France. She saw, with much pain in her heart and with much love for them, Sisters whom she had known in their youth, leave for missions in South America.
Weakened by the typhoid Maria had contracted when young, and weakened too by her hard work, Maria’s health began to deteriorate. Finally on May 14th, 1881, she was called to enjoy God’s presence forever in heaven. Maria Mazzarello was just 44 years old.
On June 24th 1951, Maria Mazzarello was proclaimed a Saint by Pope Pius XII. Today the Daughters of Mary help of Christians (Salesian Sisters) work for young people in all continents of the world and number about 15,000 sisters.
Maria Mazzarello is a model of humanity, simplicity and joy. She was a simple peasant girl who knew that we are at our best as human beings when we are helping others and are close to God.
What does the life of Maria Mazzarello say to us today?
Maria Mazzarello helped out her family and she says to us today:
Love for Christ is a love that reaches out to others wherever we are.
Maria Mazzarello was involved in the life of her community and she says to us today:
Maria was stricken with typhoid fever which changed her life’s direction and she says today:
Love supports every difficulty (sickness, injustices, misunderstandings) when our life is Christ-centred, a love that finds life within the difficulty.
Maria Mazzarello attracted youth like a magnet attracts iron and she says to us today:
Love is like a drop of water in a river; the drop makes a ripple which spreads far and wide. So, too, must our love be spread out to others.
Maria Mazzarello took care of children without a mother and she says to us today:
Love embraces those most in need, those who are closest to us who need our help for whatever reason; material, spiritual, moral, physical, and emotional.
Maria Mazzarello helped others discern what God wanted of them and she says to us today:
Love is always directed towards what is good; it is not jealous or vain but a love which touches the lives of others with truth, acceptance and peace.
Source: Salesian Sisters Website