Blessed Albert Marvelli (1918-1946)

27 Sep 2018

Engineer, Apostle, and Salesian Pupil

October 5, optional memorial

The Salesian Family observes October 5 as the liturgical memorial of Blessed Albert Marvelli except in the New York Archdiocese, where the feast of the Dedication of the Cathedral outranks the memorial in the calendar.

This biographical sketch comes from several sources: the diocese of Rimini, the Vatican news service, Fr. Pascual Chavez, Fr. Pier Luigi Cameroni, and Fr. Mike Mendl. The photos are from unless otherwise indicated.

On September 5, 2004, at Loreto, Italy, St. John Paul the Great beatified a young Italian layman, Albert Marvelli. In spite of his short life of only 28 years, he was a hero of Christian charity. The Pope said of him, “He has shown how, in changing times and situations, Christian laymen are able to devote themselves unreservedly to building God’s kingdom in family, work, culture, and politics, taking the Gospel into the heart of society.” The Church offers him as a pattern of sanctity in daily life for young Christians in the 21st century.

Albert was born at Ferrara, Italy, on March 21, 1918, the second of seven children. From his boyhood, Albert lived his faith ardently and prayerfully in his daily duties of study and work, in church, and in his social life. The poor and the suffering were the special objects of his apostolate. He learned that from his parents. Although the family was not well off, they taught their children to be thrifty so they would be able to give away what they did not use.

In 1930 the Marvellis moved to Rimini, and Albert began to attend the Salesian youth center there. Fr. Pier Luigi Cameroni, Salesian postulator general, writes of him: “The Salesians understood immediately the kind of stuff he was made of. They challenged him, gave him confidence, and guided him on the path of spiritual growth. At the age of 15 he was already an animator in the oratory. He inspired young people with a healthy vision of fun and games, and encouraged frequent meetings. He was outstanding among the young people of the oratory for his uncommon virtues and the apparent ease and naturalness with which he accomplished the most difficult tasks.”

He also joined the Catholic Action group in his parish, which likewise nurtured his faith. He became president of the parish unit of Catholic Action and vice president of the diocesan organization.

Albert modelled himself on Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925, beatified 1990). In high school he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society. At age 15 he began to keep a diary, which reveals his ideals; for example: “We must love our fellow creatures with the sweat of our brow and the work of our arms.” He became increasingly aware of his call to holiness. He read the lives of the saints and deepened his prayer life, centered on the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin. Totally Catholic, he made his program “Jesus, the Church, and the Pope.”

When Dominic Savio was declared Venerable in 1933, it had a profound impact on him, according to Fr. Cameroni, who writes: “We find evidence of this in his behavior and his diary. On December 8, 1934, he wrote, ‘I have dedicated my heart to Mary Immaculate,’ and at Easter 1935, ‘Jesus, I want to die rather than sin.’ This resolution is followed by a detailed program of life. This was just what Dominic Savio had done. He also imitated Dominic in his love for the Eucharist, his apostolic style of service, and his constant smile.”

World War II erupted when Albert was 21. Although Italy didn’t enter the war until several months later, he lamented the loss of life and destruction, the ruin of the very structure of society. As a Christian prophet Albert believed that “national and international rights must be founded on a Christian basis. The Gospel and the teachings of the Popes must be the rule of life for individuals, peoples, governments, the world. The only cause of war is our scanty love for God and men … instead of loving each other as brothers, all redeemed by Christ!”

While studying engineering in Bologna, Albert was faithful to his religious practices, even to daily Mass. After earning his degree in 1941, he moved to Turin and went to work for FIAT. He did his military service in Trieste, and succeeded in bringing many of his friends to Mass.

In 1943 he returned to Rimini, which suffered terribly from Allied bombardments. He soon became well known, riding his bicycle to go and rescue people buried in the wreckage, aid the wounded, encourage the survivors, assist the dying with brotherly love, or secure household goods. He scrounged up food and clothing; he gave away his own belongings to the needy. He hunted for new lodging for the displaced.

No matter how weary he was, those familiar with him say he never lost his patience or complained. Albert found his strength in daily Communion and the Rosary. Perhaps that inner strength was also the root of the legend that developed about him, that he was invulnerable, because he always escaped danger.

Albert’s apostolic ventures were not risk-free. During the German occupation, he joined the Todt Organization, whose job was to maintain infrastructure within the German Reich. His aim, though, was to impede the deportation of Italians to Germany. In fact Todt gave him a special pass, which proved quite useful. One example of the risks he took was freeing deportees from sealed cattle cars ready to leave the railway station. On one occasion he hid two deserters in his home. Had he been caught at such activity, the Germans would have shot him. Friendship for Albert meant selfless charity.

When the war ended, Albert continued his material assistance to those in distress, now adding his technical expertise as an engineer. He was also appointed to the city council. He collected data and drew up plans for those who needed help to rebuild. Rimini had suffered heavy damage during the war. To the young engineer were entrusted the presidency of the reconstruction committee and the one for temporary lodging. At this time he jotted in a notebook, “It’s better to serve than to be served. Jesus serves.” Albert worked rapidly and decisively, handling large sums of money fairly and transparently. He could not even eat in peace, so many came to him for assistance.

In postwar Rimini, Albert could not avoid political involvement. Political passions and a lust to avenge wrongs suffered under the Fascists were a threat to the civil and democratic renewal of Italy. Albert assumed the defense of the rights of the weak and the persecuted. As a Catholic Action leader, he taught and tried to practice the social principles of the Popes. He continued to bicycle around town, even in winter, to bring milk, bread, clothes, etc., to the poor—sometimes even his own shoes and clothes. Joining the Catholic Association of Italian Workers, Albert used their offices to search for missing citizens and hasten the repatriation of POWs.

In the face of a growing political and social threat from the Communist Party, he promoted Christian principles among workers. He became active in the Christian Democratic Party and agreed to run for mayor as the Christian Democrat candidate. He was recognized as a committed Christian by everyone but was never divisive, so much so that one of his Communist opponents said: “I don’t mind if my party loses, so long as the Engineer Marvelli becomes mayor.” When he died, the Communists acknowledged him by “bowing in reverence and hailing the son, the brother, who has done so much good in this land.”

Albert’s Marian and Eucharistic devotion really were the supporting columns in his life. “What a new world opens up to me as I contemplate Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament,” he wrote in his diary. “Each time I receive Holy Communion, each time Jesus in his divinity and humanity enters me, in contact with my soul, it awakens holy ideas in me, a burning and consuming flame, but one that makes me so happy!”

Death came suddenly to Albert Marvelli as he was heading to a polling station on October 5, 1946, on his bicycle as usual. He was run down by a speeding military truck.

The Church proposes Blessed Albert to the young of the third millennium as a model of everyday holiness. His beatification is a call to find the path of holiness in the family, in one’s profession, even in politics. It is further evidence that Salesian education can produce saints.