SALESIAN SAINTS OF MAY: St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello,

08 May 2019

St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello,

co-foundress of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians


May 13, solemnity for the FMAs

Statues at the entrance of the Salesian Sisters’ Generalate in Rome.  Credit: Salesian Sisters

Feast for the rest of the Salesian Family

by Fr. Mike Mendl, SDB

“Consider your call, brothers and sisters. . . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world…” (1 Cor 1: 26-28).

Those words to St. Paul were chosen particularly for today’s feast of St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello.

After Don Bosco built a magnificent new church at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in the 1860s, dedicated not to the Oratory’s patron saint, Francis, but to Mary, the Help of Christians, he set about building a different kind of monument in honor of our Lady. He called this monument a “living” one because it was made up of live human beings who were to glorify Mary by doing her work on earth for the salvation of the young, especially girls. That living monument is the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Salesian Sisters, whom St. Mary Domenica co-founded with Don Bosco.

Like Don Bosco, Mary came from a simple, hardworking peasant family—nothing powerful or well-born or noble in either of them, except what came from the power and nobility of God’s grace. Mary didn’t even learn to read and write until late in life.

But Mary learned to love God and serve her neighbor from her parents and extended family, from the people of her humble parish in her remote village in the hills of Piedmont, and from the spiritual guide to whom she entrusted her soul, the parish’s assistant pastor, Fr. Dominic Pestarino.

That was the first key to Mary’s holiness. Second, she became an apostle. She and some of the other girls and young women of the village looked after the younger girls while their parents were working in the fields. They taught them catechism and basic skills like sewing and cooking. This was the group of young women whom Fr. Pestarino introduced to Don Bosco in 1864 and who, a few years later (1872), became the first Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

Third, Mary Domenica reluctantly accepted the office of superior, and she humbly and lovingly guided the others as her daughters in their own spiritual growth, their devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, to Mary Help of Christians, and to Don Bosco their father, and to the service of the girls and young women who became their apostolate in Piedmont, then Argentina, and now all over the world. They are now the largest religious congregation of women in the Church.

What God did in the short 44 years of Mary Mazzarello’s life, and is doing through this beautiful living monument to Mary Help of Christians, is possible because Mary Domenica was open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, offered through her parish priest and Don Bosco; because she became an apostle leading others to Jesus; and because she loved the Eucharist and our Blessed Mother and practiced humility and charity toward her sisters as well as the young. These are virtues all Christians can practice and so grow in holiness.