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May 14

St Maria Mazzarello - May 14

Saint Maria Mazzarello

Sister, Foundress of Salesion Sisters

(1837 – 1881)

“At the hour of death you will be very happy to have made this sacrifice;” “What have you done for Jesus today?”; “What are you thinking of at this very moment?”; “What resolution have you made at meditation this morning?”

Saint Maria Mazzarello

Saint’s Life Story

Her Early Life  

Maria Dominica Mazzarello, the eldest of the seven children of Guiseppe and Maddalena, was born at Mornese, a small town in Piedmont, Italy, on May 9, 1837. She was baptized in the parish church on the same day. Little is known of her first six years. Maria was the daughter of a peasant, so she worked in the fields as a child. The Mazzarello family was ruled on sound Christian principles, and it is certain that Maria received a truly Christian upbringing from her infancy. There were no schools in many Italian towns and villages in the early nineteenth century so Maria had to rely on her parents for any instruction she received.

First Communion And Confirmation

At the age of ten, Maria was admitted to her first Communion. In one of her early Communions, she made a vow of virginity which she did not reveal to anyone until many years later. Certainly, her mother’s instructions in the matter of purity were bearing fruit. Mary was confirmed two years later on September 30, 1849.

Influenced by Father Pestarino

In 1849, a new priest came to Mornese — Father Dominic Pestarino. Maria attended his catechism classes in the parish church. Father Pestarino, a zealous and holy man, was destined by God to shape the whole fabric of her life. Although Maria could barely read and write, she possessed a most retentive memory. With intense application, Maria soon reached the top of the class. Father Pestarino held her as an example to his other pupils.

Joined the Association of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate

When she was fifteen, Maria joined the Association of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, run by her parish priest, Father Pestarino. This was a precursor to her founding of the Salesian Sisters. The Daughters were known for their charitable works and Mary soon set herself apart for her sound judgment, dedication, joy, and love of the young. Wherever she want the village children were drawn to her like a magnet, eager to hear her jokes and stories, or to ask her a multitude of questions.

At Death’s Bed 

When Maria was 23, a typhoid epidemic hit Mornese and villagers started rapidly dying. Soon her uncle and aunt were taken ill.  So, Maria, typical of her generous nature, volunteered to care for them and their many children.

After a week under her loving care, her aunt and uncle were healed. However, when Maria returned home, she became ill with the very sickness that she healed. Maria was brought to the brink of death and received the last rites of the Church.  Fortunately she recovered, but the illness left her weak.

Seamstress with her friend Petronilla

Thereafter, unable to work in the fields, Maria started a dressmaking/seamstress business with her friend, Petronilla. Maria spent six months working with the tailor of the town and then another six months with the town’s only seamstress. So proficient did the girls become that on the departure of the seamstress to another town they were able to take over her business. Soon there were a number of young apprentices wishing to learn dress-making, and Maria had some difficulty in renting quarters large enough to accommodate them all. Work came in quite fast, and it is interesting to note that Maria would not make garments that she did not consider sufficiently modest.

Saint John Bosco Meets Father Pestarino

Father Pestarino became so infatuated with Saint John Bosco and his work that he sought to become a Salesian. Saint John Bosco was willing to accept him. He told Father Pestarino that his obedience would be to remain at Mornese and look after the girls of the Pious Union of Mary Immaculate. In bidding him farewell, Saint John Bosco gave Father Pestarino a medal each for Maria and Petronilla. He also gave a card for Maria. On the card was written: “Keep on praying hard; but do as much good as you can for young girls; do everything possible to prevent sin, even if it is only one venial sin.”

Saint John Bosco ’s message inflamed Mary and her companion with new zeal. Before they had concentrated on prayer and practices of piety. However, now they turned more directly to the Salesian preventive system, the prevention of sin by keeping the girls fully occupied and shielding them from occasions of sin. All the girls were urged to attend Mass daily if possible. Work began soon after Mass. Maria encouraged the girls to add, “May Jesus Christ be praised” to the greeting they gave each other every morning. 

Daughters of Our Lady Help of Christians Founded – Salesion Sisters

First, one and then, other companions joined Maria in a life of regular piety. So Maria’s institute, Daughters of Our Lady Help of Christians, came into being with eleven sisters professing their vows that same year (1864). Fifteen more received the habit under the governance of Maria.  As the feminine branch of the Salesian religious family, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians sought to do for girls what the priests and brothers were doing in Turin for boys.

Sister Mazzarello despite her lack of learning possessed definite ability for governing her community, as may be seen from what Pope Pius XI said of her in 1936: “This small, simple, poor country girl, whose education had been most rudimentary, showed quite early that she possessed a talent, one of the greatest of talents — the talent for governing. Her choice by Saint John Bosco was proved not only in the firm, secure foundation of the new family of Mary, Help of Christians, but also in the marvellous and rapid growth and spread of the flourishing institute.”

Although she was uneducated, Maria was an outstanding leader. The sisters used John Bosco’s model for teaching through encouragement, charity, and joy. In 1872, Saint John Bosco received permission from Pope Pius IX to canonically found the congregation of nuns for teaching girls. In 1874, Maria was elected superior-general of the Daughters of Our Lady Help of Christians, popularly known as the Salesian Sisters with the mother-house at Nizza Monferrato.

Worldwide Growth of the Congregation

The congregation grew rapidly. In 1876, she sent six nuns to found a house in Argentina to which many Italians emigrated. Ten more missionary sisters sailed for South America on January 1, 1880. One of the sisters, Emilia Borgna, was very delicate and the leader of the expedition was not in favour of taking her to America, but to all her remonstrances Maria replied: “Take her, for you will find that she will do more work than you think she can do, and she will succeed very well indeed.” Sister Emilia went and spent more than fifty years in South America working for the poor and abandoned girls of that continent.

Return From France

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 called “Mother Mazzarello”. When several of the sisters were headed to the South American missions, she accompanied them to their port of call in Genoa, Italy, and then took a boat to France so that she could visit the sisters there.

In Marseilles, France, their ship broke down and had to be repaired. 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 beds to sleep on. Maria was not one to let events such as that discourage her; eminently practical, she took the sheets that they 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 worrying 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 collapsed and was in bed for forty days; the diagnosis was pleurisy. Although she felt very ill, Mother Mazzarello did all that she could to be cheerful and alleviate the worry of her Sisters. Eventually she returned to Italy, even though the doctor advised against it. She said that she wanted to die in her own community.

Her Death

On March 28, Maria returned to Nizza Montferrato, Italy to the great joy of the whole community. She was apparently well, However, on April 15, Maria was again confined to her bed. Although her strength was gradually failing, she continued to take an active part in the direction of the Congregation. During these last days, she turned instinctively to the Crucifix and the sufferings of her Divine Lord. “Yes, Lord, send me great sufferings, but also give me patience and strength to bear them. Oh my Jesus, I want to love you now and forever.”

Father Cagliero arrived on May 10 with strict injunctions to summon Saint John Bosco when he saw that the end was near. But as Maria appeared to rally, Father Cagliero decided to return to Turin. On May 14, 1881 at the age of 44, he administered the last rites. Maria asked one of the sisters to help her. Then, she waved her hand and with a smile on her lips whispered, “Goodbye, goodbye, I shall see you in Heaven.”  

Her incorrupt body is venerated in the Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians, in Turin, Italy.

By 1900, there were nearly 800 foundations in existence and activities expanded to charitable works as well as teaching. Today, the congregation has 1,400 houses in 54 countries.

Born :                  May 9, 1837 in Mornese, Piedmont, Italy

Died:                   May 14, 1881 in Nizza Monferrato, Italy

Beatified:           November 20, 1938 by Pope Pius XI

Canonized:        June 24, 1951 by Pope Pius XII

Feast Day:         May 14

Patron Saint:    Against Bodily Ills; Against Sickness; Sick People



After Saint Maria Mazzarello’s near death experience, she went from a field worker to a seamstress. In one part of Italy, Saint Maria Mazzarello provided guidance and education for trades for girls at risk in the same manner that Saint John Bosco did for boys in another part of Italy.  Many women followed her example and joined in her in the newly formed Salesian Sisters that have now expanded worldwide to 54 countries with 1,400 houses.

What spiritual guidance and/or trade can you teach a boy or girl at risk today? Your small act of kindness can enable tomorrw’s next saint just as Saint Maria Mazzarello was helped by her friend, Petronilla in her humble beginning.


May God give you the grace, wisdom and strength to follow Saint Mary Mazzarello’s faithful example of educating young girls as well as helping the sick and elderly. Like the Salesian Sisters she sent out as missionaries, may we act as missionaries in our own communities to bring the Gospel of Jesus to all those we encounter through our acts of kindness.

Saint Mary Mazzarello, pray for us. Amen.

Father, source of all that is good, you give us in Saint Maria Domenica Mazzarello a shining example of Christian and religious life, through her deep humility and ardent charity; grant that we, in simplicity of spirit, may bear daily  witness to your fatherly love, we ask this through Our Lord, Jesus Christ Your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever, Amen.

Source: Prayer to St. Mary Mazzarello (Salesian Sisters)

Saint Links 

All Saints & Martyrs – Saint Maria Domenica Mazzarello – Religious

AnaStpaul – Saint Paula Frassinetti – Feast Day June 12 – Foundress of the Congregation Saint Dorothea

Catholic Online – St. Maria Dominic Mazzarello

CatholicSaints.Info – Saint Maria Mazzarello

CatholicSaints.Info – Saints of the Day – Maria-Domenica Mazzarello by Katherine I Rabenstein

CatholicSaints.Info – Saint Mary Mazzarello, by P Swain, SDB

Saint Nook – Life of St. Mary Mazzarello

Salesian Sisters – Saint Mary Mazzarello

Wikipedia – Maria Domenica Mazzarello

Video Link

St. Mary Mazzarello’s childhood – YouTube (Salesian Sisters)