History and Heritage
A look inside the house where Mother Mazzarello died:
Divine Providence chose August 5, 1872 to be the day that a new religious Institute was begun in the Church. In Mornese, Alessandria, Italy, the courageous women who were to be the first Daughters of Mary Help of Christians gathered with Don Bosco and Msgr. Joseph Sciandra, the Bishop of Acqui, to celebrate their admission to the novitiate and the first professions. On that happy day St. Maria Domenica Mazzarello was also elected the first superior and given the title of “vicar”.
Many trials, sufferings, and tests of their faith preceded their profession. Many people doubted the good-will and resolve of these young women, and many townspeople from Mornese were openly hostile to the group, which, in their eyes, had stolen the boys' school. In fact, the bishop had decided against Don Bosco's boys' school, but was in favor of a girls' school. So, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians experienced the rejection that Jesus Himself endured, when He was not welcome in His own town and among His own people. Despite the lack of funds, helpers, understanding from the community, and resources, the first Salesian Sisters were known for their joy and cheerfulness – a sure sign that the Holy Spirit was at work in their midst.
A year later their first boarding school and primary school was recognized by the educational authorities of Castelletto d’Orba. On October 8, 1874, the Salesian Sisters were able to open their second house in Borgo San Martino. They ran workshops to educate young women to help them to be self-sufficient, and carried on the tradition of the Salesian Oratory (a place where young people could gather to enjoy themselves, learn, and grow in their faith while being safe from harm). The work of the Salesians Sisters was not limited to a schoolroom, for they made the whole world their school, seeking to bring the young to a deeper faith in God through an example of love, mercy, compassion, joy, and cheerfulness. The love of the Sisters for the young was sincere and total and in most cases, it was mutual.
St. Mary Mazzarello and her first companions were able to profess their perpetual vows on August 28, 1875 in the presence of Don Bosco, after studying with the Sisters of St. Anne for their religious formation. The following years brought many joys, great and small, to the Salesian Sisters. On their part, the Sisters were willing to endure much hard work, and often extreme sacrifice – all with deep dedication. For the next few years, the constitutions of the community would be ad experimentum, and open to revision, discussion and consultation. Evenually, Don Bosco was able to give to the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians the first printed version of their Constitutions on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1878.
The young congregation quickly spread beyond the borders of Italy, taking root in France and in the Americas. The first house of the Daugthers of Mary Help of Christians outside of Italy was opened in 1877 in Nice, France. On November 9thof the same year, Mother Mazzarello and the first missionaries were received in an audience by Blessed Pope Pius IX, a great friend and supporter of Don Bosco. Five days later, the first missionary Sisters departed for Uruguay, full of enthusiasm and zeal. Just three years later, in 1880, the second missionary expedition of the Salesian Sisters to Patagonia (Argentina) departed, as they followed their Salesian brothers who had prepared the way for their arrival.
Mother Mazzarello took ill and died on May 14, 1881, at the age of 44. At the time of her death, the Institute numbered 26 houses and 166 Sisters but the death of St. Mary Mazzarello did not spell the demise of the Salesian Sisters. In fact, Mother Mazzarello herself had said that the true superior was Our Lady, who continued to guide our Sisters, as she had guided Don Bosco and our Salesian Brothers for so long. After building a monument in stone to Our Lady Help of Christians in Turin, Don Bosco had wanted our Institute to be not a monument of stone, but a living monument of his gratitude to Our Lady.
Mary Help of Christians saw to it that her Institute grew, and today we number over 13,000 members in 94 different countries. Don Bosco once wrote, “My only desire is to see you happy both in this world and the next” and this happiness is what the Sisters enjoy to this day, a fruit of their love for God and others.