St. Mary Mazzarello, with St. John Bosco, is the co-foundress of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians – more commonly known as the Salesian Sisters. Mary lived most of her life in Mornese - a small farming village in Piedmont.She grew up in a rural environment where she learnt from her family how to love Jesus and to use the strength she had been gifted with to help with the heavy work of the farm.
As the first of eleven children, seven of whom survived, she definitely knew the joys and stresses of family life. Her love for Jesus grew so strong that she used every means available to her to find ways of keeping close to him during her busy day. Deprived, through typhoid, of her outstanding physical strength and good health, she was left with the dilemma of what to do in life. In an inspired moment, she realised that with her friend Petronilla she could try something new. In her own words: “Listen Petronilla, I really believe that God wants the two of us to work for the girls of Mornese. Look you are not strong, and since my illness I can no longer work in the fields. We both have an ardent desire to save our own souls by doing good for young girls.”
She began a sewing school which quickly developed into a family school, she also started a Sunday Club for the girls of the village. All of this was with the aim of bringing the young women of Mornese to Jesus.
In 1864, during one of his summer hikes with the boys of the Oratory, Don Bosco stayed for a few nights in Mornese. This opportunity to see and hear him and to watch the way he looked after these few hundred boys inspired Mary and she realised that they shared a similar gift of love and service of the young who they wanted to know and love Jesus. Likewise, Don Bosco was impressed by the simple way things were developing for the girls of the village. He had been thinking for some time about how to do for girls what he had already been led to do for boys. Gradually, he gave more time and thought to the women of Mornese and their projects, eventually also a rule. A period of preparation, formation and discernment culminated in 1872 with the first profession of eleven women from Mary’s group as Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.
Mary was a very humble woman and a good parishioner. She died in 1881, aged forty four, after only nine years of religious life.
The congregation which she co-founded was rooted in a deep, real love for Jesus and a desire to help young women to know and love him. This love and desire along with friendship, community and joy was the foundation of a group of religious who have worked tirelessly to bring Christ to the young all over the world.
It is not easy to sum up a life in a few words but maybe this quotation from her letters to the Sisters catches a glimpse of her great heart and spirit:
“Courage my good Sisters. I want you to be cheerful, love one another and always work to please Jesus alone. Jesus must be your whole strength...”