MORNESE – Rain in the morning cancelled the 45 minute walk to Valpanasco… The Project Mornese group stayed in doors and continued the guided study of St Mary Mazzarello’s letters. As sun shone brightly in the afternoon, the Sisters set out to the parish of St Sylvester, a ten minute walk, for an unique celebration of what they called A Rosary of Friendship commemorating various sites linked with significant moments in the friendship of Maria Domenica and Petronilla. They prayed for the gift of true friendship for each one and the FMA Sisters and for young people to discover the joy and fruitfulness of good and constructive friendship.
In 1854, when Maria was 17 years of age, she joined the Association of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, a group of young women who helped their parish priest, Don Domenico Pestarino, to prepare young people for the Sacraments, assist and take care of the sick and organise fun activities for the young women and children of the parish. It was through these early pastoral experiences that Maria began to develop into a caring young leader, who showed a genuine love for children and young people. Wherever she went within the village, the children were drawn to her like a magnet, eager to hear her jokes and stories.
With her closest friend, Petronilla Mazzarello (no relation) she decided to start a ‘trade’ school for girls in her village and surrounding area with the assistance of Don Pestarino and the other members of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate. Maria’s motivation for starting the school was to assist young women by providing them with an opportunity to develop dressmaking and other trade skills as well as Christian values that would be with them throughout their lives.
In 1864, Don Bosco came to Mornese at the invitation of Don Pestarino. He saw the work Maria and her friends were doing for the young women and children and was very impressed. Don Bosco had been thinking of founding a religious congregation of women who would work with girls as he and his friends were doing for the boys of Turin…
The first decade of the Rosary started with a brief narration of the first meeting between Maria and Petronilla – in front of the church door. Second decade was at the door of the Oratory where their group of 15 teenagers (admitted under rigorous recruiting standards of parish priest Don Pestarino) spent their youthful energies in apostolic initiatives. Third decade was by the side of the Church where Maria shared her apostolic dream with Petronilla under a nut tree, to dedicate themselves for the care of the young by earning their living by running a sewing workroom. Fourth decade was beside the house of the Immaculate where they set up their sewing workroom. The fifth decade was at the Collegio’s old chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows blessed by Don Bosco on 13 December 1867.
It was here that 11 of 15 ladies of the Association of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate including Maria and Petronilla made profession on 5 August 1872 in the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians formed with the support of Don Bosco and Don Pestarino. Maria became the first Salesian Sister and leader of the new FMA congregation with 10 other newly professed religious sisters.
The rosary ended with a spontaneous litany of gratitude for the friends who helped “us in our life vocation.” Interestingly names of several priests, as well as parents were mentioned along with Sisters as well as lay men and women.