NIZZA-MONFERRATO, N. Italy (C.M. Paul) – About 90 minutes of drive, mostly on tortuous road from Mornese is Nizza Monferrato, the first headquarters of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA) from 1879 for about 50 years before they moved to Turin and then to Rome. Don Bosco visiting Mornese met Maria Domenica Mazzarello in 1864 and was pleasantly struck by the girl. It was the same Don Bosco, who on 5 August 1872, chose her as initiator of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in the same year and took the vows, along with her 10 companions.
In 1879, the FMA governance was transferred from Mornese to Nizza Monferrato and Maria Mazzarello died there on 14 May 1881 at the age of 44 years. During these two years she made 44 visits to her 22 houses in Italy and France. At her death, the FMA already counted 165 nuns and 65 novices in 28 houses ((19 in Italy, 3 in France and 6 in America). She was canonized in 1951 and her liturgical feast is celebrated on May 13.
The FMA institution enshrines the sanctuary of Lady of Graces. An FMA authority on the history of the shrine Sr Eugenia Meardi FMA took the group on a guided tour of the sprawling campus of the first major FMA Institution which runs a primary as well as a high school.
Starting from the shrine of Our Lady of Graces they visited Mother Mazzarello’s room on the first floor of the old Franciscan monastery, the vineyard, the Church of the Sacred Heart and the place of memories. The morning concluded with Eucharistic celebration in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace which houses the paper maches statue of Our Lady Don Bosco gifted to Mother Mazzarello. It was here in 1885 that Don Bosco saw Our Lady walking about the institution and protecting it under Her mantle.
After lunch, the group had prayer at Mother Mazzarello’s room which measures just 15 feet by 8 feet. It is a typical cell of the Franciscans who had earlier occupied it. Her writing table is in tact. The floor still has tiles from Maria Mazzarello’s day. She as well as other Sisters used to have two beds in each room to accommodate large number of Sisters in the community.
The next stop was at Casa San Giuseppe, a few kilometers away. It was an international novitiate which prepared FMA for several missionary expeditions. Today it houses some 45 senior Sisters among them Madre Marinella Castagno (92 years old) 7th successor of Maria Mazzarello. She was superior general for 12 years (1984-1996). Earlier she was a member of FMA General Council in 1973 making the canonical visits in various provinces. From 1975 until 1984 she was responsible for youth ministry, a role which gave her an insight into the different educational and pastoral situations in the Institute. The project Mornese was her brain child. She was out at the entrance of the institution hale and hearty to greet everyone in fluent English. She recalled several Sisters in the group by their name. Later, she addressed the group in the chapel. After a brief prayer together, Madre Marinella joined the visitors for refreshments and gelato (ice cream).
From there the group proceeded to the Nizza cemetery where the General Councilors who died in Nizza are buried in the crypt of the FMA Enclave.
29 June, the group leaves Mornese early morning for Rome with a brief stop over at Pisa.