Tag Archives: Religious

Project Mornese Sisters Visit Mother Marinella

Nizza shrine: Our Lady's statue gifted by Don Bosco

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.

Sisters in prayer at Maria Mazzarello's room

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.

St. Maria Mazzarello's room today

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.

Madre Marinella addresses Sisters in English

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.


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Sisters Go Second Time to Valponasco Mazzarello Home

Open air Eucharistic celebration at Valpanasco

VALPONASCO, N. Italy (C.M. Paul) – The Project Mornese English (PME) speaking Sisters returned to Valponasco, the Domenica Maria Mazzarello home now turned into a spirituality centre, for a second time, 24 June. This time, it was for a day of prayer and reconciliation.
After a 40 to 45 minute walk, on a bright sunny day, the Sisters refreshed themselves in the shade of lime, plane, oak and pine trees on Valponasco hill. They had a good view of the newly repaired bell tower of Mornese parish church and settlements in the distance overlooking the verdant valley skirted with vineyards.
After a quick picnic lunch, the Sisters settled down under the tree shade for a reconciliation service followed by individual confession and open air solemn Eucharistic celebration. The highlight of the Mass was a procession with the Bible around the Valponasco home singing the opening song from the Godspel musical: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” The procession also marked the solemnity of the nativity of St John the Baptist, as well as the name feast of St John Bosco which is also the day of the Salesian Rector Major’s feast.

Bible procession at Valpanasco Mazzarello Home

While Mornese morning starts with prayer, input sessions and reflection on the life and writings of the co-foundress St Maria Mazzarello, afternoons are spent exploring the places associated with Mazzarello – the Collegio (first house of the FMA institute) where PME is put up (11-28 June at Mornese), Mazzarelli & Valponasca (houses where Maria Mazzarello grew up), Roverno river where Mazzarello and Sisters had their laundry done, the parish church, the work room and the house of the Immaculate where young Mazzarello organized her group to work for local girls.

Sisters with Valponasca care-taker Sr Iva Bolsi

Every evening, different provinces took turns to share their special ministry to the young with creative PowerPoint presentations or short films. The group also saw a B/W film on St Mary Mazzarello, as well as the two part, 2004 film on Don Bosco.
The PME Sisters mostly in their 40s and above come from 10 countries of three continents – North America, Asia and Europe. The Indian Sisters form the largest single country group totaling 16 Sisters from six Indian provinces. Participants from other Asian countries include Cambodia, Timor, the Philippines and Israel.
Since 1996, more than 200 sisters a year have gone through this innovative on-going formation program to absorb the charism of their founders Don Bosco and Maria Mazzarello and regale salesianita’ from its source.

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Sisters Renewal Programme Animators Awed by Group Enthusiasm

L to R: Sr Edna and Sr Maire at Project Mornese.

MORNESE, N. Italy, (C.M. Paul) — The two animators of 29 member Project Mornese English (PME) speaking group say they are overwhelmed accompanying the groups each time. While for Irish Sr Maire O’Byrne it is the 10th time accompanying PME, for U.S. born Sister Edna Mary Mac Donald former provincial of Australian province it is the 5th time.
“I have always found the experience very life giving for myself, as well as for the group. I feel it is a privilege to be able to accompany my Sisters in this experience, especially those who would not otherwise have an opportunity to visit the places of our Founders,” says Sr O’Byrne, 44 years a Salesian Sister.
“Those coming to Italy for the first time are in awe as they come into personal contact with the places and centre of the Catholic Church and of our charism,” says Sr Mac Donald who discontinued accompanying PME group on appointment as Salesian Sisters provincial of Australian province.

Sr Edna and Sr Maire Tending the flame!

“These Sisters return to their provinces with a renewed sense of purpose regarding the Church, our congregation and are re-energised in their personal call to continue to deepen their own human, Christian and religious journey,” adds Sr Mac Donald.
“Accompanying each group, I come away in awe at the journey each Sister is wholeheartedly willing to continue and to pass on to others what is truly life-giving,” explains Sr Mac Donald who served two terms on AMOR (Asia/Oceania meeting of Religious) Executive.
An exhilarating moment in accompanying the group is “to see the wonder and amazement on the Sisters’ faces when they actually come in contact with sacred places in Rome, Turin and Mornese,” says Sr Mac Donald who holds a PhD degree in education from the University of South Australia.
She spells out major group experiences as “depth of prayer in the group, a sense of profound gratitude for the privilege of the pilgrimage and being blessed to walk with others along the journey of life.”

Project Mornese Sisters Maire, Rosalia, Lucy & Edna

“The PME methodology is experiential and allows for the true sense of pilgrimage to be actualized maximising the possibility for growth and change to occur in each Sister at her own pace,” says Sr. Mac Donald who had her religious training in the U.S. and Italy before moving to Australia as a young religious. She has worked for over 40 years in education and is involved in the initial religious formation program of FMA South Pacific Region province.
Sr Byrne adds, “ One of the most important aspects [of PM] is that it is designed for every Sister not just a privileged few. It is also very valuable because [it] is based on experience and gives time for personal reflection and going in depth.”
The PM gives Salesian Sisters worldwide opportunity to re-vitalize their Christian, religious and Salesian charism. The month-long course is offered each year in five languages (Italian, English, Spanish, Portuguese and French) through a progressive pilgrimage in three places connected with their charism – Rome, Turin and Mornese.

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FMA Recalls Order’s Beginnings in Canada

Canadian FMAs Sr Roberte and Sr Lise in Mornese

MORNESE, N. Italy — The first Canadian national to join the Salesian Sisters is part of the Project Mornese currently on a study tour in Collegio Mornese. Sr Roberte Johnson has vivid memories as a young girl preparing for the great event of the canonization of Blessed Maria Domenica Mazzarello (24 June 1951) in her home parish of St. Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick, Canada.
“I can still see her eyes following me,” recalls Roberte, then age 18 years, describing the gaze of St Maria Mazzarello’s picture carried in her classroom by Father Ettore Carnavale  in St. Louis Convent.
Soon after the canonization of St Maria Mazzarello, Roberte entered the Salesian Sisters postulancy in North Haledon, New Jersey (USA) on 1st October 1951. Roberte made her first profession on  5th August 1954 and became the first Canadian Daughter of Mary Help of Christians.
After her first profession, Sr Roberte was sent to Beech Street, New Jersey for her first year experience as a school teacher.  Following year, she was sent to Pointe-Verte, New Brunswick, Canada to start teaching in the new school.  She stayed three years there and went to Florida, USA.
“Three years ago, I was supposed to have been on this study tour, but the day previous to my departure, I fell and broke my left ankle and I had to cancel my trip,” says Roberte who made her younger nun sister with the FMA lucky when she took her place on the study tour in Italy.

Sr Roberte walking up the Mornese College road.

Pointing to another Canadian Sister Lise Parent in the group Sr Roberte says, “I met her as a fifth grader, during my stay at St Claire parish in Montreal.” Sr Lise Parent is currently school principal in Louisiana, USA.
An enthusiastic and sporting member of the Project Mornese English language group, Sr. Roberte’s eyes flare up when she narrates the plight of children today.
“These children,” laments Sr. Roberte, “get no catechism lessons nor religious education in school. We have to do it all in the parish, that is if and when they come to Church.”
The FMA Canadian vice-province today has 28 Sisters (24 of them Canadians) as well as two Salesian Sisters from Hong Kong and one each from the Philippines and U.K. They are spread in the three geographical provinces of Québec, Ontario and New Brunswick in five communities in the Vice-Province of Notre-Dame-du Cap CND, Canada.

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Day at Valponasca Mazzarello Home

Valponasca chapel: Samoan style Bible procession.

VALPONASCA, Mornese – The Project Mornese Sisters spent a day at the Valponasca home of the Mazzarellos, 19 June. Leaving the Mornese Collegio, the group walked down public road for about 45 minutes and climbed up the Valponasco vineyards, once cultivated by Maria Mazzarello and her family. On arriving at the well kept courtyard and home, Sisters gathered upstairs in the new hall above the chapel for input session on Maria Mazzarello’s life at the Valponasca farm. It was followed by a well prepared liturgy by Sisters of the Pacific and Australia. After the liturgy, the group had the experience of gusty winds which turned up from nowhere carrying away from their hands the plastic cups and plates distributed for lunch…
The story of the farm goes back to Maria’s paternal grandfather who rented the small farm “Valponasca”, owned by the marquis Giorgio Doria on February 10, 1827, for a period of 18 years. Domenico Mazzarello died at an early age leaving his property to his 4 sons; three of them were to share the house in “Mazzarelli di qua” with their families. Later, Giuseppe Mazzarello, Maria’s father, decided to go to live at the Valponasca. This probably took place in 1850, after extending the rental period of the house.

Sisters gather outside Valponasca home.

Maria lived her adolescent and youthful years in this house. She was like any other lively and intelligent girl of her time. Here at the Valponasca, the rhythm of her life changed. Until then, she had been the helpful support of her mother; now that her little sister Felicita had grown up, Maria could work with her father in the fields.
Work and prayer sustained her youth. In this new home, Maria found a place which became the strong point of her busy day while she worked in the fields and vineyards. In the little house of Valponasca there is a window on the southern side. From there, the Mornese parish church of St Sylvester is visible. Maria used to go to Mass every morning, but could not go back in the evening. Thus, she found a way of joining those who at that time were gathered together in the church for prayer. She would come here to this window.

Mornese Church seen from Maria's favourite window in the Valponasco Mazzarello home.

When her mother realized what Maria’ s evening escapes were about, she arranged it so that the whole family would gather by that window for their evening prayer. From here, where silence is broken only by the wind that blows in every direction, Maria had learned to live an intense spiritual life. She learned the real meaning of contemplation which, according Gospel, makes one responsible for one’s brothers and sisters. Here at the Valponasca, Maria nurtured her religious vocation and brought it to to maturity, even though she didn’t know how she could ever realise it.
The old Valponasca farm, where “Main” (as Maria was fondly called) lived the decisive years of her adolescence, had to belong to the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, as a precious remembrance. The FMA acquired it on April 25, 1986. Care was taken to preserve the original structures as far as possible and while at the same time adapt it for the numerous pilgrims and groups who come here in prayer, in silence and reflection to discover the roots of a sound spirituality. The work of restoration was concluded in 1988.
Today, Sr Iva Bolsi at 82 years, drove a nine-seater Volkswagon Transporter from Mornese Collegio with ten Sisters of the Project Mornese to Vaponasco where she is the curator. She returned to pick up, if any, who could not complete the walk. Again she went down to Collegio to pick up lunch for 32 Sisters and made two more trips to bring home, the weary walkers.

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Main Grows up in Mornese Parish

Church of St Sylvester as seen from the narrow Via Chiesa and view from backside of the Church.

MORNESE – The project Mornese group spent the afternoon (16 June) in Maria Mazzarello’s parish church. Over 400 years old, the church was the scene of her life and activities. The visiting Sisters had opportunity to hold a ceremony to renew their baptismal vows at the same baptismal font where Maria Domenica was baptized, and received other sacraments of confession, communion and confirmation.
Situated at the center of Mornese town is the Church of Saint Sylvester (estd. 1602). From 1812 on, the building was subjected to a series of improvements that made it one of the most beautiful churches in the territory. In its underground, where there are evident traces of the foundation of the ancient Castellazzo and of the first oratory, a permanent “Christmas Crib” was constructed in 1995 by a group of volunteers from Mornese.
Maria Domenica was born on May 9, 1837, in Mornese (Alessandria). In this Church, Maria affectionately called Main, was baptized at the stone baptismal font over which there is a picture of John the Baptist. In this Church, she attentively followed the catechism lessons of Fr. Pestarino and his Sunday homilies which, according to the customs of the time, were given from the high pulpit dominating the entire congregation. In this Church, Main made her first Confession and her first Communion (1847), and Confirmation (1849).
Each Sister took turn to take holy water from the font and renew her baptismal vows.When her uncle’s family caught typhoid, Fr. Pestarino had asked Maria’s father to allow her to help out her sick relatives at the Mazzarelli. Though he was opposed to the idea, he left Main free to make her own choice. She did so telling Fr. Pestarino: “If you want me to do so I’ll go, but I’m sure I’ll catch the disease.” Here, after assisting her sick uncles, Main caught typhoid fever. It was a long and serious illness at the age of 23 (1860), when she could finally move about, she went to the back of the church, huddled in the darkest corner and said: “Lord, if you grant me a few more years of life, allow me to be forgotten by all. I am happy to be remembered only by you.”
The experience of her own physical fragility, on the one hand, deepened her abandonment to God and, on the other, encouraged her to open a sewing school to educate the girls in work, prayer and love of God. Thanks to her intense sacramental life, and under the wise guidance of Fr. Pestarino, she made great progress in the spiritual life.
On the occasion of Don Bosco’s visit to Mornese (10 August 1864) she said: “Don Bosco is a saint and I feel it”.

Parish priest Don Pestarino introduces Maria Domenica to Don Bosco visiting Mornese in 1864.

In 1872 Don Bosco chose her to begin the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters). She proved a capable formator and teacher of spiritual life. She was cheerful and serene, and spread peace wherever she went. She radiated joy and involved other young people in her dedication to the education of women. She died in Nizza Monferrato on May 14, 1881. Her remains are venerated in the Basilica of Mary Our Help in Turin. Her feast is
celebrated on May 13.
Thursday, 17 June, the group will spent the day at Valpanasco village home where Main lived her first 21 years of life.

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Sr Regina of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sr Regina Joseph FMA

FLORENCE – You won’t believe this… She looks to be the oldest member of the group with flip flop shoes too large for her feet. Dressed in cream colour sari with salt and pepper hair she walks erect on a telescopic golden colour walking stick. When the Project Mornese group of the Salesian Sisters to which she belongs, goes on a long trek or do some arduous climbs, Sr Regina Joseph stays back.
It was on the bus in Florence en route to Turin (Sunday 6 June) that I caught up with her. She sat alone praying her beads while the rest of the 30 Sisters took the opposite direction hoping to board the bus that would meet them Lungo Arno Secco.
From Ponte Vecchio our last visiting spot, it is only one more bridge and then you are at the bus pick up point. In stead, the group walked in the opposite direction in the mid day sun passing four bridges arriving at the Garibaldi statue near the American Embassy along the river Arno, when good sense prevailed with help from an US Embassy security staff!

On the banks of river Arno in Florence

We retraced our wearied steps the whole way back in single file along the river passing six bridges. On the return march, tired, thirsty, hungry and angry, I led the pack of dispirited nuns who tried to cheer themselves signing some quaint songs!
So, there I was now sitting with Sr Regina Joseph who had been student in Italy over 40 years ago. She tells me how she was the only daughter of her parents, had been principal of schools in several prestigious Auxilium schools in Tamilnadu and currently engaged in full time prayer ministry for some 40 years, operating now from Auxilium Kodambakkam near Chennai.
She adds with great frankness how Jesus “just sends people in need of His graces” to her for prayers…
Whether Hindus, Muslims or Christians, “I first tell those who come seeking prayers that it is Jesus who told them to come. Otherwise, you could have gone to anyone elsewhere!”
“How many hours do you spent for sleeping, eating, reading, studying, watching television, listening to radio and music etc…? What about praying?” she asks the perplexed prayer seeker.
Normally, these people have no time for prayer, she tells me.
So, Sr Regina, insists with people, to allot just 15 minutes a day for prayer.
And she writes out the mantra (a magical set of words that a master utters in the ear of a worthy disciple)…
Once I saw her writing out the mantra in Italian for a tourist whom she met for the first time and with whom she got speaking in Italian.
She wrote out the same mantra in Italian and English for me.
She says, we have time for everything except for God…
So, why don’t we just give 15 minutes of quality time for Jesus? she asks.

Organist Br. Simone Sante and Sr Regina Joseph at the basilica of St John Bosco, Colle Don Bosco, Becchi.

She tells that we have to say this prayer 81 times (9×9 novena style) a day, that works out 15 minutes a day.
She impresses me further with a file she pulls out from her bag. It has  thanksgiving letters in English, Italian and Tamil for graces received. “These are letters from people who received miraculous favours from Jesus like, long time childless couple getting child, unemployed persons getting job, girls not getting suitable partners finding them, chronically sick get healing, cancer and heart patients getting cured, all these, soon after starting the mantra
Here is the prayer:
May the Sacred Heart of Jesus
be loved, adored and glorified,
daily throughout the world
now and forever!
Let the person who needs the grace pray more fervently and insistently, says Sr Regina, “and then you will see how Jesus will bless you abundantly…”
Only one condition she whispers, the person who desires the grace must say the prayer devotedly for just 15 minutes a day or 81 times, not necessarily all at one go…
Long live Sr Regina of the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

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