Divine Providence chose August 5, 1872 to be the day that birthed a new religious institute 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 had lead them up to that point. Many people doubted the good-will and resolve of these young women. Like Our Lord, who went among his own and his own received him not, the first Daughters of Mary Help of Christians met with many more difficulties in their hometown. Yet, 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 first house in Borgo San Martino. They 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), ran workshops to educated young women to help them to be self-sufficient, and taught.
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, although it was at the cost of much hard work and dedication – and often extreme sacrifice – on their part.
Their first house outside of Italy was opened in 1877 in Nice, France. November 9th of 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.
After many years of revision, discussion and consultation, 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 year 1880 saw the second missionary expedition of the Salesian Sisters to Patagonia (Argentina), as they followed their Salesian brothers who had prepared the way for their arrival.
In 1881, Mother Mazzarello took ill and died on May 14th, at age 44. In her stead were left 26 houses and 166 Sisters.
Mother Mazzarello is in the center
The death of St. Mary Mazzarello did not spell the demise of the Salesian Sisters, for, as Mother Mazzarello herself had said, their true superior was Our Lady, and the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christian was, as Don Bosco had wished, an monument of glory to her and her Divine Son.
Mary Help of Christians saw to it that her Institute grew, and today we number over 15,000 members in 89 different countries on five continents. 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.