The Life of St. Mary Mazzarello

By Jamie Marangoni

The Life of St. Mary Mazzarello

By Jamie Marangoni

Born May 9, 1837, Mary Dominica was the oldest of the seven children of Maddelena and Giuseppe Mazzarello.  Her parents were farmers who had vineyards and fields near Mornese, a small town in northern Italy.  Where Mary grew up girls did not go to school, so she helped around the house until her younger sister, Felicina, was old enough to help her mother.  Mary then went with her father to work in the fields and vineyards. Eventually, her father told her to slow down a bit,

 “I am a little worried that the help might not like to work with me any longer if they’re going to be shamed by my daughter!” he exclaimed.

Mary worked as hard at learning about religion, first from her Mother, then, later from a priest at the church in the nearby town.  As she got older, her mother would take her to Mass daily, but if her mother couldn’t go, her older cousin would take her. In her religion class, she paid close attention, not wanting any of the students to get ahead of her.  Every week there was a contest between the boys and the girls in the class. She always won and said,

“I’m not afraid of those boys, and I want to beat them all!”

Her parish priest, Father Dominic Pestarino, saw that she liked to learn about her religion and helped her in her studies, and encouraged her to be given Communion daily. He also helped guide her towards a religious life. When she was seventeen a group of girls in her town wanted to get together to study about the Lord and help other people. Father Pestarino helped them. With the permission of St. John Bosco, the group that they formed was called the Daughters of Mary Immaculate.

Several years later, when she was 23, an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out, and her uncle got typhoid, so she went to care for him. Then Mary got it, and she recovered, but it left her too weak to work in the fields any more. She wanted to start a dressmaking business. Mary thought of teaching young girls dressmaking and religion. Her friend, Petronilla Mazzarello, joined her, and they opened a dressmaking shop in Valentino Campi, but first they took lessons.  It wasn’t long before families began to send their daughters to them to learn sewing and Christian religion.  As time went on they took in orphan girls and taught them as well.

In 1861, Father Pestarino met with St. John Bosco, and asked to join him in helping start a Salesian school for boys in Mornese.  Since what Mary was doing for the girls in Mornese, was like what Father Pestarino was doing for the boys, they worked together. Three years later, St. John Bosco visited Mornese, and Mary listened to him preach at Mass. Over the years he and Mary keep in touch, and liked how she worked with the girls. In 1871, he spoke to Pope Pius IX and asked for permission to found an order of nuns. The Pope gave his approval. Soon after, Bosco told Pestarino that he thought Mary and Petronilla and the others who were teaching would be good nuns. The sisters voted Mary to be their leader, but Mary said she was not smart enough to be a leader. They chose her anyway.  On August 5, 1872, the sisters took the name “Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians.” In 1875, Mother Mazzarello went with the sisters to Rome to be blessed by Pope Pius IX. 

The Salesian sisters spread to South America, teaching and helping people.

Mary Mazzarello died on May 14, 1881 in Nizza Monferrato, Italy.  At the time of her death, there were 139 sisters in 27 convents in Italy, France, and South America. The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians is now the second largest congregation of women religious in the Church.  More than 15,000 sisters serve in eighty-seven countries throughout the world!

I chose Mary Mazzarello because her feast day, May 14th, is on my birthday.



John J. Delaney, Dictionary of Saints, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1980, pg. 401.

Jeanne Kun, “Plenty of Backbone: The Life of St. Mary Mazzarello”, The Word Among Us,

unknown author, “St. Mary Mazzarello 1837-1881”, Salesian Missions,