Historical Profile

History of the Canonical Visit

The canonical visit in our tradition
In the Biographical Memoirs and in the Cronistoria we find some comments of Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello’s practice regarding visits to the houses which reveal the spirit in which they should be done.

Don Bosco’s thinking
In the Biographical Memoirs we read: «Don Bosco was very wise in his counsel on all occasions, especially in private conversations and in his conferences to his confreres on his frequent visits to the houses. […]».
He felt the need of seeing his sons to give them joy and to encourage them by his presence. He was committed to «see and examine everything and talk with superiors and pupils».1

In 1876 Don Bosco said to the rectors: «The first thing I wish to bring to your attention is my wish that directors see to it that, on my visits to each house, I be given the opportunity to speak with each one of the confreres without exception. […] The main purpose of these visits is to soothe any friction that may exist between the confreres and the director. On these occasions the confreres willingly bare their hearts and make it possible for me to smooth things out. The director can then eliminate the causes of discontent and thus restore charity».2

Regarding visits to the houses by the Provincials and major Superiors, Don Bosco recommended that they should always go in the name of the Superior and that the confrere should be reminded of the observance of the Rule, not in the strength of ‘what I want’ but in the strength of the Rule itself. "That  'I want' ruins everything," he added.3

Maccono describes how Don Bosco acted: «As the number of houses Salesian houses grew, Don Bosco visited them often in order to assure himself that the spirit was good, to understand his Sons’ difficulties, and to bring them his comforting word and his wise, encouraging counsels.  Don Bosco wanted Mother Mazzarello to do exactly the same».4

In the Cronistoria we read that, in the month of March 1877, Mother Mazzarello sent word to Don Bosco, through the Director, Fr. Costamagna, that Fr. Bonetti had invited her to visit Borgo S. Martino, but since she had passed through there already and did not think it opportune to go back since the Sisters already had a guide and Father in the person of the Rector.  However Don Bosco encouraged her not only to go, but to stay a few days saying:  «When, in the course of time, there would be more Houses she herself would realize that the Houses of the Institute would go well as long as the Superior had her suitcase very often in her hand like a commercial traveller. She was the Mother Superior and it was only right that she saw how her Daughters were treated, if they needed anything, were content, and worked as the Lord wished, without wasting time or neglecting the practices of piety and their health. She should see if the timetable was convenient, and so forth. “Go, go, Father Bonetti will be very pleased; and if on his part, he has some difficulty, advice or desire, he can express it. Mutual understanding always brings good results for body and soul. Take Don Bosco’s greetings to all, and tell the Sisters that he blesses them from his heart”».5

Mother  Mazzarello’s Practice
Mother Mazzarello understood, from the suggestions and example of Don Bosco, that visits can favour communion between the Sisters and the houses. From that time, she became a pilgrim, constantly travelling, seeking to give birth to and consolidate communities where charity is lived, communities in a constant state of conversion, in which the love of God is felt and daily nourished, so that it can become a regenerating force for fraternal and apostolic life.
Her visits were lived as a time of communion, of encounter, of joy. She visited with love and was capable of noticing many little gestures and many needs, and she reached each one personally.  She considered the visits as an opportunity for direct communication  with her Sisters, with whom she did not have daily contact.
Although a peasant who would never have left her home place, she set out. Her journeys were many and close together because she wanted to have as much direct contact with the lives of her Sisters as possible.
The style of her visits reproduced the environment and relationships they lived in Mornese. She listened to all of the Sisters with infinite patience and charity, comforted them in their pain and, while respecting and supporting authority, agreed with the Sisters when they were right and, prudently, provided for their needs.  In her visits, she observed everything and nothing escaped her. She gave the admonitions she believed necessary for the observance of the religious spirit of the Congregation.  Although she had little formal education, she was full of the wisdom of the saints, and gave very wise and useful suggestions.6
She considered every visit as a sign of God’s love, a love that was welcomed, given and lived in practice in her relations with each Sister, with the communities and beyond the community environment.

1 BM X 426
2 BM XII 64
3 Cf BM XVIII 149
4 Ferdinando MACCONO, Saint Mary D. Mazzarello Co-foundress and first Superior General of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians II, 1980, 240
5 Giselda CAPETTI, Cronistoria II, Don Bosco Publications, New Rochelle, NY, 1981, 237-238
6 Cf Ferdinando MACCONO, Saint…  II 240-241