Rome (Italy). On the 150th anniversary of the FMA Institute (1972-2022), the date of 29 January 1872, on which the Feast of St. Francis di Sales was celebrated at that time, is significant because it was chosen by Don Bosco and suggested to Fr. Pestarino and the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception for the elections of the first General Council of the future female religious Institute.
As for the Salesian Congregation, also for the Women’s Institute, Don Bosco established that one of the decisive dates of the foundation process would fall on the feast of St. Francis de Sales. There was a discernment to be made and therefore it had to be carried out in the ‘Salesian’ spirit: 29 January 1872 (Cf. Cronistoria I, 273-274).
That was a period of transition in which the members of the first group of the Daughters of the Immaculate had to make an important discernment: to continue adhering to a Pious lay union, or to choose religious life in the new Institute that Don Bosco was about to found. All were called for this important vote, both those who lived in their families and those who for some years had chosen to live in community in the House of the Immaculate.
The Cronistoria of the Institute passes on the news of the voting event, which took place in Mornese in the House of the Immaculate, next to the Parish of Mornese:
“On 29 January , the feast of St. Francesco de Sales [Don Pestarino] did what was suggested to him by his superior. He gathered, without saying anything to any stranger, those who lived in the house next to the church, with all the others in the town; and repeating what Don Bosco had advised him, reciting the Veni Creator Spiritus with the Crucifix displayed on a table between two lighted candlesticks, he passed to the voting. Twenty-seven Daughters of the Immaculate were present and Angela Maccagno was appointed scrutinizer” (Cronistoria I 273-274).
Angela Maccagno was the “vicar or vice-superior” of the Daughters of the Immaculate who lived in their families. She was a municipal teacher of Mornese; she distinguished herself in the village for her apostolic dedication and for a profound Marian spirituality. From the sources relating to the Pious Union of the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception and from the letters of Fr. Giuseppe Frassinetti, prior of St. Sabina of Genoa, it is deduced that it was Maccagno who had the inspiration to establish a religious association of young people who, while remaining in their families, were engaged in a real apostolic mission within the parish.
Fr. Pestarino noted the result of the vote on the last page of the handwritten notebook of the first Rules of the new Institute (cf. Manuscript A 1871), given to him by Don Bosco.
As the Cronistoria reports: “The ballot resulted in 21 votes for Mary Mazzarello of Joseph, known as from the Valponasca, three votes for Petronilla, two for Felicin (Felicita), one for Giovannina. Therefore, Mary Mazzarello remained superior with an almost unanimous vote, which clearly stated the concept in which Mary was held by all her daughters, even those who did not share her ideal.”
Petronilla Mazzarello, the friend and faithful collaborator of Mary Mazzarello was later elected second Assistant, which corresponded to Vicar. Felicin was Mary Mazzarello’s sister Felicita, two years younger than her, who was entrusted with the task of novice mistress. Giovannina was Giovanna Ferrettino, one of the first who chose to live in the House of the Immaculate.
After the election, Mary Mazzarello got up, thanked for the trust, but asked to be relieved “of a weight that she did not believe she could bear”. There followed an interesting clarifying dialogue between the electors, and in the end, Mary Mazzarello accepted to be the Superior but with the title of “vicar”. Don Bosco will then confirm her appointment as Superior and specify: “For now she will have the title of vicar, because the true director is Our Lady!” (Chronicle I 309).
“Rediscovering Mary Domenica Mazzarello in her identity as a young woman and in the prophetic dimensions of her spirituality and mission,” in order “to celebrate together the generative power of Don Bosco’s charism, lived in a creative and ingenious way in the feminine in Mornese and Nizza Monferrato by Mother and the first communities, together with young women and lay collaborators,” is the intent of the three-year proposal in preparation for the 150th of the FMA Institute reminded Mother Chiara Cazzuola in Circular no. 1014.