Bishop Marello again attends the Feast of Our Lady of Salve in Alexandria. He goes to Savona. His holy death. Solemn funeral services.
April of 1895 had arrived. Bishop Giocondo Salvai, ordinary of Alexandria, felt a great love for Bishop Marello and held him in the highest esteem and reverence. He again desired his participation in Alexandria’s celebrations for the Feast of Our Lady of Salve. Our founder went there, but the physical strain of those days coupled with his mental anguish aggravated his ill health, causing a serious hemorrhage.
In May of that same year, there occurred the third centenary of the death of the apostle of Rome, St. Philip Neri. The reverend Calasanzian fathers, who had a church in Savona dedicated to this great educator of youth, invited Bishop Marello to attend the feast, which fell on Sunday that year. Always ready to oblige legitimate wishes, our founder kept the commitment he had made long before, and despite his poor health, he went to Savona where the reverend fathers received him with great joy. He spent a sleepless night, however, and arose extremely weak in the morning. At 7:30 he nevertheless celebrated his Mass, which was attended by a large number of people. Before the general communion, he addressed affectionate words to all, but particularly to the young boarding students and to the youth of the Pius VII Circle attending in a group displaying their banner, inviting them to imitate the great St. Philip in prayer and in action. After the service, he decided to stay to attend another Mass in thanksgiving. And right at the consecration, while bowing in adoration, he gently fell faint so that his head remained resting on the kneeler for some time. His good secretary realized it and helped him up and into the sacristy. With a little refreshment he seemed to recover somewhat. During the day he would even joke about the event, saying: “Who knows what the people of Savona said on seeing me in that posture. They must have said among themselves: ‘Look how reverent the bishop of Acqui is-he makes such deep bows!'” At 10:30 he was to pontifically preside at the solemn sung Mass celebrated by the vicar general, Msgr. Rosselli, but he was begged to excuse himself and to only impart the threefold blessing of the Blessed Sacrament in the afternoon after vespers.
He felt totally exhausted, and yet he always maintained a calm and content expression, so much so that those good fathers greatly rejoiced at having him among them and were edified by his devotion.
Our founder did not want to leave Savona without paying his respects to its ordinary, Bishop Joseph Boraggini, who was then away from the diocese. He therefore decided to take advantage of the waiting time to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy.
This popular shrine is located on the Letimbro River four miles outside the city. It was erected to commemorate an apparition of Mary Most Holy in 1536 to her devotee Anthony Botta. It contains art treasures of enormous value, but its most precious treasure is the miraculous statue of the Virgin venerated in the basement chapel. It was crowned by Pius VII in gratitude for being freed from Napoleon I’s imprisonment.
It is here that our father spent the entire morning in prayer, interceding for all his dear children and his beloved diocese, and relieving his heart of the bitter anguish it felt. It is believed that in the depths of fervor, he here again offered through Mary’s hands the sacrifice of his life for the survival and growth of his dear congregation. The angels were moved to hear his solemn oblation and Mary Most Holy accepted it. Thereafter he felt strengthened and spiritually uplifted. On leaving the shrine, however, he told his secretary: “My biretta seems like a lead weight crushing my head.” When he first visited this shrine as a child, who would ever have been able to forewarn him that here at Savona he would end his days and commend his spirit into the Lord’s hands? How inscrutable are God’s designs!
On returning to the city, he went to visit Savona’s bishop who insisted on having him dine at his table. Though somewhat indisposed, Bishop Marello accepted; but while being shown Pius VII’s room, he fainted and had to be carried to bed. That was Monday. The sickness did not yet seem serious, and so his secretary only telegrammed his vicar general, Msgr. Pagella, that due to the occurrence of a slight illness, the bishop would delay his return to Acqui for a few days.
Due to his sleeplessness and the serious hemorrhaging undergone during the preceding days, our father suffered acute headaches and was tormented by even the slightest noise. Since his good attendant was constantly at his side worrying and trying every means to comfort him, our father begged him in a nice way to stay calm, saying in his witty humor: “Baptist, will you stand still for two cents?” Bothered also by the disturbance he was causing Bishop Boraggini, he exclaimed: “Baptist, if I were home, I’d be half healed.”
By Tuesday he seemed so improved that the two doctors who visited him said that he could surely depart by Thursday. On Wednesday he continued to improve to the point that, although still confined to bed, his good humor brought holy joy to all who conversed with him. On Thursday morning, however, Canon Peloso thought he looked worse and telegrammed Msgr. Pagella that the return trip was put off and that he should come to Savona if possible. By 4:30 in the afternoon he was notably worse. Only with difficulty did he utter a few garbled and incoherent words. Canon Peloso thought that this was perhaps a result of the medicine administered to him. It was instead an announcement of his imminent death.
When Msgr. Pagella arrived together with the seminary treasurer, our father communicated to them by gestures and halting speech how much he appreciated their visit and felt indebted to them. Seeing him in that condition, Msgr. Pagella quickly realized how serious it was. Stepping back stricken with anguish, he told those present that there was no hope and that our bishop was near the end. At these words the secretary was beside himself with pain. Msgr. Pagella meanwhile returned to the sickbed of his dear bishop. How many things our father would have liked to tell him at that moment! Bishop Marello stared intently at his vicar general, and in that loving gaze he seemed to want to entrust to him his diocese and particularly his dear congregation, which he was leaving in a difficult situation and for which he was offering his life. It was as if he wished to tell him: “I’m dying. I entrust it to you. Work to save it.”
The sickness quickly worsened, and he could not even be given viaticum, but only the last anointing. On Thursday, May 30, 1895, at six in the afternoon, he peacefully and trustfully expired of cerebral anemia in the Lord’s embrace.
The sacrifice was accomplished. The angels had closed his eyes in the peace of the righteous. He had lived fifty years, five months, and five days. As the news spread, the good people of Savona, who had quickly come to hold him in high esteem, turned out in good number to pray near his body and to pay their deepest respects. The students of the Catholic Circle decided to take turns serving as honor guards.
For his sons, such a loss would be felt most painfully. To buffer the shock of this news, an initial telegram was sent, communicating that the bishop was most gravely ill. Unaware of our father’s condition in Savona, we were all baffled by this telegram. A half hour later, right when our community was coming out of church after evening benediction, another followed, with the words: “Our most beloved bishop is gone.” We then understood the painful misfortune that had befallen us. There was pervasive mourning. No one could put into words the grief felt by all. Only those who have experienced the loss of a most dearly beloved person, seized by a premature death in a moment when he was most needed, can know the feeling. It was difficult to believe such a terrible thing had really happened.
Early the next morning a solemn Requiem Mass was sung. Then I left for Savona with a few brothers. By the time we arrived, 24 hours had already transpired since our founder’s last breath. Affectionately kissing his hands, we prayed at length for his eternal repose.
We were lodged at the seminary where the reverend superiors welcomed us with the utmost courtesy.
The solemn funeral took place in the cathedral the following morning, the vigil of Pentecost, with the participation of the bishop, the canons, and all the seminarians, who in spite of the rainy weather, wished to offer our father the greatest show of honor and the most devout of prayers. The casket was then accompanied to the railway station, and departed for Acqui. There it was met by the already assembled cathedral chapter, numerous clergy, and an enormous crowd of people. The procession was lined up in order, and amidst prayers and singing the body was taken into the bishop’s residence and placed in a magnificent hall, converted into a funeral chapel and richly dressed in mourning. Since the next day was the solemnity of Pentecost, it was thought best to await the following Tuesday to bury him. In the intervening time the beloved deceased was visited by priests, seminarians, confraternities, and faithful, one after another, all praying for the eternal rest of their dear shepherd.
This premature death aroused great grief not only throughout the diocese of Acqui but also among friends and acquaintances in the diocese of Asti. Bishop Ronco was most saddened, and he called Bishop Marello a martyr of charity. Asti’s cathedral chapter, to which Bishop Marello had formerly belonged, expressed their condolences and delegated two canons to represent them at the burial. St. Clare’s had more reason to grieve, and its more assiduous prayer for the deceased was accompanied by more frequent and heartfelt tears, so much so that the sadness in everyone’s face was in evident contrast with the solemnity of those days in which the Divine Bride exults in the immense blessings brought to the entire world by the descent of the Holy Spirit, and has her ministers sing: “Quapropter profusis gaudiis totus in orbe terrarum mundus exultat” (preface).
On the day of burial, the whole diocese of Acqui poured into the city. At the mournful pealing of the bells around ten o’clock, the somber ceremony began. After an endless line of societies and confraternities with their standards and banners of mourning, there followed the seminarians, the pastors of the diocese, the chapter, and then his excellency Bishop Re, ordinary of Alba. The casket was covered with a long black veil, on top of which a crimson velvet cushion with gold fringe held his white miter. Right behind followed his brother, Sir Victor, with his relatives, civic representatives of Acqui and San Martino Alfieri, Asti’s cathedral canons and a few other priests of that diocese, our brothers, and finally the mournful and prayerful people in two very long lines. One would have called it a victory celebration, were it not for the somber chanting of the Miserere, which announced instead a burial.
The procession traveled the main streets of the city amidst a crowd that barely allowed room for the line to pass by. Since the cathedral was not large enough to hold that multitude, the monsignor vicar general ordered the societies to stop once they reached the entrance doors and to arrange themselves in two flanks. It was thus easier to contemplate that spectacle of esteem and religious devotion. Bishop Re pontificated at the Mass, which the diocesan seminarians sang with precision, and then he officiated at the commendation rites over the casket. The procession to the cemetery followed with the same order and the same multitude of people. The beloved corpse, enclosed in a double coffin, was lowered into the crypt and placed beside that of Bishop Joseph Sciandra, his immediate predecessor.
Below his portrait in the bishop’s residence, was placed the following inscription, which in its brevity is a beautiful eulogy of his virtues:
JOSEPH MARELLO DOMO S. MARTINI AD TANARUM CREAT. EP. AQUEN. AN. MDCCCLXXXIX MITIS PRUDENS XTI CHARITATE FLAGRANS CUNCTIS DEFLETUS OBIIT AN.MDCCCXCV AETATIS LI REXIT ECCLESIAM SUAM AN. VI.
Besides the services held in the various churches of the diocese of Acqui, also worthy of note is that celebrated in die septima by his schoolmates in the renowned collegiate Church of St. Secundus in Asti and attended by all the families of St. Clare’s.
Also impressive was that celebrated by his children at St. Clare’s on the thirtieth day. They were really the ones most indebted to him, and they were also the ones most desirous of showing him their affection and gratitude. The church was beautifully and somberly decorated and a magnificent catafalque was prepared for the occasion. The Mass was sung by Canon Riccio, Bishop Marello’s schoolmate. His excellency, Bishop Ronco, pontifically presided. For this event our brothers executed the music of the cherubim with orchestral accompaniment. After the service Fr. Rastero, philosophy professor at the seminary of Acqui, delivered a splendid eulogy, recalling the beloved character of our common father and shepherd, and moving the assembly to tears. Those who were present still remember the beautiful feelings of that day. Msgr. Pagella, Can. Peloso, and several other priests of the diocese of Acqui participated in this ceremony.
The beloved person of Bishop Marello is still alive in the heart of his children. It is true that time destroys all and reduces to dust the most famous artistic monuments of human construction. The memory of the just person, however, is not destroyed, but lives eternally, just as his heavenly glory is eternal. Now that his bones have rested in the Acqui cemetery for a full 25 years, beneath a seeming prayer whispered by cypresses and poplars stirring in the breeze, only one wish burns in the hearts of his sons: that the day may soon dawn when these remains may rest in their midst. About him will be formed a band of apostles, filled with his spirit, who will spread everywhere the kingdom of God.
Here the young will come to receive light and counsel in life’s moments of uncertainty. Here those who remember his example will come to rekindle themselves in virtue. Here missionaries before departing will pray for God to bless their efforts, and here on returning to him they will sing a hymn of thanksgiving.