St. Clare’s House. Evening catechetical classes. Transferal to St. Clare’s of Cerrato Foundation’s Hospice for Chronic Invalids. Theater adapted for Church use. Some of the brothers moved to St. Clare’s. Marello’s coming to live with them. Fr. Bosso’s proposal to join our congregation into one family with Blessed Cottolengo’s. Canon Marello chosen to be bishop of Acqui.
Even before the resolution of the above mentioned difficulties with the Michelerio Charitable Institute, the Lord was already preparing a house destined to become the seat of our institute and the starting point for all the holy inspirations to a zeal and charity that would be of greater benefit to the diocese.
Along the city’s main street, across from the palace where the great Alfieri was born, stands a magnificent building, which was originally a convent of Poor Clares, from whom the present house takes its name. Beside it, right on the corner facing what is now called the Humbert I Plaza, stood the Church which the devout nuns had dedicated to St. Agnes the Martyr. When the 1866 upheavals drove them from their holy sanctuary, the whole block became the property of a certain Porcelli who degraded the church by changing it into a profit seeking theater. His venture, however, was unsuccessful, as usually happens to those who sacrilegiously grab after Church property. In fact, within a few years Porcelli went bankrupt, and the city banker, Mr. Eugene Guglielminetti, became sole owner. Being of Christian values, he was repulsed by the idea of keeping Church property, and so he notified the diocesan authorities that he was willing to deed over the whole building for the price of one hundred thousand liras.
Canon Marello, Msgr. Bertagna, and Msgr. Sardi, then rector of the cathedral, thought the right time had arrived to redeem this house and restore it to devotional use. And so Bishop Ronco obtained for them the authorizational rescript of the Holy See, and on June 14, 1883 they transacted the purchase.
In November of the same year, the immediate thought was to employ the empty theater for beginning evening religion classes for youth, particularly workers. Effort was put into basic preparations for this purpose, such as stationing a large Crucifix facing the side entrance, and also carefully positioning to one side a picture of St. Joseph, the same one presently found in the shrine of Vallone. Thus by Lent of the following year, 1884, the catechetical school was ready to begin. There were so many working youth and students, that the congregation’s few brothers could not handle them all, and help had to be provided by Canon Sardi, then rector of the cathedral and in 1886 bishop of Pinerolo, by our father, by Father Gamba, parochial vicar of the cathedral and later bishop of Novara, and by Fr. Risso, then prefect of the cathedral sacristy. What a beautiful sight it was to see so many young people near the age of twenty eagerly learning religious truths and together offering their prayers to God! An even more moving sight was the general communion at the end of Lent, attended by more than a hundred, many of whom received the sacramental Divine Presence for the first time.
This was the seed of that very useful and highly respected apostolic work, to which the institute was to then devote itself in a special way, the same work that was so dear to Jesus in his tender love for children, and for which St. Philip Neri, St. Joseph Calasanz, St. John de la Salle, Ven. Fr. Bosco, and thousands of others dedicated their life’s energies.
Our founder was not satisfied with providing for the spiritual welfare of souls through the congregation he founded. He had his mind also on the world’s neglected and forsaken, with a noble and generous concern that only springs from a magnanimous heart inflamed with the holy love of Jesus Christ.
In 1874 in the Castello region, Mr. John Cerrato had founded a hospice for poor chronic invalids. Wishing to insure that the institute remain in safe hands after his death, he made in 1882 a public deed of transfer to Canons Marello and Sardi. Our father was happy to be able to serve Jesus Christ in the poor, while aware of the future personal sacrifices this would entail. To see that they were properly attended to, he sought the help of Blessed Cottolengo’s Vincentian Sisters from Turin. He decided to transfer them from Castello to the empty quarters of St. Clare’s. Thus the family of poor invalids was the first to establish itself in the new center.
Meanwhile the task of adapting the theater for use as a church was completed, and there where the devil had centered his reign for some time, could now be written the Psalmist’s words: “Benedicam Dominum in omni tempore.” Bishop Ronco solemnly blessed it on July 18, 1884, under the patronages of St. Vincent de Paul, protector of the hospice, and St. Clare, patroness of the Poor Clare nuns.
On November 4th of the same year, part of the congregation was transferred to St. Clare’s quarters adjacent to the church, while some still remained behind to assist at the Michelerio Charitable Institute. It would be wrong to suppose that once the brothers moved here, Canon Penitentiary Cerruti held them in less esteem or lost his affection for them. He would visit them often, spend time with them in holy simplicity, and continue to affectionately call them little brothers. He loved them tenderly as long as he lived.
At that time the congregation was composed of one priest and twelve others between the brothers and the novices. In these new quarters at St. Clare’s a little boarding school for about thirty students was soon opened. At the beginning the Rev. Prof. D. Quaglia helped with the teaching in an admirable fashion, despite his blindness. During its first year the little school served not only our aspirants, but also the 9th graders from the diocesan seminary. In subsequent years it was composed of young aspirants to the priesthood coming especially from the neighboring dioceses of Acqui and Alexandria.
The brothers at St. Clare’s house had opportunity to extend their good works: caring for the Church, where on every liturgical feast the director, Canon Marello would explain the Gospel or give a simple but fitting talk; catechizing youth in all the city’s parishes during Lent and on feasts throughout the year; educating the adolescents. The Lord blessed their work, so much so that in the very first year four aspirants asked to join the congregation.
Also worthy of recalling is the brothers’ insistence, on the vacating by renters of other quarters at St. Clare’s, that their founder and father come from his seminary residence to establish a permanent dwelling among them. He too desired this, but feared the bishop would be opposed to it. Encouraged nevertheless by Canon Sardi, he mentioned the idea to Bishop Ronco who graciously assented. Hence in October 1885, while remaining as chancellor of the curia, he brought great joy to our confreres by moving to St. Clare’s. With his wishes thus satisfied, he could say to himself with holy Job: “Here I will be sight for the blind, a guide for the abandoned, a father to the poor. Here I will die surrounded by the crown of my sons who will bring joy to my last days. In nidulo meo moriar.”
In May of 1887 he was appointed pro synodal examiner, an office he fulfilled in willing accordance with the bishop’s indications, exhibiting vast moral learning and prudent evaluation of candidates. It is no wonder then that Bishop Ronco came to esteem him and later say of him: “In his every office he has shown an ability to assign proper importance to it, to know the persons to work with, the problems to be overcome, the quantity and quality of the duties to be fulfilled. Thus performing them with admirable calm and firmness he has been able to run the straight path of duty and simultaneously win the respect and esteem of all. He is gifted with ability for action, and without seeming pressured or wasting a moment, he works with great peacefulness and constancy. He has shown a great knowledge of the world and has not let himself be taken in by others’ deceits.”
Fr. Bosso, who succeeded Fr. Anglesio as director of the Little House in Turin, often came to visit the Vincentian Sisters employed at St. Clare’s hospice. He never ceased to admire the prosperous growth of the congregation, which was very dear to him, and of the Hospice. The truth was that under Canon Marello’s direction all proceeded with amazing order to the satisfaction of everyone.
To provide for the house’s needs, he had by now used up all his patrimony and all that he had inherited from Bishop Savio and from other devout benefactors. Admiring his unlimited charity and selflessness, the townspeople would then help him in various ways: often bringing him huge sums, and sometimes extending loans to him while charging only a small annual interest. It is therefore not surprising that within a few years these offerings helped him pay off the debt contracted for the purchase of the house and refurbish some of the quarters. Witnessing the evident flourishing of the various families residing at St. Clare’s, Fr. Bosso wished our congregation to unite with Blessed Cottolengo’s. One day he invited Canon Marello to Turin for the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, and after having showered him with every kind of courtesy, he made the proposal for the union he desired, inviting him to put on the emblem of the priests of the Little House.
Having been aware of the intentions of the superiors of the Little House for some time, our father replied that what was being suggested was rather delicate and that he did not know what Bishop Ronco would think of it. He thus very politely evaded those eager proposals, and with his customary confidence in St. Joseph’s great protection, he continued to do all the good he could, certain that his heavenly patron would never fail to provide him the assistance he needed.
By now the congregation had completed its first decade and numbered four priests and a good many brothers and aspirants. Our father promptly devoted himself to his ministries, intent on his works of charity, devotion, and zeal.
Here is what Bishop Ronco says about him in this regard: “His gifts of true, sincere, and profound devotion are well evident from the most edifying demeanor which emanates from his entire person, from the strict self-possession he maintains in church and at all sacred ceremonies, and from the zeal with which he moves others to devotion in the many prayer exercises which he initiated and directs in the church next to the Hospice of Charity. Yet this does not prevent him from actively and effectively attending to the salvation of souls. In fact he daily performs the ministry of sacramental confession both in the cathedral and in the church of the Hospice of Charity, both in the morning and in the evening at the penitents’ convenience. He is very effective in his preaching: spontaneously deciding to proclaim the Word of God in the church of the Hospice of Charity, he is joyfully listened to not only by the patients, but also by many who flock to hear him there.” (From Bishop Ronco’s report, cited previously.)
He tried to hide his virtues beneath a most pronounced modesty and a sincere humility. But virtue cannot be kept hidden from others. On the contrary, it is often more evident, the more it is accompanied by modesty, like a flower which though scarcely noticeable among the other plants, makes its presence felt by permeating everything around it with its fragrant scents.
One morning, towards the close of November, 1888, our founder returned home at the unusual time of ten o’clock, rather lost in thought. He called the priests and let them know that Rome had communicated his appointment as bishop of Acqui. The news raced through the house like lightning and kindled a twofold reaction of joy and melancholy in every heart: joy for the great honor to which the Pope had raised their father and founder, and melancholy because he would have to leave them.
The first thought of the bishop-elect was to write the Holy Father to be dispensed from accepting such a serious and weighty responsibility, advancing many good reasons for exempting himself from such a dignity. He decided, however, to suspend judgment for then, and quickly departed instead for Turin to visit and seek counsel from Cardinal Alimonda. The good-natured cardinal listened patiently to all of Marello’s reasons, and then replied with fatherly kindness: “The Holy Father suffers greatly when he sees those he chooses to be bishops persist in their refusal. Do not cause him this displeasure. Accept without hesitation, particularly since the Pope is not likely to want to accept a refusal.” Then Bishop-elect Marello peacefully wrote the Pope his obedient acceptance.
We would like to end this chapter with the most beautiful words that Bishop Ronco wrote about him in this regard: “Canon Archdeacon Fr. Joseph Marello is a precious gem of a priest, whom in God’s name the Holy Father decided to give to the widowed church of Acqui. He is a blessing lost to Asti and gained by Acqui. His life is an untiring practice of holy virtues, of zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and of charitable works for the poor. Meekness of soul shines through him as his faithful companion in his every action and as a noble insignia of even nobler victories. And all this treasure is hidden under the veil of the purest humility: qui se humiliat exaltabitur.”