Chapter 1

Birth of Joseph Marello. Move to S. Martino Alfieri. He feels called to the priesthood and enters the seminary. He leaves his seminary studies and undertakes a business course. His behavior during this time. His miraculous recovery. His return to seminary studies.

Joseph Marello was born in Turin on December 26, 1844, in the parish of Corpus Domini on Bakers’ Street. His parents were Vincent Marello, and Anna Maria Viale from Veneria Reale. The baby was baptized the same day and given the name of Joseph Jeffry Steven. Mr. Jeffry Viale and Miss Theresa Secco were his Godparents.

The Marello family came originally from San Martino Alfieri, a little village near Asti with a population of about 1300. Nestled in the hills overlooking the Tanaro Valley, the town is flanked with productive vineyards and fertile fields offering visitors an enchanting view. The townfolk, despite the disbelief then infiltrating everywhere, had kept the faith of their ancestors alive. The village has an old castle belonging to the Alfieri Marchesi of Sostegno and a lovely church built by that noble family.

At the age of 18 Vincent Marello had left his family for Turin and gone into business there. In his youthful enthusiasm he dreamed of happiness and prosperity. After a few years he married, but his happiness did not last; death took his beloved wife in the springtime of her years. He took a second wife, Anna Maria Viale, who bore him two sons, Joseph, the firstborn and glory of the Church in Asti, and Victor. She too died while still young, and Vincent, crushed by his loss, felt impelled to leave Turin and return to San Martino to be with his parents. He could then give them companionship in their old age, while they could help raise his sons.

Joseph was confirmed August 15, 1855, by Bishop Artico; he received his first communion at San Martino from the hands of his pastor, Msgr. John B. Torchio. Unfortunately I do not have any further information about Joseph’s childhood.

Here in San Martino, Joseph and his brother continued the studies they had begun in Turin; Victor never left the little town; he carried on his father’s heritage and was highly esteemed by his fellow citizens for his intelligence and character. For many years he was an outstanding mayor, and for his excellence received the great honor of being knighted by the Crown of Italy.

At the age of eleven, Joseph stood out from his companions for his quick intelligence and dedication to studies.

The pastor at the time was the reverend dean, Msgr. John Torchio, a priest of remarkable virtue and piety whom everyone revered as a saint and who is still remembered by the people.

He noted Marello’s wholehearted dedication to catechism classes and sacred services; he was impressed by his composure as he served Mass daily so devoutly that it was an inspiration to many, including the Marchesa Alfieri, who had unbounded admiration for the boy. So the archpriest grew to love the boy as a son. Indeed, many years later he would be thrilled to accompany Joseph to Rome for his episcopal consecration.

Joseph by his goodness and intelligence was pure delight for his father, who went out of his way to make the boy happy. Among many other favors, he once took him to Savona, quite a long trip in those days. Joseph’s eager desire to learn more was a source of great satisfaction to him. He was especially pleased by the visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy; it was there that Joseph acquired a deep devotion to that shrine, a devotion which lasted through his entire life.

At the end of his elementary schooling, Joseph felt a call to the priestly life and asked his father to put him in the seminary. His father was reluctant to lose the son he loved so well, but he consented. Joseph therefore went with Bishop Philip Artico at Camerano near Asti, where because of special circumstances at that time there was both the seminary and the residence of the bishop. He attended the seminary in Asti and tackled Latin energetically. This was in October of 1856.

The first three years of high school passed quietly. Dedicated to his studies, his exercises of piety, and observance of the rule, Joseph was a source of encouragement to his superiors and companions. Kind and easy to get along with, handsome and polite, Joseph was sought out by all. And he was no stranger to honest fun; one old man of San Martino, well on in years, told one of our men how he had often seen Joseph on the autumn holidays playing soccer with masterly skill.

Anyone acquainted with Italian history is quite familiar with the tragic events that besieged Piedmont in 1860. In that year a violent hurricane was unleashed on the Church, and in the space of ten years it worked untold damage. The war began by ripping the seminarians from their shelter, to the grave danger of their vocations. Later on the nefarious work of factions and liberalism hunted religious out of their houses and violated the sacrosanct rights of the Church and the Papacy. This profanation culminated in the occupation of Rome and the reduction of the pope to a prisoner within the Vatican.

The war between Piedmont and Austria broke out in April of 1859 and the seminaries were converted into military barracks. So in 1859, in his fourth year of high school, our seminarian along with his companions was forced to lodge with a good-hearted family in the city, while continuing to attend classes in a room of the chancery.

When vacation came around, Joseph’s father wanted to persuade him to leave the seminary and enter business college. He reminded his son that being quite sharp and very interested in science, the boy could quickly rise in the world; such a firstborn son could be an honor to the family, a help for his father’s business, and comfort in his old age. He appealed by all his great love for him to consent freely to his plans. Day after day, he confronted his son with his most cogent reasons, using all the tenderness of which a father’s heart is capable.

Joseph was always docile and obedient; in his gentle heart he did not wish to resist his father, much less defy him. But because he was pious and had a sensitive conscience, he frankly set forth his own reasons for remaining faithful to God and his vocation. Although he was a good Christian, his father could not understand these reasons; it seemed to him that God would be just as pleased to see Joseph do as his father wished. The youth began to experience an interior struggle between his father’s voice and that of his own conscience. He passed his days silent and pensive; he wistfully recalled his life at the seminary, and prayed God to give him courage to weather the storm. Despite his sadness, he was careful to seem happy in his father’s presence, so as not to sadden him. His father continually insisted on his plans, and finally Joseph gave in. He wrote his superiors and informed his pastor that to his own great sorrow and only to obey his father he intended to interrupt his studies. His superiors received the news with profound disappointment; they were seeing one of their greatest hopes for the future of the Church suddenly vanish. This was during his vacation of 1862. It should be noted that his father was 54; Joseph’s brother was only 15.

Vincent Marello went from San Martino Alfieri back to Turin, where he struggled to rent a modest home from Mr. Marti on Seminary St., now September 20th St., and went into business again. Joseph attended business college, while his seminary companions were going to the college of the Venerable Don Bosco to continue their studies.

The thoughtful reader might certainly be tempted to accuse Joseph of having little courage, or perhaps of lacking mature conviction in an issue as crucial as giving up one’s vocation. It might be true. But whoever knows how hard it is for a son’s generous heart to hurt a father so loyally loved, will find it in him to understand this weakness, if that is even the right word.

On this point I dare to compare Marello’s life to a beautiful early spring morning with a crystal clear sky into which a slight hazy mist enters to lessen its brilliance and splendor. But as soon as the sun dawns on the horizon, the sky appears clearer than ever and the sun shines in all its bright magnificence. In the midst of the corruption and the dissipation of youths his age in Turin, Joseph constantly maintained his exemplary life. An engineer who was his close friend would often tell him: “you weren’t made for the world outside; you should be a priest.” He kept himself far from anything that could spoil his innocence, but the dangers of the outside world frightened him. He was a fish out of water. He was always dreaming of the seminary and begging Our Lady to comfort him by renewing his first call from God.

The Virgin does not know how to refuse her favor to those who love her; she answered his prayers in a way bordering on the miraculous.

Difficulties in life are, as we all know, instruments in God’s hands by which He ordinarily purifies and enlightens us when we have wandered off the right path; they are the lessons of mercy by which God makes us aware that He alone is our Lord and King. So, in December of 1863, while the young man was delighting his father by getting on quite well in his studies, he fell gravely ill of typhoid fever. Friends from the seminary tell us that when he was delirious he wept seeing a cassock before him. It seemed a sign from God.

In his heart the voice of Our Lady of Consolation assured him that it was God’s will for him to go back to the seminary. If he did not she would call him into paradise. Meanwhile the fever became alarmingly severe; Joseph’s father was beside himself with sorrow, fearing that he might lose his son for good. He tried everything his fatherly love could think of; he too begged Our Lady of Consolation to save him. He blamed himself for the tragedy, thinking that God was punishing him for having stood in the way of his son’s vocation.

One day in the pitch of fever, Joseph began weeping and asked: “Father, do you want me to get well?” “How could you even ask?” replied his father. “I am asking,” Joseph said, “because when I wanted to go back with one of my high school companions to continue my studies for the priesthood, you didn’t want me to. I obeyed you, but Our Lady wanted me there, and now, seeing what danger my soul is in, she has heard my prayer and has freed me from that danger. I am certain that if you allow me to follow my vocation, I will recover quickly. If not, Our Lady will call me to herself.” His father listened in tears, then said quietly: “Then I give my consent, if only you recover.” These were the very words of Joseph, as we read in a note on the life of St. Anselm of Aosta written by the eminent professor, Fr. Francesia.

Joseph began improving immediately and after a few months he was entirely well. He reentered the seminary for theology in 1864 (having been dispensed from the second year of philosophy) and, happily seeing his superiors and seminary companions, he thanked God for having brought him safe to a quiet harbor. His second investiture with the clerical habit took place on January 13, 1864. On this holy day he renewed with deep devotion and enthusiasm his promise to serve the Lord faithfully and consecrate to him his entire life. Joseph repeated with the prophet: “Vota mea Domino reddam.”

Throughout his training, he maintained the highest grades in studies and in piety, discipline, and character. Because of this he was eventually chosen by his superiors for the office of assistant prefect, a good indication of the esteem in which they held him. Two specific incidents have come down demonstrating the high respect his companions had for him.

Asti can boast of giving Italy its greatest tragic poet, a dramatist who rivalled the Greeks and won himself immortal glory. Victor Alfieri was born within its walls in January 1749 and buried at Holy Cross near Florence in October 1803. He was a man of sorrowful genius and iron will, and a fiery enemy of tyranny. In 1862 Asti erected a monument to him in its largest square, a sculpture by Sir Joseph Dini of Novara. The dedication was marked by solemn festivities worthy of the town’s most illustrious citizen. The professors of the city college, to stimulate competition among their students, offered a prize, an artistic medallion, to the student who wrote the finest essay on the great tragedian. One of these students, a former cleric who had known Marello, coaxed him to enter an essay too; and Joseph did so to please him. The composition won the prize.

Another time, while the seminarians were on retreat, the preacher was encouraging them to strive after virtue that would make them ready for positions of responsibility in the Church. “Who knows,” he said, “someday one of you may be wearing a miter.” All eyes turned to Marello. It was prophetic of the honor he would one day be given.