Bishop Marello’s pastoral life. Edifying examples. His physical-moral description.
The real shepherd described in the Holy Gospel is he who most closely imitates God’s tender love for souls. Wherefore St. Paul exclaimed in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Could you have any weakness that I do not feel? Any failure that does not weigh upon my heart? For your souls I would willingly sacrifice not only all my possessions, but even my very self.” And besides the image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus is also compared to the hen who gathers her chicks under her wings to protect them from impending danger (Mt 23:37). Grateful to the Lord who had selected him for the sublime ministry of bishop, Marello totally devoted himself to the salvation of his flock, unsparingly sacrificing his whole being for the Lord. Listen how he himself describes his first months in Acqui:
“All will surely join in thanking the Lord with me for the good health and peace of soul He has been granting me during these extraordinarily busy first weeks. Yes, Deo Gratias for the way He guides me in my study of so many matters and in long conferences with the vicar general and in patient reading of the letters piled high on the chancery desk. Deo Gratias for comforting me with the multiple expressions of affection from the good citizens of Acqui. Visits by the hundreds, personal greetings by the thousands, ceremonies in the various churches, addresses of varying lengths, and examination of the clerics all tire the body, but Deo Adiuvante they energize the spirit.”
He became all things to all people, to the point of declaring himself in a real state of siege from all the multiple activities, having to rob little bits of time from his rest so as to satisfy everyone. In a November 1889 letter he writes thus: “As much as I would like to, I have very little time even in the long evenings. A little breviary and the stacks of letters the vicar sends me to review consume whatever night hours are free from audiences.”
He showed great patience and kindness for all. Everyone knows that in order to deal with every type of personality, including irritating persons who endlessly recount seemingly insignificant stories that are of such importance to them, and to at times detect little appreciation for the response given, and yet to always remain calm and act courteously when things do not go as planned or desired, requires exceptional patience.
Bishop Marello always listened to everyone with great attention, had a kind word for all, showed them gentle compassion, and sent them off consoled. One day while I was waiting for a moment to discuss rather important matters with him, a person began a tirade long enough to bore the dead. When it was over, I could not keep from asking him: “Bishop, how can you show such real concern for a matter of such insignificance?” He replied to me: “It may appear insignificant to us, but for them it seems very important. If we like people to share our concerns, we must respect others’ problems and sufferings.” One more fact should be sufficient. Canon Olivieri who often accompanied Bishop Marello on his pastoral visits, relates a trip to dedicate an altar in a chapel rather distant from the parish church. After Bishop Marello was already vested in his pontifical robes and all set to begin the services, they noticed that the holy relics were missing. During the half-hour delay for the race to the church where they had been left, our father won everyone’s admiration by not showing the least sign of impatience or irritation. With his miter on in front of the chapel, he began to ask catechism questions to the many children surrounding him and to take great pleasure in hearing their replies.
As he was departing for the city, the youth rejoiced in seeing him and flocked around him, happy if they managed to kiss his ring, and happier yet if able to receive a medal or other devotional memento.
His exercise of such patience gave birth to an evenness of temperament which made his soul seem always at peace, no matter what. His mood was consistently gracious and cheerful.
Besides spending himself unreservedly, he also gave the poor whatever he possessed. He was often out of money, and one day he asked Fr. John of happy memory for something to give to the poor he had met along the road.
We read that St. Paul yearned for the moment when he could see and embrace the faithful of Rome so that they could draw mutual support from their common faith. Bishop Marello fulfilled this important duty of his ministry by bringing peace, support and blessing to the homes of all his most beloved children. He made his pastoral visit to all 120 parishes of the diocese, even in the most difficult mountainous areas, teaching, edifying, and sowing the divine seed. His simple and clear words, filled with inspiration and burning with lively charity, penetrated the minds of the good inhabitants, who were always glad to listen to him and who would race to welcome him with great displays of happiness and jubilation. The father then joined in prayer with his children, and the comfort of his pastoral blessing made a lasting impression on them. After completing his pastoral visit, he would continue to carry them all in his heart, no matter the distance between them. He would remember all, priests and faithful, with affection, and would recount the splendor of their processions, their general communions, their triumphal arches, their applauses, the harmony of their music, all expressions of the faith that motivated them. What he writes about his visit to the towns of the Bormida Valley is beautiful. He says:
“The Bormida Valley towards Cortemiglia is one of the most moral and faithful areas of the Diocese. I found much devotion there exhibited in the beauty of the churches and sacred furnishings and above all in the great attendance at the holy sacraments. The town councils delivered speeches that would humble the best medieval Christians, and in one town they received the bishop on their knees outdoors. I consecrated two churches, and on both occasions the faithful proved the firmness of their faith and the depth of their love for the decorum of God’s House. Portae inferi non praevalebunt.”
His presence in these visits proved beneficial even to the most hardhearted. Once he had to make a pastoral visit to Ricaldone. For some unknown reason the town officials and the musical band refused to pay their respects by going out to meet him as was their duty. The following morning out of curiosity some of them decided to go to church. On simply seeing him and hearing him preach, they were so taken with admiration and respect that they repented and sought to undo their wrong at our father bishop’s departure by all together accompanying his carriage to the sound of fine music all the way to the nearby town of Maranzana. Bishop Marello thanked them and insisted that they return home, but they replied: “No, bishop, it’s not right. We won’t leave you until another band comes to replace us.” That is the way it was: only after they had arrived at the first houses of the town of Maranzana did they turn back.
He was loving and courteous to all, but especially towards his own priests in whom he reverenced the sacred character with which they had been sealed. They in turn showed him the same affection and reverence that sons show their very dear father. He wanted to be kept informed of the situation of the poor mountain pastors whom he generously assisted with the funds for the bishop’s income.
He took special care to preserve the good reputation of others, especially of his priests. He never uttered the slightest reproof or complaint in their respect, but always covered their faults and praised their affection and gained their docile cooperation. One day a priest came to him exasperated about a certain order and resolved not to submit to it. Our father bishop treated him with such warmth and kindness that he gave in and decided to obey. The priest’s companions were amazed at his sudden change, and the only explanation he gave them was: “What do you expect? His ways are irresistible.”
His secretary Canon Peloso relates:
“Once I was feeling slightly indisposed. With that all-perceptive gaze of his, Bishop Marello realized it, but without letting on at all he told me with a smile: ‘Listen Fr. Peloso, tomorrow I’ll dress as a simple priest and we’ll go for a nice outing.’ We did so the next day. I thought that I was going to keep him company. Only thinking about it later did I realize that he had done this kind gesture to help me feel better.”
While busy in his Diocese, he did not forget his beloved congregation, fruit of his labors and child of his heart. From time to time he would go to Asti to personally uplift his sons. These visits were dear to him and pleasant for the brothers. They created a spark of life, celebration and indescribable joy. For several years he celebrated a solemn pontifical Mass on the Feast of St. Vincent of Paul, patron of the church at St. Clare’s and of the hospice. When he could not be present in person, he wrote letters showing his interest in the various families of the house and in each confrere. He answered questions, resolved problems, and provided for necessities.
The following excerpt of a letter he wrote for the favors received for the month of St. Joseph, 1891, is worth recalling:
“This is the first time I have the consolation of replying to a letter so filled, or better so overflowing with beautiful news that I have savored and have let Fr. Peloso … savor like a delightful piece of music stupendously harmonized from beginning to end. St. Joseph is always the choir director who intones the songs, but he sometimes allows a few sour notes. During this dear month of his, however, he wants all the notes right on pitch flowing so melodiously as to carry our spirits off to that place of complete harmony” (February 23, 1891).
We would also like to relate a passage from another letter in which he delights in the way the brothers at his invitation had spent the summer holidays at the diocesan vacation house in Strevi:
“I am happy that the brothers wound up their vacation in Strevi with a crowning pilgrimage to Our Lady of Clay. I must add that all excel moribus et disciplina, singulariter et collegialiter: …[one] in singing; …[another] in riding the little donkey, …[another] in bowling boccie; … and then everyone in meditating, singing psalms, and praying the rosary, etc., so much so that the vacation spot could be called a religious house during these days, and the chapel a shrine” (August 14, 1894).
It would also be fitting to make brief mention of the pastoral letters he wrote to the faithful of his diocese, but since they contain nothing of particular interest, we will gloss over them here. The one for Lent 1892, though, shows us how greatly he valued the Christian education of youth, inculcating his message with gentle, but convincing expressions, and exhorting educators to avoid that false kindness that impedes reprimanding the children when they need it.
As a vigilant shepherd he saw that Church precepts were observed and the Vicar of Christ regarded with filial obedience, he himself giving admirable example of this. The newspapers announced his pilgrimage to Rome before he had stated his intentions. He comments:
“Now that the news has been published, however, and I know that the Holy Father desires for his jubilee to have a beautiful representation of bishops around him, I have decided to follow the example of my confreres and to brave the inconvenience which has not discouraged others older and feebler than I. Then this means heading a group from the diocese and presenting to our common father a beautiful little family of some fifty children.”
He thus complied not only with the express will of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, but even with his personal desires.
Now that we have touched lightly on his pastoral life, we think it extremely helpful to present a type of picture of his physical and moral traits. That will help to better exhibit his beauty and to fathom the esteem that he merits. Bishop Marello was of better than average height, strong and well-proportioned, though in life’s later years he tended toward the heavy side. He had delicate features, a broad forehead that spoke serenity, lively eyes that were penetrating and conciliatory, a natural smile, a dignified demeanor, a kind and polite manner. His conversation was pleasant and merry and he knew how to enrich it with innocent stories and witticisms borrowed from Bishop Savio. This was his exterior, the bark we might say. Whoever was attentive to his inner spirit found him gifted with meekness of soul, with a gentleness and adaptability rarely found, similar to that of St. Francis de Sales whom he strove to imitate. One should not suppose, however, that his gentleness was weakness or compromise: not in the least. He was firm, sure and determined with respect to duty and the welfare of souls, so that his priests were always content to follow his will and could see by the results how correct and inspired he was. Gentleness and firmness were his traits, virtues difficult to truly harmonize.
He was gentle without turning weak; firm without becoming harsh. If one should try to separate these two virtues of his, he would not have a right impression of Bishop Marello, but only a slice of him. This was all a result of his ability to penetrate matters with a balanced spirit and wise perceptivity, weighing and judging their true value in the light of prudence and faith. At first glance he could discern people’s talents and virtues, and with inspired expertise he knew how to advantageously put them to use for the welfare of souls.
After simply seeing his priests or seminarians one time, he never forgot them, and if he occasionally would fail to remember one’s name, he would at least remember the town from which he came.
His gentleness, however, shone most brightly when he would correct or admonish. He would first wait patiently for the right opportunity and then in kind words and refined manner he would get to the point and achieve his purpose. A priest of his diocese thus rightly remarked that in his time it had run like a clock, for he did everything with diligence and precision.
His exceptional prudence crowned these beautiful gifts and guided him in every time, place, and circumstance. In a private audience granted to him and to the bishops appointed in the same consistory, His Holiness Leo XIII had strongly recommended this virtue as the abbess of all the others, stating that the faithful implicitly tell their bishop: “Si prudens est, regat nos.” He therefore warned them not to be too quick to allow changes. Treasuring this teaching, Bishop Marello named the same vicar general, the same secretary, and even the same house attendant as his predecessor. With deeds like these, it is no wonder that he was considered a man filled with the spirit of God and remembered with praise 25 years after his death.
It is no wonder that the Supreme Pontiff Leo XIII, in an audience granted to our father bishop, pointed him out to a cardinal there present saying: “This is one appointed in the consistory of February 1889. He governs his flock well.” Then turning to the secretary at his side, he added: “He’s a real treasure you have!” It is no wonder that an archbishop not totally sympathetic to our case called him the holy prelate in a letter to the cardinal secretary of state.
Finally, precious are the words of Pope Pius X in an audience kindly granted to me. When I said that Bishop Marello was the founder of our congregation, he exclaimed: “Oh, Bishop Marello! I knew him: he was a saint!”
One should not think that his life was spectacular or extraordinary. Canon Peloso says:
“Everything about him was ordinary, so much so that he disguised his works as much as possible with humility and modesty. Yet they were so permeated with courtesy, piety, and virtue that everything about him was admirable, making him dear to God and to people. His calm and peaceful soul was graced with a continual Christian smile. In a certain sense we could apply to him the Gospel words: ‘Bene omnia fecit‘: He has done everything well.”