Bishop Marello and youth. Purchase of the castle of Frinco of Asti. Bishop Marello’s last grave tribulation.
Like all who are destined for the greatness that glorifies God, Bishop Marello grasped the dignity of his mission and generously devoted himself to its fulfillment. He recognized the errors in his contemporary society and sought the saving means to correct them. He knew society’s needs and provided for them with inspired zeal.
As ample painful experience has shown, our age actually aspires to little more than pleasure and enjoyment. Caught up in the material affairs and concerns of this life, people forget God and the eternal spiritual welfare of the soul. There follows a frightful ignorance of religious and moral truths which results in feast days being profaned and employed in nothing more than pastimes, which often waste the week’s wages in unhealthy pursuits. Instead of being the family center for healthy education, right conduct, and fear of the Lord, homes have often become seedbeds of vice and corruption. It is not unusual for schools and offices to become centers for teaching the most repulsive immorality and for mocking what is most beautiful and holy. We are therefore witnessing the ugly spectacle of the continual increase in juvenile delinquency. Yet the powerful flood of all these evils can still be dammed, and society can still be led back to Christianity once again, because “Deus fecit nationes sanabiles.” Everyone rightly recognizes that this powerful dam is the Christian education of youth, tomorrow’s parents and civic leaders.
With the most tender affections of His loving heart, the Divine Master has shown how much attention youth deserve! The pages of the Gospel bear unmistakable witness to it. Mothers push their way through the crowd surrounding Jesus, anxious to have Him bless and lay hands on their tiny children. Before being filled with Jesus’ Spirit, the apostles try to push them away, but in His infinite kindness Jesus replies: “Let the little ones come to me.” He lovingly embraces and caresses them. In another passage of the Holy Gospel He adds: “Know that I will consider as done to Me whatever you shall do to one of these out of love for Me.”
Everyone also knows how a child is so much more open to being cared for and to responding to our attention. Indeed a child is like a newly bloomed flower awaiting heaven’s dew, a tender plant that bends where it will, a field where the sower’s seed can bear much fruit.
Bishop Marello had all this in mind when he founded the congregation for us to imitate St. Joseph in his apostolic as well as his interior life. This holy patriarch actively guarded, defended, and nurtured Jesus. Our founder thus wanted us to imitate him by guarding, defending, and teaching youth, the most vivid image of Jesus, while not disattending the other sacred ministries. To achieve this end he wanted the Brothers to diligently dedicate themselves to the religious instruction of youth, both by teaching catechism in parishes and by educating them in our small boarding schools at St. Clare’s and at Frinco. For this same end he wanted some Brothers to obtain teaching credentials so as to be better prepared. When the evening catechism classes were begun for working youth, he personally was the first to offer his assistance in such a noble mission. When, after he had become bishop, the designs of divine providence entrusted us with the care of St. John’s Youth Center at the Asti cathedral, he showed great enthusiasm and active concern, for it was a great opportunity to put this ideal into practice. Finally we cannot fail to mention that when wise and gifted persons proposed that he make good infirmarians of the brothers and unite his congregation to other institutes, he always politely but definitively declined, because none of that corresponded to the congregation’s purpose as the Lord had revealed it to him.
By thus working especially for the Christian education of youth, we will be living out that active life so desired by him, so practiced by people of renowned sanctity, so filled with heaven’s blessings, and so admired by the wisest people of our age.
Children will thus be able to find in us an answer to those aspirations to which their family and school have failed to respond. God will then be the Sovereign King of their hearts. A happy end will smile on the beautiful springtime of their lives. They will find comfort and support in their moral struggles and will thus arrive safely at salvation’s gate.
Up until that time St. Clare’s was the only house the congregation occupied. As the number of brothers increased, however, an additional place was needed for better development, especially to provide for the formation of the aspirants. Providence disposed that an ancient castle be up for sale in the town of Frinco, nine miles from Asti. Its oldest section dates back to the 13th century. It rests on a hilltop, overlooking the town built at its feet, as if desirous of dominating and defending it. It has the stern and imposing appearance of the medieval castles with towers and portculles.
During its seven centuries of history, its walls have witnessed fratricidal wars and battles between medieval squires. Even in the peace now enjoyed there, one seems to hear the resounding echo of the vicissitudes and conflicts of those dauntless times. The surroundings are girded by very high hills on all sides except to the north, where there is a refreshing view of the Versa stream which winds like a snake into the fertile valley, amidst the panorama of a great part of the Montferrat region, rich in beautiful little villages on the rugged hills. From here the eye is drawn on the right to the high point of the shrine of Crea, and on the left to the town of Albugnano, altitude 1800 ft.
The first owner was the noble Pelletta family of Asti, and the most recent one the Marquis Victor Incisa of Camerana. This noble gentleman made mention to Very Rev. Msgr. Raviola, then associate pastor there, of his wish to sell it to some religious institute. With the permission of Msgr. Conti, the pastor, the learned and devout priest, an old friend of ours, presented the offer to the superiors of our congregation, since it seemed to him that acquisition of the castle would be very advantageous for us, both for the healthiness of the location and for the reasonableness of the price. When asked his opinion, Bishop Marello replied that if it served the purpose, it should be purchased. After a careful inspection, the well-known engineer, Sir Charles Rostagno, gave assurance that with minor repairs it could provide a comfortable residence.
The deed of sale was drawn up for 12,500 liras and it was inaugurated on St. Peter’s day in the year 1893. On that occasion a beautiful statue of St. Joseph was blessed, and after a solemn procession in the castle courtyard, it was placed on the gable of the main door as guardian of the house and the town. A majestic hall was prepared for use as a chapel and was later blessed by his excellency, Most Rev. Bishop Ronco and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And this is how the castle became the novitiate house.
Our founder then came to visit it privately, accompanied by his very dear vicar general, Msgr. Pagella. Bishop Marello’s joy in seeing the new house, the prosperous growth of the congregation, and the good will shown by the novices in serving God was clearly visible. They in turn were extremely happy to be able to be near their beloved father and listen to his wise instructions.
While Bishop Marello was zealously attending to the government of his diocese and his beloved congregation, the Lord allowed a great tribulation to come and grieve his heart. This tribulation served to render his soul more beautiful and cause it to shine with that holy charity, patience and humility which can only fill the heart of a generous soul. He gave us and all who knew him closely a beautiful example of these virtues.
The tribulation came when one would least expect it, and from someone whom human judgement would have least suspected. Yet everyone knows that there are so many equally good sides to a question and that all virtuous people are motivated by the most upright intentions of the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Acquisition of the castle of Frinco, Asti, was the occasion of the tribulation, and St. Clare’s House with its accompanying circumstances was its object. The Little House of Divine Providence of Turin, to whom three of St. Clare’s civil executors had entrusted their share of the property, considered itself the owner and therefore wished to assume full administrative rights. Bishop Marello had the best reasons for not yielding. He did not think it seemed appropriate to renounce his rights as founder and to allow the congregation to perish after he had made so many sacrifices and invested so much money to institute and sustain it.
Both sides made attempts at an amicable settlement, and qualified persons were called in to mediate, but the solution of the problem and the state of the situation only grew ever more difficult. In the meantime, that is from 1893 to 1895, he never ceased to offer increasing prayers and mortifications for God to will to shed His light and restore perfect harmony. His patience was not shaken by this even for a moment. Meek of soul, always peaceful and self-possessed, he encouraged the brothers to trust in God. In October of 1894 he wrote them as follows:
“The spiritual darkness keeps growing ever thicker around the brothers of St. Joseph, and it almost hinders us from moving forward safely. Still, blessed be also the frightful darkness if it is the will of the Lord that sends it. We shall walk trustingly in the dark with the thought that the angels are watching over us to keep us from stumbling. We shall inch our way forward if we cannot run or even proceed by steps, but we shall keep on our feet. But when shall we be able to see the light? That is God’s secret. We may long for this light as one longs for the dawn; yet, as with the dawn, we cannot make it appear one moment sooner. We must nonetheless keep our eyes fixed eastward, in the direction where the morning light will make its appearance. Beware lest we mistake it for the northern lights which are wont to deceive the pilgrim…”
His hardy constitution, however, was shaken by it and an internal illness was gradually consuming him. To save his beloved congregation, he decided to offer God the sacrifice of his life, as we know from the testimony of an honorable priest. The Lord accepted this noble immolation.
After Bishop Marello’s death, his vicar, Msgr. Joseph Pagella, and his secretary, Canon Peter Peloso, resumed the still unresolved case, which was then presented to the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Religious under the following question formulated by the office:
If and how there should be handed over to the Little House of Divine Providence of Turin, St. Clare’s building in Asti, as well as its monies, books, and all its financial records regarding the administration of St. Clare’s Works with all its public documents, private writings, testaments and any other title that could regard the Charitable House’s patrimony.
On April 10, 1897, the Sacred Congregation replied:
“Negative in omnibus et ad mentem. Mens est ut declaretur aedificium et bona omnia Istituti S. Clarae spectare ad pia opera, auctoritate Episcopi Astensis ibidem fundata ad formam Rescripti Huius S. C. diei 11 Maii 1883. Piarum vero fundationum directionem et administrationem pertinere ad Eumdem Episcopum, qui ad haec munia exercenda eorum opera uti potest, quos dignos et idoneos in Domino iudicaverit. Pariter ad Episcopum spectat ius et officium curandi ut repraesentatio civilis a personis geratur omni fiducia dignis, suisque mandatis omnino obtemperantibus. Et scribatur Episcopo Astensi particulariter et ad mentem: mens est: that this Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars sees fit that he order the present civil owners to yield their executorship to other persons to be designated by said bishop.”
This decision was later reconfirmed by the same Sacred Congregation in the plenary sessions of July 1, 1898, and March 16, 1900. Our founder was unable to see the end of this painful controversy, but he certainly must have rejoiced when he saw from heaven that his sacrifices were crowned with such happy success and his beloved congregation was so strengthened.