Chapter 2

His priestly ordination. Savio, bishop of Asti. Father Marello appointed secretary to Bishop Savio. He accompanies his bishop to the Vatican Council. His father dies. He wants to become a Trappist and Bishop Savio dissuades him. Bishop Savio chooses him as his confessor. He again wishes to become a Trappist and Bishop Savio convinces him that he has another mission in this world.

As Joseph’s years of theology were drawing to a close, he was overjoyed to reach the priesthood to which he had aspired for so long. The quality of his preparation is easily demonstrated by the results: an excellent priest and a holy bishop. He received all the Holy Orders in Asti at the hands of Bishop Carl Savio; tonsure and the four minor orders on December 21, 1867; the subdiaconate on March 28, 1868; and the diaconate on June 6 of the same year. Finally he was ordained to the priesthood on September 19, 1868. He celebrated his first Mass in his native town, and the second in the little shrine of Vallone of Antignano near Asti, dedicated to Our Lady of Ransom. Our Most Blessed Lady smiled on the young priest preparing himself to work so committedly to rescue many souls from the bondage of Satan, a bondage far more degrading than physical slavery. Much later he would reclaim that shrine and see to it that his sons properly care for it.

At this point we should pause briefly to discuss the man providence destined to be the spiritual guide and wise counselor of our venerable founder. Bishop Carl Savio was “savio”, that is “wise”, both in name and in fact, full of wisdom human and divine. He was born in Cuneo which had been the birthplace of Bishops Lobetti and Maurice Caisotti, his predecessors in the episcopate of Asti. He grew up and was educated all the way through philosophy and theology in his native city. He dedicated himself to the study of Christian wisdom with great eagerness, so that at the age of twentyfive he was placed on the faculty of the University of Turin. As Professor of Dogmatic Theology, he was particularly admired for the easy clarity of his classes, his elegance of expression, his depth and vast learning, qualities that endure in his writings. “I remember,” one of his former students, the Reverend Canon C. Vassallo, used to say, “and it will always be etched in my memory, the ease, breadth and finesse with which he handled the most difficult questions. I remember the goodhearted kindliness with which he welcomed us; the graciousness of his manners was a holy attraction for us.”

He was an outstanding speaker, particularly in the delightful way he would improvise on any topic, even when asked at the last minute. Pius IX appointed him bishop of Asti, and he made his solemn entry into the diocese in June of 1867.

This Bishop Savio, with his deep knowledge of human nature, appreciated the outstanding quality of young Marello, and immediately after ordaining him made him his secretary. This was a special blessing from the Lord, who had destined the young Levite for greatness. Under the guidance of such a bishop, who linked uncommon learning with a rare modesty and genuine humility, Father Marello could acquire the combination of virtues necessary for his noble mission. Daily conversation with such a person and the constant presence of his living example made a deep impression on the good secretary, who had a mind quick to catch lofty discipline and a heart generous enough to imitate every good example. His progress in Christian virtue was so evident that it delighted the bishop and drew the admiration of his companions, who took him as their model and proudly boasted of having been his schoolmates.

In 1864 Pius IX published the Syllabus of Errors and condemned Modernism in all its manifestations. Four years later he convoked the Vatican Council for the eighth of December 1869, inviting all the bishops of the world to take part. It opened the day of the Immaculate Conception, and Rome witnessed an imposing spectacle. Over 700 cardinals, bishops, prelates, and abbots gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pius IX personally presided over the public sessions. It was at the fourth of these sessions that the bull Pastor Aeternus was promulgated, defining papal infallibility.

Our founder was fortunate enough to accompany Bishop Savio as his secretary and to take part in the imposing assembly of bishops and the solemn act of deference rendered the Roman Pontiff in those stirring days.

I am pleased to include here what Bishop Ronco wrote of him in the letter to Msgr. Pagella that I have already quoted: “Bishop Savio had found Marello to be discrete, dedicated to his churchly duties, prudent in administrative affairs, a trustworthy keeper of secrets, well educated and obedient; he therefore chose him as his companion at the Council, and kept the beloved priest at his side … in the highest confidence.” He also tells how the bishop of Asti and several others lodged in the apostolic residence of the Quirinale. Among them was Cardinal Pecci, archbishop of Perugia and later Pope Leo XIII, much revered for his learning and respected as an oracle by the venerable Council fathers. Here Leo XIII met Marello and developed that great esteem for him which later led him to tell Canon Peloso (then secretary to Marello as bishop of Acqui) in a private audience; “You have a bishop who is a real treasure.”

During his brief stay in Rome, our founder took the opportunity to visit the monuments witnessing the faith of the martyrs, the virtue of the heroes of Christianity, and the grandeur of the pontiffs. His visit overwhelmed him with awe and enkindled his faith and love. The impression was so deep that ever afterward he would talk about the experience with such glowing enthusiasm and detailed knowledge that he sounded like a Roman by birth.

Our lives are interwoven with joys and sorrows, roses and thorns, laughter and tears. Difficulties and suffering are part of life for everyone, but they are hardest on those God has destined for the greatest glory. They purify them, strip them from clinging to creatures, and unite them more directly to God. Father Marello had to undergo heartfelt tragedy. His mother died while he was still small, and he had directed his deepest feelings to his father, who returned his love in equal measure. In 1873, at the age of 65, his father was stricken with a painful and fatal disease. The son rushed to San Martino to be beside his dying father, remained till his last breath, and then followed him to the final dignities at the tomb.

Death wounded the holy priest in his dearest affections, but by faith and prayer he resigned himself completely to the will of God, who works all things for our good. From now on he could justly repeat the words of the prophet: “My loved ones have left me. From now on You alone, O Lord, will be my lot and heritage on earth.”

During this period he felt a great desire to become a Trappist religious. This was not due to the death of his father, but solely to his desire to belong totally to God. The Lord is the center of our hearts and the goal of our hopes; only He can satisfy us. Now the more eagerly we seek Him, the more we will be attracted to Him in contemplation, and contemplation is powerfully aided by an atmosphere of solitude and silence. Those who are far from the noise of the world, from earthly concerns-and anxiety about externals, can bury themselves deep in God and taste the beginning of the peace which will one day be our blessedness. With good reason St. Bernard used to say: “0 solitudo, sola beatitudo.” But before acting on his desires, Marello wanted to consult his beloved spiritual father, Bishop Savio. The bishop discouraged him: “It seems to me that God has work for you to do in the world.” The good Father Marello was always detached from his own will, and he revered his bishop; so he decided to remain in the world. Meanwhile, he made every effort to progress ever farther in the virtues that should adorn a holy priest. For these virtues Bishop Savio respected him so highly that he made him his confessor and spiritual director; it seemed that no other priest could give him such wise direction and the encouragement he would need in special circumstances. But the idea of becoming a Trappist kept haunting Marello, until one day he went back to talk Bishop Savio into giving him permission to fly to what he thought was the true resting place of his soul.

Once more Bishop Savio persuaded him that the Lord had called him to do something for the glory of God and the salvation of souls in the world. Marello replied insistently: “If the Lord had really called me to fulfill some such plan, He would have made known his will to me by now.” Bishop Savio countered: “The time has not yet come; keep on praying and you will see that the Lord will not be late in letting you know his plans for you.” God’s priest wanted nothing more than to do God’s will even at the cost of his own likings; he continued in fervent prayer, repeating to the Lord the words of Saint Paul: “Domine, quid me vis facere?” (Acts 9:6) and Samuel: “Loquere, Domine, quia audit servus tuus” (I Samuel 3).

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