Chapter 4

Shrine of Our Lady at Vallone and construction of the adjacent house. Bishop Savio’s illness and his holy death. The pain that it causes Marello. Edifying incidents surrounding Bishop Savio. Marello moves into the Diocesan Seminary.

The little congregation of the Oblates lived in great peace and with the blessing of Bishop Savio, who never ceased to admire the way divine providence had raised up a congregation totally dedicated to helping pastors at just the time when there was such a shortage of clergy. Meanwhile, in order to show their great respect for Fr. Marello and also to please the bishop, the canons of the cathedral nominated Marello honorary canon on February 7, 1879. In 1880 he was made spiritual director of the diocesan seminary, “where his instruction and example contributed powerfully to a renewal of spirituality among the seminarians.” On July 5, 1881, while the episcopal See was vacant, the chapter elected him chancellor of the diocesan curia; this appointment was confirmed on June 30, 1882. “His knowledge of canon law was rich, and he maintained intact the rights of the Church; and the multitude of matters that tumbled into his hands were diligently and promptly dispatched.” For their part the little brothers, as our first confreres were called, were admired by everyone, particularly for the spirit of piety and prayer with which they were inspired.

Around 1882 Canon Marello was entrusted with the spiritual direction of the Milliavacca Women’s Retreat, an office he held until he left for Acqui. It is important to say that while he was in this post, as Bishop Ronco witnesses, “solid piety, obedience, peace, and true Christian order prevailed.”

That same year he decided to restore and redecorate the little Shrine of Our Lady of Ransom in which he had celebrated one of his first Masses, as we have already stated.

Among the hills separating the San Martino Alfieri region from Antignano, right where the little hamlets named Persini and Saracchi are found, there is a valley which begins on the plain of the Tanaro and gradually narrows. Where the valley closes on a little slope stands the Shrine of Our Lady of Ransom, also called the shrine of the valley, “Vallone.” The place is sunny and refreshing, in the thick of the vineyards. It is about four kilometers from Antignano, and is centrally located to the three tiny villages of Persini, Gonella, and Saracchi. An inscription found during the restoration revealed that the chapel was completed in 1770. Can. Marello built a house which is still there, and refurbished the Chapel. The citizens of the area have always been devoted to their heavenly patroness; even today, and especially on feast days, they still flock to implore her protection. Indeed, the little shrine is adorned with votive pictures and silver hearts, commemorating Mary’s favors. In the evening the sound of the small bell echoes softly through the hills, and in the valley nestled below falls sweet and melancholy on the hearts of the faithful villagers, inviting them to greet the Lady who has set among them her throne of mercy.

While this work was going on, Bishop Savio grew seriously ill and had to undergo a most painful operation. We can scarcely imagine the good secretary’s sorrow at being so close to losing the Bishop he loved as a father. He lavished all his care on him and gave him the most loving assistance, but it was futile. He himself had to give him the sad news that death was near, and prepare him for the great passage into eternity. Bishop Savio received the news with the most perfect resignation; he had his dearest secretary hear his confession for the last time, and readied himself for Holy Viaticum. When he saw himself surrounded by the cathedral canons who had come to accompany the Blessed Sacrament and to see the man they loved and admired for the last time, he spoke, and his words were life and consolation for them all. “I want to test myself,” he said, “I want to see if after having spent a good part of my life preparing others for examinations, I know how to pass an examination of much greater importance, one which I may have to repeat briefly and with naked soul face to face with the Redeemer, who just now deigns to visit me on my bed of sorrow. I came to Asti with the single hope of doing good to all in every way, and if I have failed, please be sure that it was not for lack of good will. I am not afraid of death; a good pastor should never be frightened by it, but always prepared. Veni, bone Jesu; veni, Jesu Domine.” He endured the suffering imposed on him by his illness and medical care with admirable patience. At the end he requested the last sacraments, himself accompanying the prayers for the dying. At the age of seventy years and nine days at about three thirty of July 1, 1881, he peacefully breathed his last.

The tragic but not completely unexpected news spread rapidly. There was deep mourning and everyone praised his life no less than his death. The body remained in state at the bishop’s residence for several hours, so that the people could say their last farewells. His face looked calm and serene, as if it had recaptured the pleasant friendliness which had for so long been admired by all. One hand still held his pectoral Crucifix, the other fell in sweet abandon; thousands upon thousands of the people of Asti came to the bishop’s residence to pray and to kiss that crucifix worthy of a saintly man; through a crowd of infinite proportion his body was carried first to the cathedral and then to the cemetery where the Archconfraternity of the Most Holy Trinity wished to receive it in their own chapel; but several days passed in preparatory work before the tomb was sealed over him, and each morning a good number of the faithful including sodalities and especially his seminarians would come to pray for his soul with a depth of piety and feeling which was extraordinary.

Our father accompanied the casket weeping constantly, and when it was about to be lowered into the tomb, he kissed it again and again, bathing it in tears and profoundly moving those present. The congregation will always revere and love him as its greatest benefactor; not only did he give guidance and spiritual direction to our founder, but he also willed him all his possessions to help defray the expenses of the newborn institute. Our father would often speak of him with great reverence, retelling pleasant anecdotes and inspiring incidents.

One example among many demonstrates Bishop Savio’s spirit of charity, humility, and prayer. He was a fine speaker, and before he became bishop, was frequently asked to preach by many pastors and the directors of the institutes of Turin, who admired the divine inspiration with which he preached God’s word. He accepted the customary offering for such an occasion, but placed it in his closet as soon as he got home without even looking at it. At the end of the year he would take all these gifts to the superior of the Little House of Divine Providence. It must be added that whatever he possessed he would generously distribute to the poor. As a result when he was appointed bishop, he had to beg the reverend treasurer for an advance on his future revenue as bishop so as to cover the necessary initial expenses.

He also used to relate a little incident that occurred in Rome, in the Vatican’s gallery of maps, a passageway 600 paces long covered with maps on which an Italian visitor can not only find his region but also study the topography of towns and villages, often even the hamlets. Once Bishop Savio had just entered this hall with a Spanish bishop, tall and robust, when the venerable figure of Pius IX appeared at the other end. “Look”, he exclaimed with his usual wit, “one and a half bishops.” It was true, Bishop Savio, well-built but tiny, looked from a distance like a little altar boy next to the foreign prelate. Bishop Savio himself would tell the story with obvious delight, and hint that the jest extended to more than his physical stature. But no one ever even thought such a thing; everyone knew how much the Supreme Pontiff loved and admired him.

Finally, there is a third fact concerning the spirit of prayer sustaining Bishop Savio. During his last illness the good bishop habitually had his eyes closed, but it was observed that his lips were moving continually, accompanied by warm sighs and an almost imperceptible whisper. Those who were caring for him drew their ear very close and discovered that he was reciting the Psalms, especially Psalm 119 (118), Beati immaculati in via, as if he wanted to be sure and finish his Office before dying.

After the death of Bishop Savio, our father remained at the episcopal residence for a few months; then as spiritual director of the clerical students, he moved into the seminary grounds.