by Rev Deacon Michael Kennedy
Homily for Salesian Sisters Celebration Sat 11th March 2023.
This morning we come together to Rejoice, to Celebrate, to Give Thanks.
To rejoice and celebrate that we are members of God’s Family, the God who loves us, the God who calls us, the God who walks with us on a journey, each and every day.
The God who revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus, his Son.
The God who is active in the world today, through the ministry of the church, the church to which we all belong, the church in which each day, we are called to live out our calling to be Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters, making the presence of the Lord known in the world by what we do, by who we are, by our actions, by our prayer.
This morning we recall in a special way, A women of Faith, a Women of Prayer, a Women of Action, a woman who lived out her life, bringing others to see and know the face and the love of the Lord Jesus. A woman who lived in another time but who is still very much today, A women of our time.
St Mary Domenica Mazzarello.
Who would have thought that a woman, born in a small village in Italy and who died in 1881 at just 44 years old would have such an impact on the world.
But this was all part of God’s plan for her, this was all part of his mission for her.
As a girl we know she was a person of deep faith, a faith that was nurtured by her family, the family that encouraged her in her prayer life, instilled in her the values of hard work and a sense of leadership and responsibility. At 15 we know she had joined the Association of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate and begin to work among the girls in her village. We know at the age of 23 she contracted Typhus and this had a profound effect on her life, she became more aware of frailty and suffering and also a sense of greater abandonment to the will of God. She became more aware of the need to live out that great commandment, “ to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, with all your strength and your neighbour as yourself” And we know that having recovered she was prompted by the Lord to put this commandment into greater action, she set up a dress making workshop to teach the local girls to work, pray and to love God, a festive weekend oratory and a family home for girls without a family. A place to teach the girls to work, pray and to love the Lord. In the words often used to describe another great woman of our time “Mother Teresa of Calcutta”, St Mary Mazzarello did “something beautiful for God”.
She was guided by her local priest Don Pestarino and with his encouragement and wise counsel, growing closer to the Lord in her Sacramental life, in her prayer life, but in doing this also, helping to make the Lord’s love present, showing to others his image, by sharing her love of him with those made in the image and likeness of God
In 1864 she met St John Bosco for the first time when he visited Mornese and she was known to remark, “Don Bosco is a saint- I can sense it”
Don Bosco made a great impression on her and she was keen to somehow enable his work that he had started for boys in Turin to also begin for girls. And so it was that together on 5th August 1972, they began together the new Religious Family in the church to work for young people, known as the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Salesians Sisters. On that day the first 11 Sisters made their first profession and 4 young women began their novitiate.
And from these small but humble beginnings their work spread. As the superior of the new order she was an able teacher and guide in the Spiritual life, she was a woman of joy, it is said she radiated joy and it was that joy that drew people to her, drew young women to want to join her and dedicate their lives to the education and welfare of the young. At the time of her death in 1881, there were some 165 Sisters and 65 novices, scattered across Italy and France and in the missions in Latin America.
And in 1902, that mission came here to the United Kingdom, here to this place, Battersea, coming to support the work of the Salesians of Don Bosco who had arrived here a few years earlier.
A woman of hope, a woman for time, a Women for all time.
All of us here this morning has had some contact with the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, maybe think for a moment how the Salesians Sisters have been part of your life? WE could all name them I am sure. Some are here today! The sisters whose work spread throughout this country, to houses in England and Scotland. To adapting to a changing society, a changing culture, a country where religion today is marginalised by the media and the wider society, a country of people from many lands and many faiths, and yet it is here and now that the Sisters work. In this place and in this time.
For me, as a young boy growing up in this parish, my first contact was through the Sacred Heart Primary School, I started school in 1972, the same year that Sr Winifred and Fr Carette came to the parish as the new PP and Head of the Infants of the School, (What a partnership that was!)- and lets remember them both in our prayers this morning ( yesterday was the anniversary of Fr Albert’s death but I am sure he is smiling down upon us from his place in heaven and praying with us and for us all today). And then my final teacher in primary school was Sr Mary Twigg FMA. I remember always our last day School before breaking up for the Summer holidays, I was in what would now be called year 6, in those days we were class 1, and on our final day before we left the school Sister Mary Produced in the afternoon, A cake. We were convinced we were going to have a party- but no, we had a Fractions lesson, the cake was the visual aid!
But we all can name Sisters we have known, some still with us, others now gone to the Lord whose lives have touched and inspired so many. Women of their time, Women of our time. Women of Faith, Women of Joy.
Yes, the Sisters have been present in our lives in many ways, through Schools, through Youth Clubs and Youth gathers, in Parishes, in Retreat centres, prayerful presence in their communities, accompanying the young on the journey, drawing people into that deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus, living out their call to be bearers of God’s love in the world.
We have lots to be thankful for, lots to rejoice and celebrate.
And their work continues, in different ways perhaps, but it continues.
Today as we think of the past and the present, we also need to pray for the future. Let us pray that God will call more young girls and women to respond to the call to serve him as Salesians Sisters, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. Let us pray that those future Salesians Sisters are sitting in our churches, attending our Schools, part of our youth groups. Let us pray that like Mary Mazzarello they will gently respond to the call of the Lord.
Let us pray that, to the Sisters who are gathered here today, can I say on behalf of all of us, Thank you. Thank you for your dedication, thank you for responding to the Lords call to live out your lives as Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, to follow your journey as Religious with Mary help of Christians as your guide and teacher, with Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello as your inspiration, and with the Lord Jesus at the centre of all that you do. Thank you for living out your calling each and every day. Thank you for the joys that you bring, and continue to bring to so many in different ways.
And a Special thank you from this Parish Community to all the Sisters who over the years have served this community, past and present. Know today how much you are appreciated, valued, but most of all how much you are loved.
Because all that you do, is done out of love for him. All that you do draws people closer to him. All that you do is in honour and worship of him.
When he met with the Sisters gathered in Rome for the Chapter, Pope Francis, reflecting on this celebration of the 150 foundation of the Sisters said this,
to seize the occasion as “an opportunity for renewal and vocational and missional revitalization.”
“Do not forget the grace of the beginnings,”, “the humility and the smallness of the beginnings that made God's action transparent in the life and in the message of those who, filled with wonder, began this journey.”
“Mary Help of Christians will assist you: you are her daughters! Her words at the wedding feast of Cana were and are a beacon of light for your discernment: 'Do whatever He tells you'."
This morning as we come to celebrate, pray and rejoice let us be mindful that all of us are called to “Do whatever he tells you”.
For over 150 years the Salesian Sisters have reached out to young people. We pray that this will continue for the next 150 years and beyond.
So ST Mary Mazzarello, we thank you, we ask that you continue to intercede and pray for your Salesian Sisters that they will continue to inspire and lead others to come closer to the Lord Jesus.
And that this Women of Her time, this Women of our time, will inspire all of us, to be faithful followers of the Lord, loving God and our neighbour, here in this place, and in this time.