Remembering a Pioneer of Change

Mother Caterina Daghero, FMA

By the Mothers of the FMA General Council

February 26, 2024, marked the centenary of the death of Mother Caterina Daghero who, at only 25 years of age, replaced Mother Mazzarello in the leadership of the Institute. It was a task that she carried maternally and wisely, with authority and missionary zeal for 43 years. Hers is a figure to be rediscovered and fundamental to understanding the dynamics of consolidation and development of our Institute in a period marked by countless transformations in the world, Church, and Salesian Family.

During this centenary year, some publications and initiatives will allow us to study deeply this woman who was called "the dearest of Mothers." Sr. Catherine knew and was accompanied by Don Bosco both in her first formative experiences in contact with the reality of youth in Turin, different from that of Nizza, and at the beginning of her task as Superior General.

Surely, the most difficult and painful moment for her was the separation of our Institute from the Salesian Congregation, requested by the Holy See after the issuing of Normae secundum quas (1901). Yet, that pruning revealed the solidity of the Institute and its charismatic potential. Mother Catherine and all the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians could count on the discreet and wise fatherhood of Fr. Michele Rua, as a guarantee of fidelity to the same original spirit. She said with determination, “We belong to Don Bosco; we must think, do, pray, live, as he taught us.” Also, “Where our work is not yet present, we must go. We must bring the spirit and Our Lady of Don Bosco.”

During her government, the Institute obtained recognition of Pontifical Right and initiated the cause of the beatification of Mother Mazzarello. With the valuable collaboration of the General Councilors and with bold faith, she continued to send the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians to the most distant mission places, so much so that, at her death, the Institute was present in thirty-four nations on five continents. She made over 400 journeys, America included, with the desire to “see for herself” and be with her daughters with motherliness and understanding, having clear the goal of the mission to be reached with open-mindedness and courageous determination.

In the wake of Don Bosco who, in his “dream at nine years,” had received the mandate, “Not with blows, but with meekness and charity... with obedience and knowledge...” Mother Daghero promoted not only catechetical and social works, but also the Normal Schools for the formation of qualified educators and teachers (religious and lay) according to the Preventive System of Don Bosco. In 1900, the process of equalization of the Normal School of Nizza begun in 1896 was accomplished. Many competent missionary educators and municipal teachers were formed in that school.

She also encouraged the opening of numerous festive oratories and the animation of the parish catechesis, exhorting, “Do not pay attention to toil, to sacrifices for the good of the oratorians... open, open the doors wide in the oratory... you will be formed by studying and teaching catechism.” She courageously accepted that the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians would direct boarding schools for workers, hostels for university students and employees, and other educational and promotional works that responded to the needs of a world in transformation due to the Industrial Revolution, with the involvement of many girls in work outside the home.

She was open to collaboration with lay associations and various administrations, to encourage assistance and preventive formation. Her charity and loyalty to the da mihi animas cetera tolle were the driving force behind her intense governing activity.

With this centenary, we begin a three-year period of preparation for the 150th anniversary of our first missionary expedition (1877), which followed that of the Salesians (1875). The celebrations will begin in 2025.

Want to learn more about Mother Daghero? Read Mother Caterina Daghero: Woman of Wisdom and Vision by Sr. Giuseppina Mainetti, FMA, for free!

March 21, 2024 - 9:31am
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