LAYWOMAN (OCTOBER 23, 2006)
CO-FOUNDRESS OF THE SALESIAN FAMILY
Margherita Occhiena was born on April 1, 1788 at Capriglio, in the province of Asti, the sixth of 10 children. She was baptized on the same day in the parish church. Her parents were peasant farmers full of good Christian attitudes and practices. From when she was just a child, Margaret was a great worker. She had no opportunity for schooling because of the times she lived in and the tasks she had to do, but her love for prayer gave her a wisdom which could not be gained from books.
In 1812 she married Francis Bosco. Francis was 27 years of age, a widower, with a three-year-old child, Anthony, and a sick mother to look after. Joseph was born the following year and in 1815 John (the future Don Bosco). They moved to the Becchi, a hamlet of Castelnuovo d’Asti. In 1817 Francis died of pneumonia.
Twenty-nine-year-old Margaret found herself running the family alone at a time of famine, looking after Francis’ mother, Anthony, and young Joseph and John. Margaret was a woman of great faith. God was foremost in her thoughts and always on her lips.
The love of the Lord was so strong in her that it gave her a mother’s heart. A wise teacher, she knew how to combine fatherliness and motherhood, kindness and firmness, vigilance and trust, familiarity and dialogue, bringing up her children with disinterested love, both patient and demanding. Attentive to their own experience, she trusted both in human means and divine assistance. She brought up three children with very different temperaments, using the same criteria with different methods. She taught them the catechism and prepared them for their First Communion.
When she heard about John’s dream at the age of nine, she alone could interpret it in the light of the Lord, “Who knows, but maybe you should become a priest.” She allowed him to be with some of the rougher lads, because they were better behaved around him. Anthony’s hostility towards John’s studies forced her to send her younger son away so he could study. She accompanied him all the way to priesthood. In 1846 when Don Bosco was seriously ill, Margaret went to be with him and discovered there the good that he had been doing for poor and abandoned youngsters.
When asked to go with him in this work she said, “ If you believe this to be the will of the Lord, I am ready to go.” Mamma Margaret’s presence turned the Oratory into a family. For 10 years her life became entwined with that of her son and with the beginnings of Salesian works: She was the first and principal Cooperator of Don Bosco’s; she became the maternal elements in the Preventive System; and without realizing it, she was the “co-foundress” of the Salesian Family.
She died in Turin, struck down by pneumonia on November 25, 1856, at 68 years of age. Many youngsters went to the cemetery crying as they would for their own mother. Generations of Salesians called her and will continue to call her Mamma Margaret.