"Fr. Vigano, Don Bosco's successor, used to say that the Oratory was born on Mamma Margherita's lap."
Don Bosco’s mother, Margaret Occhiena (1788-1856), has had the title of venerable since 2006. She’s considered the “co-founder” of the Salesians, who call her Mama Margaret. Many people are calling for the beatification of this laywoman, says the postulator of her cause, Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni.
Mama Margaret was the wife of a widower and mother of three children, including one from her husband’s first marriage. Widowed at the age of 29, she faced many trials in life. With a firm faith, she raised her children alone. At the call of her son, a priest, she accompanied the first steps of the order he founded to serve young people in an area with a bad reputation on the outskirts of Turin.
In his travels and encounters around the world, Fr. Cameroni, Postulator General for the Causes of Saints for the Salesian Family, notes “a great interest in the cause of Mama Margaret, not only here in Italy, but everywhere.” He sees the cause of this interest in “the role she had in the charism” and her “original” expression of it.
Indeed, Mama Margaret “was present at the beginning of the Salesian work, at Valdocco, and she gave that feminine, family touch to the charisma of Don Bosco. She left a very strong mark on the Salesian charism, at the service of young people,” notes Fr. Cameroni. “Fr. Vigano, Don Bosco’s successor, used to say that the Oratory was born on Mamma Margherita’s lap,” he recalls.
The figure of Mama Margaret “underlines the importance of the role of the family, of women, of motherhood” in “educational activity” and in “the growth and maturity of people,” he said. According to the postulator, Mama Margaret is “particularly relevant for new generations” as a model of “loving but also demanding motherhood, which calls others to be responsible.”
Another characteristic of the venerable Piedmontese woman is that “she was not only the (biological) mother of Don Bosco, but she was also a spiritual mother to him, accompanying him, watching over his priesthood and his educational mission.”
“When Don Bosco began his studies at the seminary, Mama Margaret reminded him of the act of consecration to Mary,” the postulator recounted. “When you came into the world I consecrated you to Mary; when you began your studies I recommended devotion to Mary; if you become a priest, spread devotion to Mary, be all for her.”
Moreover, she embodies the mission of the laity “to animate all the realities of the world with the spirit of the Gospel.”
This is a trait that must resonate for Pope Francis, himself a promoter of the place of women in the Church. “I think Pope Francis is sympathetic towards this figure of womanhood,” says Fr. Cameroni, who recalls the Argentine pontiff’s visit to Valdocco in 2015.
Where the cause of beatification stands
Mama Margaret was declared venerable in 2006, the year of the 150th anniversary of her death. At this point, it would require the recognition of a miracle through her intercession to open the door to her beatification.
“There are no miracles” attributed to her “in the strict sense at the moment, but graces are being reported to us. We are in the process of gathering documentation on a case in Spain, that of a child, to see if there are elements that would allow us to speak of a miracle,” explains Fr. Cameroni.
“Today it’s not so simple; it’s complex from a medical point of view,” he says. On the other hand, “there’s a lot of expectation,” notes the postulator. “Let’s hope that there’s a sign from above that confirms this beautiful, virtuous, and meaningful life.”
When Mama Margaret died of pneumonia on November 25, 1856, at the age of 68, all the young people of the Oratory escorted her to the cemetery, weeping for their “Mama” – a name that Salesian tradition has kept.