51. Murialdo and the youths of the Artigianelli Boarding School

The author of this reflection has for reference the document “Registration of enrollment” of the Artigianelli Boarding School, i.e. the record in which are the names of the pupils enrolled, with some very important information: registration number, name and surname, parent’s name, date of birth, country of origin, date of entry into school, school year or activity conducted, behavioral ratings, date of graduation from school, several observations. Reading these data allows a comparison between the different “rectors” of Artigianelli before Murialdo and during his period; but mainly it tells us who Murialdo’s boys were, to whom he dedicated his life and for whom he wanted to be their “father”. These data are, on the whole, a document that takes us inside the ordinary and everyday life of the school; it puts us, beyond rhetoric, in touch with real life, with its resources and its limits.

Dhian Paulo Paiz


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51.    Murialdo and the youths of the Artigianelli Boarding School         (Dhian Paulo Paiz)


We cannot talk about the pedagogical dimension of Murialdo without explicit references to the Artigianelli boarding school, to the faculty who accompanied him in his direction of 33 years and especially to the children and young people who were part of his daily life. In fact, for us, the latter ones are of particular importance, since it is precisely in the educational experience of the boarding school that Murialdo matures, consolidates and writes about the pedagogical training and pedagogy of love through which the heart of children receive a special attention.

Many original ideas of that time are based on the experience: they are born from the deep spirituality of Murialdo, from healthy tension of living each day in an extraordinary way, always trying to do good in the best way possible, seeing in the last ones the Christian commitment, being attentive to the signs of the times… The Artigianelli boarding school was as such, originated from the degrading situation of young people by the severe shortage of institutions for the education of poor children, both on the civil and ecclesial fields.

Father Cocchi, architect and founder of the Artigianelli boarding school, realized that the oratori were not enough; there was a need of a house to accommodate, assist and educate those youngsters in a Christian way and prepare them for a professional employment. A boarding school (which at that time was a privilege of wealthy families) and for artisans was needed, reaffirming that the exercise of a profession could allow these children to come out of the difficult and marginalized position in which they were.

Thus the Collegio Artigianelli began operating in 1849. The direction was exerted by Fr. Cocchi (1849-1852) by the Theol. Giacinto Tasca (1852-1860). Between the years 1861-1863 the Theol. Tasca and Theol. Pier Giuseppe Berizzi were simultaneously guiding the school; from 1863 to1866 Theol. Berizzi was the only rector. Murialdo came as rector at the end of 1866, i.e. only 17 years after the activities started, and remained rector for 33 years, until 1900, the year of his death.

If, however, we examine the recipients who for many reasons knock at the school gate, we discover immediately that there was a reserved section for each inmate in the so called “Registration of enrollment” This document recorded the entry of children and youth in the Artigianelli and provided important information about the reality of students accepted into the institute. The line allocated to each pupil is divided in 11 spaces to record the following information: registration number, name and surname, father’s name, name and surname of the mother, date of birth, nationality, date of admission, technological background or the activity elected, behavior, date of discharge, observations.

By browsing and analyzing the first volume of the “Registration of enrollment” (that includes 1,102 children and young people registered between 1849-1883), we can see this peculiarity: besides knowing meticulously about the first assisted students in the institute, we can draw a parallel between “before Murialdo as rector (1849-1866) comprising 451 registered pupils and “with Murialdo as rector (1867 onwards), with 651 registered pupils.

We can recognize this sociological analysis of the students at Artigianelli in 4 points.

  1. The family situation of students

In general, what appears in the data is a problematic family situation. In fact, the Directory of 1850 of the Association of Charity, an organization sponsoring the Artigianelli boarding school, states: We have to help many poor young people who are roaming the streets or causing disorder in the streets […] orphans or abandoned, sparingly accompanied by their parents, and give them what they need, for their soul and body (Guidelines Association of Charity, Art 2, quoted in Marengo, Murialdo educatore, p.10).

Of the 451 students hosted from 1849 to 1866, i.e. before the direction of Murialdo, only 129 had the parents alive, while 160 children had the parents either deceased or unknown. It also specifies that 116 were fatherless and 42 motherless. No family situation is described for 4 pupils.

Of the 651 received by Murialdo as rector, between the years 1867-1883, we can distribute the marital status as follows: 330 had both father and mother alive, 84 had deceased or unknown parents, 178 were orphans of the father and 59 of the mother.

What is noticeable in the years of Murialdo as rector is a constant and progressive increase in pupils with both parents alive, since there is a decrease in the number of pupils without both parents. There is though an increase of students lacking the father figure. We can conclude that during the direction of Murialdo half of the students (321 of 651) had a pattern of inadequate family because one or both parents were missing, while the other half (330 of 651) had at least in theory, a traditional family.

  1. Entry age

Before Murialdo’s direction the pupils registered were: 48 pupils age 5-9; 330 pupils age 10-14; 48 adolescents age 15 or over; there is no specific age of entry for 25 minors.

During the direction of Murialdo the trend is to accept younger children. The number rises to 175 for pupils between 5 and 9 years; 408 for 10-14 years old and 47 adolescents15 years old or more; there is no specific age for21 pupils .

It is noteworthy that the Artigianelli housed children and young people with a large age difference: the youngest entered, the record attests at five years, the oldest at 18; therefore, there are 13 years between them. In fact, according to the minutes at the faculty meetings, this diversity of age caused troubles and some changes were needed, such as sorting out into two groups: older and little; later it was decided to divide them into three groups: small, medium and old. These groups had different schedules and activities. For example: the youngest ones were studying while those 14 years old or older were starting a professional course. With such splitting into groups the problem of negative influences of the oldest towards children decreased, but did not solve the whole problem; for this reason, pretty soon it was thought about opening other institutes connected to Artigianelli hosting youths of different ages and with specific needs (the agricultural colony, the Institute of Volvera…) and thus provide a better educational environment and structure for each student.

During the time of Murialdo, the registered number revolved around 150 students.

Another factor to consider when analyzing the entry age of children is the function of the school, i.e. if a minor, poor or abandoned, knocked at the door, he was welcomed, regardless of age, and the institution became for him a home, a school, a training ground, a church, a city of positive references for his growth.


  1. The behavior

This is the only column in the record describing how the child acted in the school. It was certainly compiled when the boy left the school and allows us to know, at least in general, the behavior of the young man in his years passed in the institute.

The behavior was described in one remark, difficult to interpret consistently. Several adjectives were used; we can classify the information into three groups:

– Best: included students receiving such assessment: optimal, exemplary, very good…

– Good: youngsters receiving the evaluation of: good, fair, mediocre…

– Bad: youth receiving the evaluation of: very bad, bad, not good…

Of the 451 pupils registered before Murialdo the evaluation was:

Best performance: 40 students, 236 with good behavior and 169 students with bad behavior.

For 6 students there is no assessment.

Of the 651 pupils received by Murialdo, the evaluation is as follows:

48 with Best performance: 465 students with good behavior: 122 with bad behavior. no evaluation is reported for 16 students.

If we consider the origin and condition in which the minors lived before entering in the institute, we can conclude that the conduct was not so negative and that the institute could effectively influence their lives. Maybe we can see a small pedagogical pearl, if you look at the numbers, in the years of Murialdo as rector there is: a marked decrease in children with bad behavior.

The behavior was the decisive element for the minor to remain in the boarding school and complete the course. The Registry confirms that the vast majority of pupils with Best behavior managed to complete the course and many became educators, some even religious and priests. As for the youngsters with bad performance, they were often expelled, ran away or sent to juvenile reformatory or into prison, because the Artigianelli was not working with corrective treatment, but with a pedagogy focusing on prevention.

  1. Details and reasons for release from Artigianelli Boarding school

We can list the manners of leaving the school into 4 groups:

Group 1: includes youngsters who had in school an attitude considered positive or at least average. Are those who left because: completed the course, withdrawal by parents, spontaneous departure, and finding work, called to military service. These guys can say that the school was able to guide them in life or that young people were able to build their formation.

This group consisted of 239 young people, of the 451 registered before Murialdo. Instead, 379 pupils, of the 651 received in Murialdo’s time.

Group 2: includes guys that could not get from the school a positive result in their formation; the reason for their departure was: expulsion, running away, sent to juvenile prison or similar institution, advised to leave.

Of the 451 welcomed before Murialdo, 148 ended in this group. Of the 651 welcomed during the rectory of Murialdo, 136 ended in this group.

After the entrance of Murialdo as rector, what we see is a decrease in this group.

Let us analyze in details Group 2, in considering only the number of expulsions (the most critical factor of all), we can see another pearl of the educational activities of Murialdo. Under the leadership of our saint the average percentage of expulsions was reduced to more than half: of the 451 entered before Murialdo 72 students were expelled; of the 651 entered with Murialdo as rector only 37 youngsters were expelled.

Group 3: Includes young people of whom we do not know how and when they left, because they were transferred to other institutions collaborating with the Artigianelli (agricultural colony, Institute of Volvera, family house…) according to the age or a specific curriculum.

Of the 451 welcomed before Murialdo, there were 22 such cases. In times of Murialdo, of the 651 received, there were 88 cases.

After the entry of Murialdo as rector a considerable increase is perceived in the boys in group 3.


Group 4: is formed by taking into account two groups of students:

Those who had no physical or mental infirmities to be in school (the most common diseases were deafness, blindness…).

Those associated with various diseases of the time, pupils who died while in school.

Of the 451 welcomed before Murialdo, we found 42 cases. Of the 651 received in time Murialdo, there were 58 cases.



The statistics are brief and synthetic, do not reflect the wealth of information that the record contains , but help us to discover, and perhaps to create an attitude about who the youths served by Murialdo were and what he meant by repeating : poor and abandoned: these are the two requirements that constitute a juvenile as one of ours, and the more poor and abandoned, the more is ours (S. Leonardo Murialdo, Writings, vol V – Centro Storico Giuseppini of Murialdo, Fonti e Studi., 5, Libreria Editrice Murialdo, Rome 1995-2009, p. 6.)

What is seen in the Artigianelli boarding school, after the entry of Murialdo, is exactly a saint who made of an ordinary life an extraordinary commitment to God. Without great miracles and wonders, but with specific and consistent deeds; being attentive to the cry of his time and choosing the path of helping others (the poor children and young people), a lifestyle that sanctified him. It seems fair to quote the words of Pope Paul VI, the 3rd of November 1963, on the occasion of the beatification of Murialdo: “His story is simple, no mystery, no extraordinary adventures, it developed in a manner relatively, calm amid places, persons, facts well-known […] he is not a distant and difficult man, not a saint outside of our conversation, he is a brother of ours, a priest of ours, he is our traveling companion… (San Leonardo Murialdo. La Congregazione dei Giuseppini e i Sommi Pontefici (1858-2010), organized by Giuseppe Fossati, Libreria Editrice Murialdo, Rome, 2013).

Dhian Paulo Paiz

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