In the service of the poorest

Slide background

Come San Giuseppe,

umile educatore di Gesù

The mission of Murialdo


Three are the main areas in which saint Leonard did his ministry: oratories, welcoming poor and abandoned youth, the catholic movement.
At the beginning of his ministry, in the oratories, he took care of the boys of the peripheries of Turin, those who spent all day on the street, without going to school, or those already employed in the workshops and stores of the city.
From 1866 on, he accepted to commit himself totally to the boys even more poor, those without family or abandoned by the family: it is the world of the Artigianelli Boarding School and of other activities that depended on this institution.
A third area of his ministry was the Catholic movement. He collaborated with Catholic Workers Union of Turin, taking interest in the mutual aid and Christian formation of workers, and with the movement of Congresses, working above all in the popular press field of Christian orientation.

In the oratories

Immediately after ordination Leonard Murialdo committed himself to the ministry among the boys of the first oratories of Turin.

In the beginning he helped his cousin Robert Murialdo, himself a priest, in the oratory of the Guardian Angel, in Borgo Vanchiglia.

Giovani poveri al gioco delle monete

Later at the invitation of don Bosco he became director (1857-1865) of the oratory of Saint Aloysius, near the railroad station of Porta Nuova. He made his solemn entrance in the oratory on July 26, 1857. In his first talk to those boys he expressed one of the characteristics of his pedagogy, that of a loving and friendly presence among the boys: “ I will do whatever I can, he said, in the instructions, putting myself at the disposal for the sacraments and for right amusements, gymnastics, games, not as superior but as friend.” (Writings, XI, p. 116)
The oratory was just on Sunday, but during lent the doors were open all days not only on Sunday.
Gradually saint Leonard Murialdo introduced a daily elementary school, for many boys who frequented the oratory on Sundays and spent the whole week on the street. The role of the lay people in the oratory was quite relevant. Many belonged to Saint Vincent Conferences; quite a few were persons of high standing in the Catholic Lay movement of Turin (G. Bellingeri, F. Viancino, L. Scarampi, G. B. Ferrante. Moreover, every Sunday the Salesian clerics came from Valdocco (M. Rua, C. Durando, G. Cagliero…). They were available under the leadership of saint Leonard Murialdo for the Catechism and games. This beautiful and intense ministry at Saint Aloysius ended for saint Leonard Murialdo on September 1865, when he, anticipating the family of his brother Ernest planning to spend the winter in Paris, decided to dedicate one year to study, reflection and prayer in the famous Seminary of Saint Sulpice.
That year of updating should have helped him to continue his ministry in the oratories of Turin. On his return in 1866 it was proposed to him a task very much heavier: to become the “rector” of a house that welcomed poor and abandoned boys: The Artigianelli Boarding School.

In the Artigianelli Boarding School

The Artigianelli Boarding School of Turin had been founded by don Giovanni Cocchi in 1849. He wanted to involve and gather in an association people who, together with him, desired to educate poor and abandoned boys. Thus the “Association of Charity for poor and abandoned youth” was born a year later, made up of priests and lay people committed to collaborate in favor of the association with financial help, consulting and administrative advice or direct task of teaching. With the passing of time the Association of Charity increased its responsibility with new institutions: the Artigianelli Boarding School, Agriculture School of Rivoli (Turin), family house for young workers and students, Saint Joseph Institute of Volvera, Riformatory of Bosco Marengo (Alexandria).

Il Collegio Artigianelli di Corso Palestro a Torino

Il Collegio Artigianelli di Corso Palestro a Torino

Don Cocchi directed the Artigianelli Boarding School till 1852, when two other priests Giacinto Tasca and Pier Giuseppe Berizzi took over. The goal of the school was to welcome, assist, educate in the Catholic faith, and train orphaned, poor and abandoned youth for a professional work. In the beginning the boys went to learn a trade in the artisan workshops of the city (shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths…, later in 1856 the first internal workshops were set up, that could be expanded and improved when the school was moved in the new site in Corso Palestro. The name Artigianelli (craftsmen), chosen by don Cocchi, referred specifically to the professional training that the institute guaranteed to its youth. In 1866, the theologian Pier Giuseppe Berizzi, who was left alone in the direction of the school, was called to Biella, his diocese of origin. He pleaded Leonard Murialdo to substitute him in the difficult task. It was a very heavy responsibility: it was an institute, burdened with great debts and without sure income, because the majority of the boys were taken in gratuitously. The only source of income were the donations of benefactors.
From 1866 till his death the theologian Murialdo will spend the majority of his energies for the orphan, poor and abandoned boys, who were maintained in that and in other institutions dependent from it.

At the time saint Leonard Murialdo became Rector the inmate boys at the school were about 150. Their number grew in the following years, to reach 180-200 according to the times. They frequented 4 elementary classes (become 5 in 1890) and a complementary course. At the age of 12 they could attend the workshops, for a period of preparation to the true and proper training that began at 14 years of age till 19. Together with religious formation saint Leonard Murialdo tried to improve also the intellectual and technical preparation given in the school and workshops. These workshops were 5 in 1867 and became 10 ( with some specializations within them) during the tenure of saint Leonard Murialdo: type-setters, printers, lithographic printers, lithographic designers, carpenters, wooden turners, sculptors, tailors, shoemakers, book binders, type-founders, blacksmiths and iron turners.
The boys of the Artigianelli were orphan or abandoned by their families or had parents who could not afford the education. It was necessary then to welcome them with affection and take care of all aspects of their life: lodging, clothes, food, health, school, training for work, moral and religious education, choice of profession for the training. This was true also for the institutions tied to the Artigianelli Boarding School and dependent from the Association of Charity.

Catholic Workers Union

The social sensibility matured in the oratories of the peripheries of Turin and deepened in daily sharing of life with poor and abandoned boys in his charitable institutions, must have appeared spontaneous and dutiful to saint Leonard Murialdo an active participation to the rising Catholic movement, that was on one side the lay response of Catholicism to the liberal laicization of the state and of society, and on the other side a new way of Christian lay people to cooperate in the active apostolate of the Church, above all in those areas that seemed more difficult to reach through the traditional ministry of priests (workers, youth, the world).

Catholic Workers Union

It was the first catholic workers association born in Piedmont. With the passing of time it became the best organized and solid for the number of members among the Catholic workers associations of the region and perhaps of the whole Italy. The foundation took place on June 29, 1971. Among the main promoters were journalist Stefano Scala, manufacturer Pietro Delucca, who was the first president, Ermanno Reffo, treasurer, together with some lay persons and priests.
The workers, artisans, small traders who registered for mutual aid had the right, when sick, to the care of a doctor and a daily subsidy in order to compensate the lack of working salary. At that time there were no social welfare systems for sickness, accident and pensions for old age.
In Turin the Union was structured in parish sections. Besides Scala and Delucca it is good to remember other lay people who had an important role in the Union, as Alberto Buffa, Paolo Pio Perazzo, Domenico Giraud, printer Pietro Marietti… Among the ecclesiastical chaplains we find can. Ludovico Chicco, can. Augusto Berta and saint Leonard Murialdo.
The main activities of the Union were mutual aid, the committee of work placement, Saint Joseph’s Conference in favor of the poor, popular library, evening catechism for the apprentices and young workers, pensions’ fund, cultural conferences, formative and religious initiatives. Because of the Union the newspaper ”La Voce dell’Operaio” (the voice of the worker), that was printed at the Artigianelli Boarding School, was first started in 1876 due to Domenico Giraud, with the support of saint Leonard Murialdo. This newspaper is still published nowadays with the title “La Voce del Popolo” (the voice of the people) and it is the weekly publication of the diocese of Turin.
Saint Leonard Murialdo began to attend the Catholic Workers Union since the beginning, as don Reffo writes. He became a member and “supported it.”
Moreover the same don Reffo affirms that “when the agitation of Catholic people began in Italy for a vigorous and effective action, he could be considered indeed among the firsts to promote that healthy agitation and to become its apostle.”
It is still don Reffo, his first biographer, to bear witness that in the Catholic associations of Turin saint Leonard Murialdo “was for many years ecclesiastical chaplain and promoter and animator,” giving him credit for an important role springing from his personality, his long educational experience, diligent knowledge of the popular classes of the peripheries of Turin, and his foreign experiences, above all in France, which he gained from his numberless journeys outside Italy.

The movement of Congresses and the press world.

The movement of Congresses was an organization of national level that had its objective to coordinate the initiatives of the Catholic people in the Italian society. Saint Leonard Murialdo was a member of the regional Committee of Piedmont, within which he spend mainly his dedication to the Catholic press and circulating libraries.
The foundation in Turin of the Association of the good press under the special protection of Saint Charles Borromeo in 1883 was his work and of his few collaborators.
The next step was an attempt to link the different associations that were involved in Italy to spread the Catholic press. During the sixth Catholic Congress of Italy (Naples, October 10-14, 1883) saint Leonard Murialdo gave origin to what was called then a league among the various societies for the spreading of the good press.
It was a national association, or better, a federation of societies, of which that of Turin, founded by saint Leonard Murialdo was one of the members and at the same time it had the role of promotion and of operative center to keep the contacts.
Some months later (January 1884) saint Leonard Murialdo began the monthly bulletin “La Buona Stampa” (the good press), organ of the Association Saint Charles of Turin, but also a linkage of new born League, which counted among its members the societies of Rome, Naples, Venice, Ancona, Genoa, Palermo, Milan and Savona, besides naturally Turin, the promotion society.
The Association Saint Charles of Turin was committed to the foundation of circulating libraries, that is, small popular libraries, that were loaning books and had the seat near Catholic associations, parishes, religious houses, or in local rented places.
Another aspect of the activity was that of the distribution (at lower prices) of books to parochial committees, associations, branches of the Catholic Workers Union, oratories, moreover the gratuitous giving of booklets and various pamphlets.
Summarizing the entire apostolic parabola of Saint Leonard Murialdo in the Catholic movement, we see in him a prominent sensibility towards two “frontier” aspects, that of workers and of the press, in which the presence of the Church was marginal, two fields of missionary action, true ministries, in which the Church needed to invest energies, personnel, resources.

The agricultural school

The agricultural school of Rivoli, founded by saint Leonard Murialdo in 1878 substituted that one opened by don Cocchi at Cavoretto, in the hill of Turin in 1852 and then moved to Moncucco (Asti) in 1853. In the eighteenth century the agricultural schools were boarding schools where the boys mostly orphan or abandoned were taught different tasks like cattle-breeding, vines growing, gardening…
Moreover the training to agricultural work was an answer to the serious problems caused by the sad conditions of the life of farmers, unemployment and emigration from the farms.
The main collaborator of saint Leonard Murialdo in setting up the agricultural school of Rivoli was the nephew, the engineer Carlo Peretti, who bought himself the farm and the land (40 hectares).
The agricultural school, opened on May 16, 1878, became soon a model school, thanks to the improvements that Peretti made: irrigation canals, rational distribution of cultivations, building of new edifices.
The boys were taught different agricultural skills, horticulture, gardening, cattle-breeding and workshops for internal use: tailors, shoemakers, carpentry, blacksmiths. From 1881 the theoretical part of the school was improved giving origin to a true practical school of agriculture with classes of botany, horticulture, chemistry, agronomy…
The boys, only 10 in the beginning, grew to 60 in the school year 1878-79 and to 80 in the following year. The quality of instruction that they received is testified by the many awards, diplomas, recognitions, medals … that the school won in different expositions and manifestations in the agricultural field.

The family house for young workers and students

The family house for young workers and students

Ragazzi dell'800 per le strade della periferia di Torino

Ragazzi dell’800 per le strade della periferia di Torino

Moreover the family house, a true and proper hostel for young workers, was the crowning and finishing touch of all the charitable organization run by the Artigianelli Boarding School. Not even one year after the opening the guests were already 20 and soon reached 50. The family house was providing them with food, lodging in a single room and possibility of recreation in free time; it also provided for washing, pressing and mending the clothes.
The cost of the hostel was of 36 lire for a month in 1886. Approximately we can say at the time the monthly salary of a worker was around 55-65 lire. Once paid the hostel each young guest could save a small amount for his future. It was a good method to teach the young men an independent life and at the same time to keep them close for a formative and religious perspective in the first difficult years of introduction in the working world.
In 1881 the family house was open also to students, for the same charitable, educational and religious reasons.

Institute of Saint Joseph of Volvera

Among the initiatives that formed a united educational system run by the Association of Charity, was also the Institute Saint Joseph of Volvera (Turin), opened by saint Leonard Murialdo in 1881.
It was also the first house completely owned by the Congregation of Saint Joseph founded by saint Leonard Murialdo. It welcomed the smallest boys before they could begin their professional training at the Artigianelli Boarding School or in the agricultural school.
It gave also hospitality to a group of seminarians, still boys, and also to student clerics of philosophy preparing to enter the young Congregation.
From the time Saint Leonard Murialdo became rector (1866) to the foundation of the educational Institute of Volvera only fifteen years had passed. He had improved the existing institutions before his arrival and had founded new ones. The Association of Charity had in place an articulated and harmonious system, capable of meeting in a proper way the needs of poor and abandoned youth, accompanying them from elementary school (Volvera), through the professional training (Artigianelli Boarding School, agricultural school), till to the introduction to the working world (family house).


Among the activities dependent from the Association of Charity there was also a reformatory, initiated by don Cocchi in Chieri in 1868 with 45 boys coming from the correctional prison of Turin or still subject to the special law of public safety. In 1870 the reformatory was transferred to Bosco Marengo, in the province of Alessandria in an ex-convent belonging to the Dominican Order of the Holy Cross.
With the passing of time the number of inmates reached about 400 “to be corrected” boys not above the age of fifteen years. The smallest were attending elementary school, the oldest, besides the school they were taught a trade in the internal workshops: there were type-setting foundry, printing, lithography, bread baking, carpenters, sculptors, wood turners, tailors, shoes makers, weavers, knitted good makers and finally a group of horticulture.
In the month of October 1872 don Cocchi resigned from director of the reformatory and was substituted by don Giulio Constantino, collaborator of Saint Leonard Murialdo and later his successor in the direction of the Artigianelli Boarding School and in the Congregation of Saint Joseph.
The reformatory was always burdened by great problems: financial problems especially, but also educational problems, coming from the difficulty to follow and educate the great number of boys without the availability of a sufficient group of educators, well prepared and willing to accept a life of great sacrifice.
The youth were sent by the government, but the relationship with authorities were never easy. The people responsible of the Association of Charity would have desired to make Bosco Marengo not only a reformatory to “guard” the youth, but above all a house of education for moral and professional recovery.
The government authorities instead were stingy with money and were never convinced of the necessity to decrease the number of boys and moreover were pretending to control the educational choices. The conflicts caused by this situation forced the government
in 1883 to close the reformatory, in spite of the various efforts of don Cocchi to save his foundation. The boys were sent to the different houses of correction around Italy. Only 25 of them survived the dispersion and were welcomed in the agricultural school
of Rivoli.

Biography of Saint Leonard Murialdo


Biography of Saint Leonard Murialdo written by Giovanni Di Carlo.


Saint Leonard, a friend



Canonization of Saint Leonard Murialdo


Roma, 3 maggio 1970

They said about him


“This man meek, gentle and saint”

Paul VI November 3, 1963, in the beatification

“Extraordinariness of a man who defends man”

Paul VI in Decretal Letters for the canonization, 1970

“New works according to the signs of times”

Card. Michele Pellegrino

“Saint Leonard Murialdo became friend, brother, father of poor youth”

Saint John Paul II Message for the centenary of Murialdo March 28, 2000

“International publication gives a profile of Saint Leonard and of his ministry as educator of people” …

Magazine “Traces” of Communion and Liberation

This post is also available in: Italian Spanish Portuguese (Brazil)

This site uses cookies that improve the browsing experience. more informations

Questo sito utilizza i cookie per fonire la migliore esperienza di navigazione possibile. Continuando a utilizzare questo sito senza modificare le impostazioni dei cookie o clicchi su "Accetta" permetti al loro utilizzo.