There are three main areas in which Saint Leonard carried out his activity: oratories, the reception of poor and abandoned children, the Catholic movement.

At the beginning of his apostolate, in the oratories, he addressed the children of the suburbs of Turin, those who spent all day on the street, without going to school, or those already busy working in the shops and workshops of the city.

From 1866 onwards he agreed to totally commit his life to even poorer children, those without a family, or those who had been abandoned by the family: this is the world of the Artigianelli College and the other works that depended on this institution.

Un terzo ambito di lavoro fu quello del movimento cattolico. Egli collaborò con l’Unione Operaia Cattolica di Torino, interessandosi del mutuo soccorso e della formazione cristiana degli operai, e con l’Opera dei Congressi, operando soprattutto nel campo della stampa popolare di orientamento cristiano.


Stages of his life

As soon as he was a priest, Leonardo Murialdo dedicated himself to the apostolate among the boys of the first Turin oratories . At first he helped his cousin Roberto Murialdo, also a priest, in the oratory of the Guardian Angel, in Borgo Vanchiglia.

Then he became director (1857-1865), at the invitation of Don Bosco, of the oratory of San Luigi, at the Porta Nuova railway station. He made his solemn entry into the oratory on July 26, 1857. In his first speech to those boys he expressed one of the lines of his pedagogy, that of a loving and friendly presence among the boys: "I will do what I can, he said, in the instructions, making myself available for the sacraments, and in lawful entertainment, music, gymnastics, games, not as a superior, but as a friend ”(Writings, XI, p. 116).

The oratory was a public holiday, but in Lent it opened its doors every day and not just on Sundays.

Over time, Murialdo introduced a daytime primary school, for many children who attended the oratory on holidays and then loitered on the streets all week. The role of the laity in the oratory was quite relevant. Several belonged to the Conferences of San Vincenzo; not a few were prominent personalities in the Turin Catholic laity of the time (G. Bellingeri, F. Viancino, L. Scarampi, G. B. Ferrante). Then, every Sunday, the Salesian clerics (M. Rua, C. Durando, G. Cagliero…) came from Valdocco, who placed themselves under Murialdo's service for catechism and games.

For Murialdo, the beautiful and intense period of San Luigi ended in September 1865 when, anticipating his brother's family who was preparing to spend the winter in Paris, he decided to dedicate a year to study, reflection and prayer in the famous Seminary of San Sulpizio.

That year of updating had to serve him to continue his apostolate in the Turin oratories. Instead, on his return to Turin in 1866, he was offered a much heavier commitment: to become "rector" of a house that welcomed poor and abandoned children: the Artigianelli College.

The Artigianelli Boarding School of Turin was founded by Don Giovanni Cocchi in 1849. He wanted to involve and bring together in an association the people who, together with him, wanted to take to heart the education of poor and abandoned children. 'year later, the "Association of Charity for poor and abandoned young people." It was made up of priests and lay people who pledged to collaborate for the purpose of the association with financial support, with management and administrative consultancy or with their direct involvement in the educational work. Over time the Charity Association expanded the circle of its institutions, coming to have under its responsibility the Artigianelli College of Turin, the agricultural colony of Rivoli (Turin), the family home for young workers and students, the San Giuseppe di Volvera Institute, the Bosco Marengo reformatory (Alessandria).

Don Cocchi directed the Artigianelli College until 1852, when two other priests took over, Giacinto Tasca and Pier Giuseppe Berizzi. The college aimed to welcome, assist, educate in a Christian manner and train orphaned, poor and abandoned children in professional work. At the beginning the boys went to learn a trade in the artisan shops of the city (shoemakers, blacksmiths, carpenters ...), then, in 1856, the first internal workshops were set up which could expand and improve when the college had the new headquarters of Palestro course. The name "Artigianelli", wanted by Don Cocchi, alluded to the professional training that the institute provided to its young people.

In 1866, the theologian Pier Giuseppe Berizzi, who had remained only at the helm of the college, was recalled to Biella, his diocese of origin. He begged Murialdo to replace him in that difficult assignment. It was a very heavy responsibility: that of an institution burdened with large debts and without secure income, given that most of the children were hosted there for free. One could almost count only on donations from benefactors.

From 1866 until his death, the theologian Murialdo spent most of his energy on the orphans, poor and abandoned children who were welcomed in that and other institutions dependent on it.

At the time when Murialdo accepted the office of Rector, there were about 150 young guests at the college. Their number grew in the following years, reaching the figure of 180-200, depending on the age. They attended four elementary classes (which became five in 1890) and a complementary course. Towards the age of 12 they could then access the workshops, for a period of preparation for the actual internship that began at 14 and ended at 19. Together with religious training, Murialdo also tried to perfect the intellectual and technical preparation imparted in schools and in the laboratories. The latter were five in 1867 and increased to a dozen (with some specializations within them) during the long rectorate of Murialdo: typographers, composers, printers, lithographers, designers, lithographers, printers, carpenters, wood turners, sculptors, tailors, shoemakers, book binders, type founders, blacksmiths and iron turners.

The boys of the Artigianelli were orphans or abandoned by their families, or they had parents who were unable to take care of their education. It was therefore necessary to welcome them with affection and take charge of all aspects of their life: accommodation, clothing, food, health, school, job training, moral and religious education, choice of profession at the end of the internship. And this also applied to the other works connected to the Artigianelli College and dependent on the Charity Association.

The social sensitivity matured in the oratories of the suburbs of Turin and deepened in the daily sharing of life with the poor and abandoned children of his welfare works, perhaps must have made Murialdo's active inclusion in the nascent Catholic movement appear spontaneous and even rightful to him. on the one hand the lay response of Catholicism to the liberal laicization of the state and of society and on the other a new way of the Christian laity to integrate into the active apostolate of the Church, especially in those areas that seemed more difficult to reach through the traditional ministry of priests (workers, young people, the world of the press).

It was one of the first Catholic workers 'societies to arise in Piedmont. Over time it became the most organized and the most consistent, in terms of number of members, among the Catholic workers' associations in the region and perhaps even in the whole of Italy. The foundation took place June 29, 1871. Among the main promoters were the journalist Stefano Scala, the industrialist Pietro Delucca, who was the first president, Ermanno Reffo, treasurer, along with some other lay people and some priests.

The workers, the artisans, the small traders who enrolled in the mutual aid were entitled, in case of illness, to medical care and to a daily subsidy which compensated for the lack of working wages, since there were no social security systems for the periods of illness and accidents and not even old-age pensions.

In Turin, the Union was structured in parish sections. In addition to Scala and Delucca, it is necessary to remember other lay people who had an important role within the Union, such as Alberto Buffa, Paolo Pio Perazzo, Domenico Giraud, the typographer Pietro Marietti ... Among the ecclesiastical assistants we find the canon Ludovico Chicco, the canon Augusto Berta and San Leonardo Murialdo.

The main activities of the UOC were mutual aid, the work placement committee, the St. Joseph's Conference in favor of the poor, the popular library, evening catechisms for apprentices and young workers, the pension fund, cultural conferences, formative and religious initiatives. From the UOC, thanks to Domenico Giraud and with the support of Murialdo, the newspaper "La Voce dell’Operaio" was born in 1876 and was printed in the Collegio Artigianelli. It still exists today under the title "La Voce e il Tempo" and is the weekly newspaper of the diocese of Turin.

San Leonardo Murialdo began to frequent the Catholic Workers' Union, indeed he enrolled there and "began to favor it", as Fr Reffo writes, from its earliest beginnings. Moreover, it is Don Reffo himself who affirms that "when Catholics began to agitate for vigorous and effective action in Italy, he could rightly be considered one of the first to promote that healthy agitation and to make himself an apostle of it".

It is also Don Reffo, his first biographer, to testify that in the Catholic associations of Turin Murialdo "was for many years ecclesiastical assistant and promoter and soul", thus recognizing an important role that derived from his personality, from his long educational activity, from the assiduous frequentation of the popular classes of the Turin suburbs and also from the foreign experiences, especially French, with which he came into contact thanks to his numerous trips abroad.

Among the works dependent on the Turin Charity Association there was also a reformatory. Don Cocchi had opened it in Chieri in 1868, with 45 boys released from the correctional prison in Turin or otherwise subject to the special law of public security. 1870 the reformatory was moved to Bosco Marengo, in the province of Alessandria, in the premises of the former Dominican convent of Santa Croce._ Over time it came to welcome about 400 young "corrigendi", aged no more than fifteen years. attended primary school, the older ones, in addition to school, were initiated to learn a job in the internal laboratories: there were the foundry of characters, typography, lithography, a pasta factory, carpenters, sculptors and turners in wood, tailors, shoemakers, weavers, those involved in the production of wool and cotton sweaters and finally a team of horticulturalists.

In October 1872, Don Cocchi resigned from the direction of the reformatory and was replaced by Don Giulio Costantino, collaborator of St. Leonard and later his successor in the leadership of the Artigianelli College and in the Congregation of St. Joseph.

The situation of the reformatory was always burdened by heavy problems: financial ones above all, but also pedagogical ones, deriving from the difficulty of following and educating a large mass of young people without the availability of a sufficient group of well-trained educators willing to lead a life of great sacrifice.

The young people were sent by the government, but the agreement with the authorities was never easy. The management of the Charity Association would have liked to make Bosco Marengo not only a reformatory for "looking after" young people, but above all a home for education and moral and professional recovery.

The government authorities, on the other hand, skimped on the funds, they were not convinced of the need to reduce the number of children and in addition they pretended to control educational choices. The tensions that had arisen led the government, in 1883, to close the reformatory by authority, despite various attempts by Don Cocchi to save his creature. The boys were sent to the various correctional houses existing in Italy. Only 25 of them escaped dispersion and were welcomed in the agricultural colony of Rivoli.

The agricultural colony of Rivoli, founded by Murialdo in 1878, replaced the one opened by Don Cocchi in Cavoretto, on the Turin hill, in 1852 and then moved to Moncucco (Asti) in 1853._In the nineteenth century the agricultural colonies were colleges in which the boys, generally orphans or abandoned, were trained in various activities such as breeding, viticulture, gardening ... Training in agricultural work was also a response to the serious problems posed by the sad living conditions of the peasants, unemployment, escape from the countryside and emigration.

Murialdo's main collaborator in the foundation of the agricultural colony of Rivoli was his nephew, the engineer Carlo Peretti, who bought the building and land (40 hectares) at his own expense. The colony, opened on May 16, 1878, soon became a model farm, thanks to the works that Peretti carried out there: irrigation systems, rational distribution of crops, construction of new buildings.

The boys were engaged in agricultural work, horticulture, gardening, breeding and workshops for internal use: tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, blacksmiths' workshops. From 1881 the theoretical part was improved, giving rise to a real theoretical-practical school of agriculture with courses in botany, physics, drawing, horticulture, chemistry, agronomy ...

The boys, only 10 at the beginning, rose to 60 in the 1878-79 school year and to 80 in the following year. The quality of the training they received is testified by the many awards, diplomas, mentions, medals… that the colony won in various agricultural exhibitions and events.

Murialdo founded the family home in 1878, with the financial help of his nephew Carlo Peretti. It was the first institution of its kind in Italy. for young people who had finished their professional training at the Collegio Artigianelli. By now they were grown up and were starting to work, but they did not have a family and therefore encountered serious difficulties for food and accommodation. The family home was also open to others young workers who came to Turin in search of employment, far from home, they found a welcoming, economic, morally sound hospitality.

In addition, the family home, a real boarding house for young workers, formed as the completion and crowning of the entire welfare organization headed by the Artigianelli College. Barely a year after opening, the guests were already twenty and they soon rose to fifty. The family home offered them food, accommodation in single rooms and the possibility of recreation for free time; she arranged to have the linen washed, ironed and sewn.

The cost of the pension, in 1886, was 36 lire a month. With a little approximation, it can be said that at that time the monthly wage of a young worker was around 55-65 lire. Once the pension was paid and some shopping for clothing had been made, each young guest in the family home could therefore set aside a small nest egg for his future. It was a way to initiate young people towards an independent life and at the same time to continue to be close to them, also from an educational and religious point of view, in the first difficult years of entering the world of work.

In 1881 the family home was also open to students, for the same welfare, educational and religious reasons.

Among the works that formed as a unitary educational complex run by the Association of Charity, there was also the San Giuseppe di Volvera Institute (Turin), opened by Murialdo in 1881. It was also the first house entirely owned by the Congregation of San Giuseppe founded by Murialdo. He welcomed the youngest boys, before they could begin their professional training at the Artigianelli or in the agricultural colony. A group of seminarians, still boys, and some clerics students of philosophy oriented to the religious life in the young congregation.

Fifteen years had passed from the time of his appointment as Rector (1866) until the foundation of the Volvera Educational Institute. Murialdo had improved the existing institutions before his arrival and had founded new ones. That of the Charity Association was now an articulated and harmonious complex, able to meet the needs of poor and abandoned children in a rather flexible way, accompanying them from elementary classes (Volvera), through professional training (Collegio Artigianelli, agricultural colony ), until entering the world of work (family home).

The Opera dei Congressi was a national organization that aimed to coordinate the initiatives of Catholics in Italian society. Murialdo was a member of the Piedmontese Regional Committee, within which he devoted himself above all to the sector of the Catholic press and of circulating libraries.

The foundation in Turin in February 1883 of the Association for the dissemination of the good press under the special protection of San Carlo Borromeo dates back to him, and a few other collaborators. The next step was an attempt to link up the various associations in Italy that dealt with the dissemination of the Catholic press. During the sixth Italian Catholic congress (Naples, October 10-14, 1883) Murialdo started what was then called the League among the various societies for the dissemination of the good press. It was a national association, or rather, a federation of companies, of which the Turin one founded by Murialdo was one of the adherents and at the same time held the role of promoter and operational center for maintaining contacts.

A few months later (January 1884), Murialdo gave life to the monthly bulletin "La Buona Stampa", an organ of the San Carlo Association of Turin, but also the connection sheet of the newly formed League, to which the companies of Rome had joined in the meantime. Naples, Venice, Ancona, Genoa, Palermo, Milan and Savona, as well as of course Turin, the promoting company.

The San Carlo Association of Turin dedicated itself to the foundation of circulating libraries, that is, small popular libraries that lent books and which were based in Catholic associations, parishes, religious houses, or rented premises. Another sector of activity was the distribution (at very cheap prices) of books to parish committees, associations, sections of the Catholic Workers' Union, oratories, as well as the free distribution of various booklets and brochures.

Wanting to summarize the entire apostolic parable of Murialdo in the Catholic movement, we note in him a marked sensitivity towards two "frontier" sectors, that of the workers and that of the press, in which the presence of the Church was now marginal, two fields of missionary action, real apostolates in which the Church could not help but invest energy, people, resources.