One well-authenticated cure by Fr. John Bosco took place the same year that six boys were healed of smallpox at Lanzo. It occurred about 5 p.m. on May 16, the evening of Pentecost, in the Church of Mary Help of Christians, which Don Bosco built next to his complex of homes and schools for boys in Turin. Maria Stardero, a blind girl of ten or twelve, was led by her aunt into the church, where dozens of boys were standing about or kneeling in prayer as they waited for Don Bosco to arrive for confessions. Fr. Francis Dalmazzo, one of the first Salesians, spoke to the woman. In his testimony he later recalled, “I was grieved to see that the young girl’s eyes had no corneas and resembled white marbles.”
When Don Bosco arrived, he questioned the girl about her condition. She had not been born blind, but as a result of eye disease her sight had been completely lost two years earlier. When he asked about medical treatment, the aunt began to sob that they had tried everything, but doctors could only say the eyes were “beyond hope.”
“Can you tell whether things are big or small?” the saint asked.
“I can’t see a thing.”
He led her to a window. Could she perceive light?
“Not at all.”
“Would you like to see?”
“Oh, yes! It’s the only thing I want,” and she began to sob about how miserable she was.
“Will you use your eyes for the good of your soul and not to offend God?”
“I promise I will, with all my heart!”
“Good. You will regain your sight,” the man whose own vision was in need of help assured her. With a few sentences he encouraged the visitors to have faith in the intercession of Mary. With them he recited a Hail Mary and another prayer to Mary, the Hail, Holy Queen. Then, urging them to have absolute trust in the prayers of the Mother of Christ, he blessed the girl. After that he held a medal of Mary Help of Christians, in front of her and asked, “For the glory of God and the Blessed Virgin, tell me what I’m holding in my hand.”
“She can’t . . .” the elderly aunt began, but Don Bosco paid no heed, while the girl after a few seconds shouted, “I see!” Immediately she described the detailing on the medal. When she stretched out her hand to receive it, however, it rolled into a dim corner.
The aunt moved to retrieve it, but Don Bosco motioned her back.
“Let her pick it up to see if the Blessed Virgin has thoroughly restored her sight,” he insisted. Unerringly the girl bent into the shadows and picked up the tiny object. As the many witnesses looked on, awed and profoundly moved, Maria, beside herself with joy, bolted for home, while her aunt thanked Don Bosco profusely with sobs now of joy.
If Maria Stardero was so wild with joy she forgot to even thank the one whose prayer obtained her cure, she returned soon afterward to make her small donation to his work and offer thanks. Forty-six years later, in 1916, when some Salesians checked on her, she still had perfect vision.
Miracles in Rome
Among the other cures that seemed to be given by God to gain benefactors for the humble priest’s work were a number in Rome. For example, when Don Bosco had great trouble there getting approval for his radical new congregation, God used the saint to give healings to several important church officials who opposed approval or to members of their families. For all today’s theology about not bargaining with God, God seemed himself to barter the cures for approval of his saint’s congregation.
Among these cures a key opponent, Monsignor Svegliati, was healed overnight of virulent influenza following the saint’s visit; Cardinal Antonelli, in great pain and immobilized by gout, when Don Bosco called on him was well the next day; and the eleven-year-old nephew of Cardinal Berardi, dying of typhoid, was inexplicably healed after the saint came to pray over him. To each of these churchmen, before working the cure, Don Bosco made it clear that their vote was expected in return. These changed votes gave the Salesians approval.
Unbelievers were also among those healed by the saint. I think of the prominent doctor who came to visit Don Bosco. After a few social remarks, he said, “People say you can cure all diseases. Is that so?”
“Certainly not,” the saint answered.
“But I’ve been told —” The well-educated man was suddenly stammering. Fumbling in his pockets, he pulled out a tiny notebook. “See. I’ve even got the names and what each one was cured of.”
Don Bosco shrugged. “Many people come here to ask favors through Mary’s intercession. If they obtain what they seek, that’s due to the Blessed Virgin, not me.”
“Well, let her cure me,” the doctor said agitatedly, tapping the notebook on his well-clad knee, “and I’ll believe in these miracles too.”
“What’s your ailment?”
“I’m an epileptic.” His seizures, he told Don Bosco, had become so frequent during the past year that he couldn’t go out any more. In desperation, he was hoping for help beyond medicine.
“Well, do what the others do who come here,” Don Bosco said matter-of-factly. “You want the Blessed Virgin to heal you. So kneel, pray with me, and prepare to purify and strengthen your soul through confession and Holy Communion.”
The physician grimaced. “Suggest something else. I can’t do any of that.”
“It would be dishonest. I’m a materialist I don’t believe in God or the Virgin Mary. I don’t believe in miracles. I don’t even believe in prayer.”
For a space the two men sat in silence. Then Don Bosco smiled, as only he could, at his visitor. “You are not entirely without faith — after all, you came here hoping for a cure.”
As the saint smiled at him, something welled up in the doctor. Don Bosco knelt, and he knelt too without another word and made the Sign of the Cross.
Moments later, he began his confession.
Afterward, he declared, he felt a joy he would never have believed possible. Time and again he returned to give thanks for his spiritual healing.
As for the epilepsy, that simply vanished.
Miracles Even After Death
After Don Bosco’s death, there were many miracles to testify to the sanctity of this great friend of God. Ignoring those involving after-death appearances by the saint because I treat this subject at length in another book, and ignoring those in which the saint’s relics played the predominant role, I offer as examples the cures of two women.
Sr. Mary Joseph Massimi, of the convent of Santa Lucia in Selci, Italy, was about to die in 1928 of a duodenal ulcer. Her confessor gave this Augustinian nun a relic of Don Bosco, who was not yet beatified, and advised that she make a novena for his intercession. During the novena, instead of improving, her condition got worse. It was obvious that her recuperative powers were simply gone. But the nun’s faith was unshaken. She simply began a second novena.
This time, too, she deteriorated further. It appeared her death would occur any moment. Still, on the fifth day of the second novena, May 15, she dreamed Don Bosco said to her, “I’ve come to tell you you will recover. Just be patient. Suffer just a little longer. On Sunday you’ll be granted the grace [of healing].” Sunday was then four days away.
Friday, May 18, she dreamed again. This time Don Bosco carried the black habit that her order’s nuns wear on holy days. He repeated the promise of a Sunday cure. But her condition as Saturday faded into Sunday left room for only one conclusion: Sr. Mary Joseph had been the dupe of wish dreams with no real numinous content. Sadly on the very day her dreams had promised healing, her confessor was forced to give her the last rites.
But as the sister received the sacrament, her whole body suddenly “shuddered from head to foot, and in that instant she felt as though she was recalled from death to new life.”
Occurring as the Church’s experts, in the final act before beatification, were weighing two other cures attributed to Don Bosco for supernatural content, Sr. Mary Joseph’s healing caused a chuckle among those who recalled how God had so many times furthered Don Bosco’s projects with healing miracles.
Within twelve months of his 1929 beatification, there were already two new post-beatification miracles considered able to meet the Church’s criteria. As study proceeded, however, a cure from Innsbruck, Austria, was set aside as not completely verifiable. In its place was offered at once the 1931 cure of Mrs. Catherine Lanfranchi Pilenga.
Catherine Pilenga suffered from serious chronic arthritic diathesis, particularly in her knees and feet. The organic lesions caused by the disease did not threaten her life, but they practically paralyzed her lower limbs. For twenty-eight years, she had battled the condition; not a single treatment since 1903 had given her any relief.
In May 1931, she made her second pilgrimage to Lourdes. It was no more successful than her first. As she prepared to leave the shrine, Catherine prayed, “Well, Blessed Mother, since I haven’t been cured here, obtain the grace for me that, because of my devotion to Blessed Don Bosco, he will intercede for my recovery when I’m in Turin.”
She arrived in Turin from France in her usual serious condition. It took her sister and a male helper to get her out of their vehicle and into the Church of Mary Help of Christians, where she sat down to pray in front of the urn that contained the mortal remains of Don Bosco.
Deep in prayer, at some point without noticing what she was doing, she knelt down. After remaining on her knees about twenty minutes, she stood up, walked to the altar of the Blessed Virgin, and knelt again to continue her prayers. It was only at that point she suddenly realized, in kneeling, she was doing something impossible for her — and knew she was cured.
People who had seen this woman laboriously assisted into the church because she was unable to move about by herself now watched in amazement as she moved freely not only on level ground, but climbing and descending stairs. Her disease had simply vanished. It was a permanent, instantaneous, total recovery, verified by three doctors as well as a medical commission appointed by the Church, from a condition that nearly thirty years of medical help had failed to cure. Heaping joy upon joy, Mrs. Pilenga’s cure was eventually picked from the many healings God has given through Don Bosco to be held before the world at his canonization as an authentic miracle.
In 2010 Don Bosco’s relics went on world tour, including a number of places in the United States. This was in anticipation of — and the opening of events in celebration of — the saint’s two hundredth birthday in 2015. A new round of God-given healings and other graces, such as those that poured out for his beatification and canonization, appears likely as more people are reminded to ask the warm-hearted saint’s prayers.
image: Don Bosco/Wikimedia Commons
Editor’s note: This article was adapted from a chapter in Nothing Short of a Miracle by Patricia Treece, available from Sophia Institute Press.