We, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, are a relatively young institute. We were born in 1872 in a small town in the northern Italian province of Alessandria. A few years later, our founder, Saint John Bosco, and our co-founder Saint Mary Domenica Mazzarello, spurred us to the missions. The institute, thus, had a very broad range of inculturation, and we reached many countries. Today we are present in 97 countries and have more than 1,500 homes. We can say that our educational work has traversed the world. We have made significant contributions particularly to the education of young women — because we were founded precisely for young women — but also to the education of teenagers and children on all continents.
Throughout these 150 years, there has been an effort to read the reality in which we placed ourselves in an evangelical way, with a great capacity to adapt and to respond to the specific questions arising from different locations: questions about education, but also about the promotion of women, of assistance if one thinks about the truly difficult periods of the world wars, or of moments of emergency scattered around the world.
We always seek to respond first of all with our presence: to be there to listen to questions and respond to emergencies, always with a focus on promoting education, also in collaboration with a variety of institutions, such as with centres for the promotion of women, oratories, schools of all kinds and levels, universities — a variety of institutions that respond to a variety of people and questions.
The future of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians will certainly be aimed at rekindling this commitment to education, even though with all religious institutes the number of sisters is dropping, at least in some parts of the world, but growing in others. Young people are everywhere. In some contexts, like Africa and Asia, the number of young people is truly massive. Thus, we continue our education work aimed at them, preventively. I believe that to educate means leading the person to walk on their own two feet, and in order to do so, Pope Francis asks that new generations be trusted so as to make them the protagonists. On the one hand, we must remove all that is in opposition or that prevents the serene growth of young people: indifference, resignation and lack of trust. On the other, we have to experiment educational pathways that are more suitable, that lead young people to encounter themselves and others, to live a culture of encounter and an ecological spirituality that today is to be experienced on a global level. We foster the hope that young people instil in us, even when situations seem rather difficult to face.
We also looked to the future through an International Conference that was held in Rome from 25 to 30 September 2022 with the title, “Contribution of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians to Education (1872–2022). Paths, Challenges, and Perspectives”. It was above all a challenge for the Institute and for organizers of the conference, perhaps the only one in the Institute’s history. There were nearly 300 participants present, and between 600 and 1,000 online. The conference was not meant to be simply a workshop for academics and experts, but a contribution for all those who care about the great theme of the challenge of education. The first session, which offered some statistical data, was based on historical data with the aim of outlining the profiles of educators who have creatively interpreted the preventive system in different contexts. Then there was a time for a pedagogical reflection of the Institute through the contribution that our faculty has given to the systematization of this female preventive System.
We also completed impressive investigative research conducted by an international team on the perception of Salesian formation today, interviewing many education communities scattered around the world. On another evening, young people from the Salesian world connected with us, and told us what they think about us and about education. This was like a window opened wide onto the youth cross-section, in which we were able to dialogue, also through the use of the language of music and dance.
* Dean of the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium”
Sr Piera Ruffinatto *