8th December, 1854, Dominic Savio entered this church, knelt in front of the altar of the Immaculate and consacreted himself to the Virgin Mary with this short prayer (that for a long time, the Salesian boys learnt by memory and made their own):
“Mary, I give you my heart, make it always yours. Jesus and Mary, You are always my friends, but for pity’s sake, make me die rather than let me suffer the disgrace of committing a single sin”.
The altar of Our Lady where Dominic Savio consacreted himself to her is the work that recalls the foundation of the Society of the Immaculate, the 8th December, 1854. Two years later, Dominic Savio returned to kneel before this altar, no longer alone, but accompanied by the best boys from the oratory. He had founded the “Society of the Immaculate”. He had asked himself:
“Why must we try to do good to others alone? Why don’t we – all the most kind-hearted young people – unite and become a “secret society” of little apostles among the others?”.
Don Bosco approved of his proposal. Dominic did not know that he had only 9more months to live but he created masterpiece. Those “first founders” would become Salesians, except for Dominic who would go to heaven. The Society would be transferred to every Salesian house for more than 100 years, becoming, everywhere, a group of committed young people certain of their vocation. In this same church, behind the main altar, Dominic Savio had a state of ecstasy in front of the tabernacle that lasted more than six hours.
Father Michael Rua, one of the very earliest Salesians (January 26, 1854), celebrated his first Mass in this church in 1860, assisted by Don Bosco himself. Michael was born quite close to Torino-Valdocco, only a few hundred meters distant. When he was eight, Divine Providence arranged for him to meet Don Bosco, about whom he had heard, and who would guide his life for ever. When the lad saw Don Bosco, he asked for a holy card. The Saint, having understood that this boy’s future would be linked to his own, pretended to slice his own hand in two. As he did so, he said, “Take this, Michael, take this. We two will always divide things equally”. At that moment, young Michael didn’t understand. He would do so later, after years were spent with the Saint of Youth, working for them along with him. Don Bosco had forseen correctly. From that moment Michael Rua wuold always remain with him and be his most faithful and intelligent collaborator, as well as his first successor – chosen by his very self – as leader of the Salesians. Michael Rua was an outstanding and reliable imitator of Don Bosco in all things, holiness by no means excluded. He was declared Blessed by Pope Paul VI on the 29th of October, 1972.
1860. 22nd October of this year the first door to the left of this church witnessed an extraordinary event. Francesco Dalmazzo arrived at Torino-Valdocco at the age of 15. He had a tremendous will but a weak health. He told Don Bosco: “I wish you well but if I stay here, I will get ill. With your permission, I will write to my mother and tell her to come and get me”.
This he did. But the morning on which he was to leave, he wanted to make his last confession to Don Bosco. While awaiting confession behind the altar, while he was confessing and during the prayers after confession, he saw the bread boys return three times and tell Don Bosco that there was no more bread for breakfast.
First, Don Bosco sent them to the baker, Magra; then, on discovering that the baker did not want to give any more credit to him, told them to gather all the bread there was in the Oratory and that he himself would distribute it at the door. Francesco understood that something extraordinary was about to happen. Leaving first, he signalled to his waiting mother to have a bit more patience. “When Don Bosco arrived – reads his sworn testimony – he first took a loaf, looked inside the basket and saw that it contained fifteen to twenty rolls.
Unobserved I then moved behind Don Bosco, on the stairs with my eyes wide open. Don Bosco began distributing the bread.
The young people formed a queue in front, happy to receive the bread of him, and they kissed his hand while he gave each of them a few words, he smiled. All the pupils, about 400, received their bread. When the distribution was over I wanted to re-examine the bread basket. In the basket there was the same quantity of rolls as before. I was astonished. I ran straight to my mother and said: “I’m not coming home any more. Here, you don’t eat much but Don Bosco is a saint”.
This was the only reason that I stayed at the Oratory and became a Salesian (MB 6,777). Francesco Dalmazzo became a priest and, for eight years was the director of the Torino-Valsalice Salesian Institute, as well as being the first Responsible of the Salesian Congregation at the Holy See.