R. MICHAEL RUA. first successor of St. John Bosco as Superior General of the Salesian Society, and, in life, his faithful and trusted confidant, will be beatified on Sunday, October 29.
Don Rua, as he is popularly known, was born in Turin on July 9, 1837 and died there on April 6, 1910, at the age of 72. The son of good working-class parents, he first met Don Bosco at the age of eight.
Michael's father had recently died at a comparatively early age. Three of the nine children of the family had also died early. The mother was left to care for the rest.
At that first meeting, Don Bosco made the strange, but prophetic gesture of pretending, with the palm of his right hand, to cut in half an invisible object in his left and to invite young Michael always to go halves with him. Though the child understood little of what was meant at the time, nothing was ever destined for richer fulfilment.
Suffice it to say here that the boy gave himself completely into the hands of the saint and was formed by him; upon him, too, Don Bosco built the future of the Congregation which he was to found. Never did anyone have a more faithful alter ego and lieutenant.
It was the future Beatus who recorded the first beginnings of the Salesians. He was in the first group to make their pro
mises and, later, their vows. He it was also who was chosen to accompany the saintly founder
on his visit to Rome in 1858 to consult the Holy Father, Pius IX, on the proposed foun
dation of the Salesian Congregation.
At its official inauguration in 1859, he — though he was not to be ordained until the following year — was elected its first Spiritual Director.
Michael Rua made fidelity to Don Bosco the hallmark of his life and this, not merely during St. John's lifetime but also after his death. "What would Don Bosco say or do?" was the criterion upon which his own confident, decisive leadership of the Congregation was based.
He had the heart of Don Bosco, if not his physical characteristics. Of somewhat austere appearance, his fatherly kindness was such as always to inspire affection. Indeed, wrote the late Archbishop Pit
tini, S.D.B.: More than affection it was veneration, for his entire person reflected a soul that had already scaled the heights of sanctity."
He Ills been described by those who knew him as a great mystic and, at the same time, a tremendous worker. How could this man live such a laborious life as he did and yet be at all times so absorbed in God'?
It was his spirit of prayer, they assure us, that was the true foundation of such unceasing activity, involving, as it did, not merely the daily round of work and government of a vast Congregation b u t thousands of miles of travelling in the poorest of travel conditions, and with all these journeys placing an almost intolerable strain on his frail constitution.
As the present successor of Don Bosco has reminded us, it is the continual communion with God. inflamed by charity, which explodes into an unquenchable thirst to give oneself to one's neighbour to bring him to the God whom he himself loves and to whom he has vowed his life in love.
With Don Bosco, Don Rua shared a tremendous love for the Holy Euchar'ist and for Our Blessed Lady. It was he also who. following upon the Consecration by Leo XIII of the world to the Sacred Heart, consecrated the Salesian Society to this same Heart.
It was in keeping with his fidelity to St. John Bosco that he caused the first church to be built in England by the Salesians to be likewise so consecrated.
One cannot think of Don Rua without recalling, too, his extraordinary devotion to the Vicar of Christ and his unswerving loyalty, under every circumstance, to him. This, too, is in the grand tradition of Don Bosco.
The preservation of that loyalty to the Pope and docility to whatever he asked at times demanded true heroism. Yet, as the champion of obedience to the dispositions of the Holy See, he urged his Salesians, as true sons of the Church and of Don Bosco, to excel in this and to accept all that the Pope asked with serenity and faith.
Don Rua's love of poverty was a byword. So, too, was his purity. On his travels he was known as the "angel of charity." For the workers he had a tender regard.
On one occasion, at Turin, he welcomed more than 4,000 of them on their way to Rome and expressed his warm admiration for their social efforts. Leon Harmel was one of his great friends.
Perhaps one of the loveliest tributes ever paid to Don Rua was that of his old schoolboy companion, the Salesian Cardinal Cagliero : "In, Don Rua there was no such thing as 1 or my but only God."
Pope St. Pius X said to the then Defender of the Causes of the Saints, just a month before the Pope's death : "I very much hope that you will not forget to
promote the Cause of Don Rua. 1 can see in him all those virtues which go to make up a saint.
"What are the Salesians waiting for? He is a great Servant of God, and certainly some day the Church will remember him."
Cardinal Bourne, on the occasion of the Month's Mind for Don Rua in the Salesian Church of the Sacred Heart, Battersea, spoke thus of him: "It was my privilege to see him often in the midst of his children.
"What always compelled my admiration was his courageous zeal in undertaking great enterprises for God, the wisdom with which he governed a large family, and the solicitude which he evinced for the sanctification of its members."
Don Rua had close links with England, which he visited several times. His first visit to London began on October 11, 1893. Two days later he visited, and was cordially welcomed by, Cardinal Vaughan at Westminster and Bishop Butt at Southwark.
It may be mentioned here that it is said the Bishop Butt, who had visited Turin to persuade Don Bosco to send the Salesians to England, remarked that, in his opinion, Don Rua was an even greater saint than Don Bosco.
Don Rua had come to London with his Chapter for the solemn consecration and opening of the new Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Trott Street, Battersea. This took place on October 14, 1893.
At the request of Bishop Butt, who was in poor health, Mgr. John Cagliero, Salesian Bishop of Magida (Patagonia),
and afterwards Cardinal, performed the consecration ceremony in the presence of Bishop Butt.
At noon, as the ceremony ended, Don Rua celebrated the first Mass in the new church. At the first Pontifical Mass offered next day by Bishop Cagliero, Don Rua was assistant priest to the Bishop of Southwark, who again attended.
The deacon at the Mass was Fr. (later Cardinal) Bourne. The preacher was Fr. Philip Fletcher of Walworth, Master of the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom.
During his stay Don Rua received the religious professions of four Salesians the first Salesian profession ceremony in this country and clothed some novices. He also visited a number of religious houses and the diocesan seminary. The Duke of Norfolk was among the many people who called at Battersea to pay their respects to him.
Don Rua was at Battersea again for a visitation at the beginning of May 1902 and, on this occasion, also visited Burwash in Sussex.
It was a particularly memorable visit to London for it was then that Don Rua announced the formation of the English Province of the Salesians, with the appointment of Fr. Charles Bernard Macey as first Provincial.
At least one other visit of Don Rua to England is on record. On February 13, 1906, he arrived from Guernsey, where he had been to see new missions confided to the French Salesians by the Bishop of Portsmouth.
May these contacts with this country encourage many to in• yoke the intercession of the holy priest about to be beatified and to pray for his eventual canonisation.
Fr. F. X. P. Thoburn