The Father of the Poor

On October 4th was held the beatification of Father Marella.
Silvia Colombini

Priest, teacher, mendicant, "suspended a divinis", Saint. Giuseppe Olinto Marella, known to everyone in Bologna as Father Marella, has gone through life strong with a faith as big as his heart. Born in 1882 in Pellestrina, an island of the Venetian Lagoon, he has sailed in the storms of an adventurous existence always dedicated to the most needy. In 1904, after graduating in theology and philosophy, he became a priest and immediately manifested his vocation to solidarity by founding a popular recreation centre where he welcomed the poorest children, educating them with methods judged too progressive at the time. For this reason, and for his acquaintance with the modernist theologian Romolo Murri, he was suspended from his pastoral duties and, in addition to this punishment, he was forbidden to approach the Eucharist. Olinto did not give up and, after long wanderings as a teacher in various Italian cities, he moved to Bologna, where he obtained the chair of history and philosophy at the Galvani and Minghetti High Schools. It was 1924 and his charitable spirit, combined with absolute fidelity to the Church, despite the fact that it punished him so severely, were manifest to the whole city. In 1925, Cardinal Nasalli Rocca of Bologna rehabilitated him, admitting him to his diocese and allowing him to resume his priesthood.


Father Marella - Bologna

Don Marella thus combined teaching with caring for the numerous orphans who populated the suburbs devastated by the First World War. His was a profound commitment. Thanks to him the popular barracks were rehabilitated and many children were saved from the street. With the beginning of the Second World War, Olinto fought with courage and altruism, welcoming soldiers and fugitives, so much so that he risked ending up in front of a firing squad. These were difficult years, but he never stopped and began to imagine what would be his most notable work. The first Città dei Ragazzi was founded, in fact, right after the war and in those years Don Marella, in order to raise awareness of the city towards those who were suffering, began to beg on that corner of Via Drapperie occupied, even today, by his brothers. The long beard, the wrinkled cassock, the smiling eyes became a familiar sight, able to move the souls and push powerful people and institutions to help him in the creation of places to welcome and help young people in need.


Father Marella - Via Drapperie 1 (in the 60's in Bologna)

New Città dei Ragazzi, training labs, the House of Charity are just some of his charitable works. When he died in 1969, surrounded by his beloved youth, his legacy is such that it continues to flourish. Today, the Opera di Padre Marella is a reality made up of 260,000 meals a year, 200 beds available, 11 communities, 16 social projects, 90 employees and more than 200 volunteers. In 1985, the Church recognized the miracle he had performed and, on October 4, 2020, on the feast day of St. Petronius, he was beatified in Bologna. The Church, after having suspended him for sixteen years, thus beatified the Father of the Poor.


The corner of Father Marella - Via Drapperie 1, Bologna

It is beautiful to think that, from up there, Olinto will observe Bologna hoping that he will be able to show a spirit of charity towards the many who, yesterday as today, reach out their hands hoping for a gesture of Christian love, of true love, as true love is.


Previous | Next


Beyond the Pandemic

Current Events