A humble missionary

Saikh Md Sabah Al-Ahmed

DSC_5621(1)The Northeastern swathes of India saw the first batch of Salesian missionaries land in Assam (which then comprised the whole of Northeast) on February 12, 1922 led by Monsignor Louis Mathias, S.D.B.D.D. These missionaries were entrusted with the mission in Assam in 1922 by the ?Holy See? (Pope) in Rome. In 1923, Father Leo Piasecki, SDB from Poland was appointed for the Guwahati mission.

It was just a few years prior to this particular phase in history ? a time when the First World War was gradually coming to end that Porcu Mario was born on May 21, 1918 at Cagliari, located on the island of Sardinia, Italy. Born to Francesco and Bonaria Piras, he was the second child to be born in a family of ten siblings, (eight boys and two girls). He had a normal childhood, attending neighbourhood school in the morning hours along with other boys of his locality. As a young boy, he would occasionally spend some time in the afternoon, helping his father, who was a ?builder? (one who used to be engaged in house construction) by carrying just one brick at a time on his gentle hands. It must be mentioned here that young Mario had steadily mastered a lot of trades between the ages of 15-20 years like carpentry, plumber, electrician, shouldering, blacksmith, etc. In the evening, he used to go the Oratory, read the Bible and also do a lot of other activities. It was somewhere here in the Oratory, when, as a fifteen year old boy, he felt a burning desire to dedicate the rest of his life as a missionary. After completing his formal high schooling, he enrolled himself at the Missionary College, Gaeta, near Rome for his secondary education. In June 1939, a few months before the outbreak of the Second World War, he finished his college studies at the age of 21.

Soon after completing his college studies at Gaeta, he immediately couldn?t come to India. The War had already broken out in September 1939 and unfortunately, England, as Allies, were fighting against Italy who sided with the Axis powers. It made matters worse for young Mario, as England was still ruling over India as a colony. Finally, towards the end of November 1939, he finally got the visa to travel to India. He reached India on December 8, 1939, and Calcutta was where he made his first halt. From Calcutta, his superiors sent him to Salesian College, Sonada, Darjeeling to study philosophy. He became a member of the Don Bosco Society on January 6, 1941.

In June, 1941, a 23 year old Bro. Porcu Mario was taken to a concentration camp by the British government, as he was an Italian national. He spent a total of five years in two separate concentration camps ? two years in Ajmer and later on, another three years in Dehradun. He was released from the Dehradun concentration camp in 1945, when war hostilities finally ended. His superiors then wanted him to come to Assam, but as Assam was still a war ravaged zone, he was sent to Madras for further studies. After two years, he came back from Madras and landed in Assam, where by now, the war hostilities were over and the military was long gone. Once back in Assam, he was sent to Don Bosco Technical School, Shillong to begin work, teach and assist the boys and train them in the workshops conducted for mechanics and other such trades. It was here that he finished his theological studies and was finally ordained as a Salesian priest on January 7, 1951. During his long tenure here till September 3, 1966, he served in various capacities as Administrator, Don Bosco Technical School, Shillong, Rector, Don Bosco Technical School, Shillong and Provincial Economer (Treasurer) of the then undivided Province, which later on was bifurcated from Calcutta in 1959. In September 1966, he came back to Guwahati and was appointed as Provincial Economer of the new Guwahati Province till February 7, 1967. It needs to be mentioned here that Fr. Porcu Mario was the first Provincial Economer of the new Guwahati Province. Interestingly, he had also served as acting Provincial of Guwahati Province in three separate stints. He had also served in various capacities, and at different phases of his life, several other Don Bosco institutions like Rector, Don Bosco Technical School, Karbandi, Phuntsholing, Bhutan (January 16, 1975 ? September 15, 1978), Rector, Don Bosco School, Dibrugarh (September 15, 1978 ? September 7, 1980), Parish Priest, Don Bosco School, Sonaighuli, Guwahati (September 7, 1980 ? March 17, 1993), Parish Priest, Don Bosco School, Boko, Kamrup (March 17, 1993 ? January 31, 1996).

This apart, he had also served as founder Rector of Don Bosco Technical School, Maligaon, from February 7, 1967 ? January 16, 1975. Ironically, his last official posting was also at Don Bosco Technical School, Maligaon, where he returned as Rector for one final time from June 1, 1996 ? January 12, 2001. His pioneering efforts in acquiring 12 acres of paddy field near Gotanagar, Maligaon bears testimony to the present sprawling campus of the school. He was also instrumental in shifting the old technical school that was originally located where the present-day Don Bosco School, Panbazar is located. During his stay at the Provincial House at Panbazar in the mid-1960s, there was a saw mill and a carpentry shop in the same compound. Its proprietor was allowed to carry on his business in the compound on payment of rent to the Provincial House. One of the first things that Fr. Mario did was to close down the saw mill as well as the boarding school. He slowly realised that there were students from two contrasting social strata ? rich and poor, who had to be given two distinct types of meals. So, he brought down the dormitory housing the boarders of the Don Bosco Technical School ? students now attended the school only as day scholars, and not as residential boarders. He then asked the boys who were learning carpentry, wielding, etc., to stay back at home for about a year until Don Bosco Technical School, Maligaon was ready on its new campus. The rest, as they say, is history!

Fr. Porcu Mario, who turned 95 on May 21, 2013, is still active as a Salesian. He types on his vintage Olympia typewriter, answers local, STD & ISD calls on his landline telephone, receives and answers letters, postcards, greeting cards, Christmas cards, etc. and even has an official email ID: caromariop@yahoo.com. He is an early riser, wakes up at 3:30 in the morning, prays at the Chapel for about an hour and visits several Convents, being a popular Chaplain to several such Convents of the city of Guwahati. He then resumes his daily work at 8 am from his small two room office-cum-residence at the ground floor of the Provincial House, where he has been staying since January 12, 2001. He gives confessional counselling, likes to be identified as a ?worker? rather than a Salesian missionary, discourages celebrations and ?titles? and believes in hard work and sacrifice to rescue people from poverty, hunger and disease. He indeed epitomises a humble missionary.

?Saikh Md Sabah Al-Ahmed profiles the life of a nonagenarian Italian Salesian missionary who has spent almost a lifetime here in Assam

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