The following is a guest reflection by Br. Samuel Hakeem, OP, written in honor of his patron saint on the anniversary of Ven. Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli's birth on Nov. 4th, 1806.
“Let us rouse ourselves then, and let us open eyes of Evangelical charity, and if we are called, let us direct our steps wherever the work is great and difficult, but where also with the help of Him Who sent us, we shall open the ways for the Gospel and where through Him our labors and fatigues will meet with success according to the certain word of Saint Paul: ‘I have planted, Apollo watered: but God gave the increase.”
-Memoirs of Father Mazzuchelli, O.P.
I first came across these words of Samuel Mazzuchelli one week before entering the Dominican Novitiate. Here I was, on the threshold of this new journey of religious life—unsure of what lie ahead, yet confidently trusting in God’s plan. As I continued Mazzuchelli’s memoirs, I grew more intrigued and amazed by the stories of his life. I was being introduced to not only an amazing man, but someone who would soon become my brother in St. Dominic. As I began the novitiate, I received the habit of the Dominican Order and along with it, I received the religious name Samuel—inspired by his story, and ready to set out on an adventure of my own.
Samuel Mazzuchelli was born in Milan, Italy in 1806. He grew up in the shadow of Milan’s Duomo [cathedral church]. Despite being born into a comfortable family, his early life was not without troubles—Samuel’s mother died when he was only six years old. He was sent to the Collegio di Sant’Antonio, a boarding school in Lugano, Switzerland specifically for children who had lost parents. It was here that young Samuel would be introduced to St. Dominic through a picture which hung in the sacristy of the school’s chapel. The seed was planted for his vocation—a seed which would begin to sprout before too long.
Mazzuchelli entered the Dominican novitiate in 1823 at the age of 17. After professing vows, he studied at the Convent of Santa Sabina in Rome. When Samuel was 22, Father Edward Fenwick, Dominican friar and first bishop of the Diocese of Cincinnati, travelled to Rome to ask for friars to join him in the new land of the American West. Mazzuchelli answered the call and, at 23 years old, before being ordained, Samuel Mazzuchelli left behind his home, his culture, and his family and journeyed to America.
After learning English and completing his studies for the priesthood with the Dominicans in Kentucky, Mazzuchelli was assigned to a vast area of the new West. Basing himself out of Mackinac Island, Mazzucelli became the only priest for all of modern-day Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Illinois. This area was sparsely populated with settlers and Native Americans—both of whom this missionary would serve.
Eventually, Samuel would end up in the tri-state area of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, ministering to the lead miners who had settled in the hills near the Mississippi River. Mazzuchelli built 24 churches and civil buildings in this area (with no formal architectural training), began an academy for women, and founded a convent of Dominican sisters in Sinsinawa, WI which is still active today. He spent his final days in Benton, WI, working at the girl’s academy and ministering at the town church. He died February 23, 1864, succumbing to an illness he contracted while travelling through the cold Wisconsin winter night in order to minister to a sick Catholic outside of town.
One thing that Mazzuchelli was known for was being one with the people he served—a somewhat novel idea for Christian missionaries in developing America. Whether it was among the fur traders on Mackinac, the Native Americans in Wisconsin and Michigan, or the Irish miners of the tri-state region, Mazzuchelli met the people where they were. When among the native peoples, he would sleep on bark mats in the wigwams. He would eat what they ate, and be pleased with what he was given. He fought for the rights of Native Americans, writing to President Andrew Jackson in opposition to the relocation of these people. Later in Benton, WI, the Irish immigrants began calling him Fr. Matthew Kelly, claiming him as a son of Ireland! This blending enabled Mazzuchelli to earn the respect of these people, living an authentically Christian life and making his ministry more effective.
His joyful, down-to-earth demeanor was matched by a zeal for the faith and an intelligent mind. He was a renowned preacher with an eloquence which captivated his congregations. Upon entering new areas to minister, he was often met with resistance and even hostility from Protestant ministers. He kept his cool, however, and would offer to debate these ministers in a civil way. He would allow the minister to make his statement, and then would wait a week before giving his reply. His cool demeanor was attractive to the people, and many entered the Catholic Church as a result.
Mazzuchelli was completely devoted to his ministry as a Dominican Friar. He was fully devoted to the mission of preaching and the salvation of souls, even to the time of his death. This mission was strengthened by a spiritual life marked by devotion to the Eucharist and Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows. This title of Mary suggests, and history confirms, that his life was not easy. He spent most of his life far from his family. His work was difficult, and he was often met with opposition. He ran into financial trouble after building a church in Green Bay—trouble which would take years to amend. He attempted to begin a new province of Dominicans which failed for a number of reasons. Through it all, though, Mazzuchelli stayed close to God, finding comfort and strength in the intercession of the Blessed Mother.
Today, many people find comfort and strength in Samuel Mazzuchelli’s intercession. For me, Samuel serves not only as an intercessor, but so much more. He is someone who I strive to be like in my day-to-day life. Someone who answered God’s call to live a life of difficulty with a resounding yes. Someone who hoped and trusted God, finding strength in the Sacraments and the Church. Someone with a zeal for souls and on fire for the faith, responsible for the conversion of many. Someone who respected all peoples, regardless of race, class, or social setting. To me, Samuel Mazzuchelli is a brother, a role model, a hero, a patron--and, yes, a saint.
Br. Samuel Hakeem, OP