The congregation of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate was established by Father Domenico Masi (1883-1964), a priest from Rimini. Here following an outline of his figure and missionary apostolate.
Domenico Masi was born on April 21st, 1880 in Monte dei Morolli, a small village in the municipality of San Clemente, on Rimini hills, and the day after he was baptised in the church of the town of Sant'Andrea in Casale. His parents were peasants and his father wished him to work with them in the fields, as he was a clever boy with a good head for business. However, when Domenico was 11, he left his house and his friends to go into the Seminary in Rimini.
He was ordained priest on June 17th, 1905, by the Bishop of Rimini, His Grace Vincenzo Scozzoli, and his first pastoral role was as chaplain in Santa Maria in Cerreto, a village located in Rimini countryside.
At that time, in the rural areas school education was mostly neglected due to the lack of school buildings as well as to the problems and the needs of the population who preferred their children to work in the fields or at home rather than to allow them to learn reading, writing and numeracy. However, Father Domenico persuaded even the most reluctant parents to allow him to teach their children and made up for the lack of school buildings using the vestry of the church as a classroom and furnishing it with whatever he could find. He paid for all the expenses in order to guarantee an education to the children of peasants and farmers.
From Santa Maria in Cerreto he was moved to the town of Serravalle in the Republic of San Marino, where he went on pursuing his activity as a chaplain with an increasing enthusiasm.
During those years Father Domenico discovered a new talent, which he would actively develop later on: the one for press. Thanks to some basic printing equipment, he was able to print out two newsletters: Granellini d’oro (Grains of Gold) and Pagliette d’oro (Flakes of Gold). The two, very simple newsletters, became important tools to provide wise teachings and offer advices inspired by the Gospel as well as by everyday life.
In 1911, Father Domenico was called to wear the uniform as a military chaplain, in the Italian war in Libya. In the army he was a brother and a friend for everyone, and was always able to say or do the right thing to anyone, without any discrimination related to military degrees or social conditions. When he was back from Libya, he continued his pastoral role as a chaplain in the parish church of Coriano. His mission as a priest led him to become the supervisor of the church recreational centre for girls, managed by the nuns of the religious school “Maestre Pie” from Rimini. The recreational centre was a place where the girls living in the area could spend their leisure time on recreational activities, learning some useful job or studying.
When WWI broke out, Father Domenico was called back on duty as a sergeant in the medical corps. He promised to dying soldiers and in particular to family men in the poorest conditions to take care of their children. So, it happened that on January 21st, 1921, he sent to Coriano the first orphaned girl, to be left under the charge of the nuns of the recreational centre, asking them to give her the assistance and support she might have needed. This is the simple, humble beginning of the work of Father Domenico to support the children left orphaned. Father Domenico also experienced the life in prison when he was imprisoned in Rastad camp, in Germany, where he experienced illness and any kind of hardships.
When Father Domenico Masi came back to Coriano after the war, in 1919, he decided to use his bent for business (he had already showed in his childhood) for charity purposes, taking care of the children left orphaned by the war. His community in Coriano was growing increasingly more, but his orphaned girls were not in good health. Doctors said the girls needed sea air, but Father Domenico did not have enough money to pay for a holiday camp. However, his overwhelming love and charity allowed him to find a solution.
When Father Domenico Masi first arrived in Miramare, a suburb south of Rimini, in 1921, there were just a few houses, no tourist facilities and no one of the many hotels you can find today. The priest travelled every day from Coriano to bring the girls to the beach and at the end of the day they came back to the small town in the countryside. Every day a “strange” company used to leave for the seaside: on a cart driven by his brother there were the girls and the nuns and at the back of the cart the priest himself walking on foot, with a very heavy backpack on his shoulders. He was a pioneer as he was the first to invent “daily health holidays" to make his girls breathe some good sea air.
Day after day, something new started to be built in Miramare: first a church, where there was no one before, an orphanage, a local medical centre and much more. When the nuns of Maestre Pie were no longer able to look after the girls, Father Domenico decided to establish the new congregation of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate.
Between 1926 and 1945, in several towns around the city of Rimini, he built care homes, religious houses and other charitable institutions, which he would have to build again after World War II. In order to help young people and workers, he opened a printing works (where he printed his newsletter Ramoscello d’Olivo-Olive Twig), a carpenter's workshop and a tile factory. He had no fear to use his natural enterprising spirit for charitable works. He was always ready to help (even by signing bills) those who asked him for some help.
After two years of physical sufferings, Father Domenico died on April 1st, 1964. The Sisters of Mary Immaculate, who regard him as a saint, have continued his work. In 2011, the Diocese of Rimini opened the cause for his beatification.
His life was a sign of faith, living the basics of the Gospel day by day, but what most marked his life and mission was his ‘crazy’ charity, which originated from his complete and confident reliance in God; he mainly dedicated his love and charity to children, trying at the same time to embrace the manifold aspects of man’s misery in body and spirit.