Fr. Mauro Casarotti S.D.B. (1917 – 2007)
The second of two sons, Fr. Mauro Casarotti was born on 17th May, 1917 at Casalbuttano, Cremona, Italy to Carlo Casarotti and Maria Generali. He lost his mother when he was barely a year and a half and was brought up by his aunt. His elder brother Romolo became a diocesan priest and was present at the canonization of Don Bosco. He brought home 2 volumes of the life of Don Bosco which the young Mauro read earnestly. Having just completed his studies to be a school teacher, he decided to give his life to Don Bosco as a missionary. He joined the Salesian missionary aspirantate at Ivrea and was later asked to go to Japan, but God had other plans for him. Two Salesians who were chosen to go to India felt sick and when the aspirant Mauro was approached to be their substitute, he jumped at the offer, not knowing the difference between India and Japan.
Fr. Mauro Casarotti, fondly known as ‘Fr. Casa’ lived with and learnt from Salesians who had actually lived with Don Bosco and he knew the Salesian spirit well and having a deep love for Don Bosco he attached great value to his own Salesian vocation. The Salesianity he picked up rubbed on to others especially those who came in touch with him. In Don Bosco’s time, a boy would think that Don Bosco loves him more than others, and in a similar tone, the pupils of Fr. Casa felt personally, the love and concern of a genuine father. He was truly a Salesian at heart who knew his father Don Bosco well and would recall several unpublished episodes in the life of Don Bosco which he heard from his superiors. He was not a static old timer of a Salesian, having attended the Special General Chapter in 1971, which called for a rethinking of Salesian dynamics, he had the ability to reflect on Salesian Spirituality and apply it in his own times. This wealth of Salesianity he imbibed he passed on to others especially during his years as formator. He was wont to say to young Salesians, “Once a Salesian, always a Salesian” and at other times, “Be a good Salesian, or no Salesian at all, Sempre con Don Bosco, always with Don Bosco”. Being a community man, he was dutifully present at community moments of prayer and was concerned about everyone in a very personal way, be they confreres or boys.
Fr. Casa often called himself a ‘failed missionary’. In his own words, “My original dream was to work in the Indian missions, riding on horseback with a bucket of water, baptizing people. But that was not to be”. However he loved India, the land of his adoption, as is seen in his decision to opt for an Indian citizenship in 1953 and his love for local vocations the fruit of which was his buying of the land in 1957 at Lonavla, a house which was to groom local youngsters for the Salesian life. He also picked up a fair bit of Tamil and Hindi. His pioneering and missionary heart saw him at the helm as leader in various capacities. He served the congregation as provincial of three different provinces, Calcutta, Gauhati and Bombay; and as Rector at Matunga, Yercaud, Lonavla, Panjim and Poona.
At a more personal level, he was deeply sensitive and emotional, discreet and kind. He was easily hurt by certain misgivings he saw and the comments he heard. However he was very fatherly especially to young Salesians. It is said that whenever he came to know that some young Salesians had arrived, he would leave his room, seek them out, and give them a warm embrace that was characteristic of him. He was deeply saddened at the misdoings of young Salesians, but would charitably forgive them saying, “after all, they are youngsters”. In his heart they knew that there was room for each of them.
As a confessor, he was a wonderful minister of God’s mercy. He was one who could easily empathize with a person’s problem and he sometimes seemed more moved than the penitent himself. One his penitent (now a Salesian priest) testifies, “He really meant a lot to me, one of the few confessors I was comfortable with. He was the incarnation of God’s compassionate and forgiving love. He would consolingly say, ‘remember you are a human being, angels are only in heaven”. Being aware of his own weaknesses, he was a confessor who dealt with his penitents at a very human level.
The Province of Bombay is indebted to Fr. Casa for his work of propaganda especially at the Shrine office at Matunga. He looked after the Italian correspondence during the later years of his life. Italian benefactors were often overwhelmed and touched by his warm and personal letters. He was a channel of Divine Providence. Having few wants himself, he would often be upset at unnecessary wastage and excesses by confreres. But having a large heart, he kept himself from corrections of this kind and suffered silently.
During the evening of his life, he became hard of hearing and would often spend his time in silent recollection and prayer. Bishop Valerian D’Souza called him a “wonderful fruit of the Salesian society”. Being a faithful son of Don Bosco whom he loved all his life, he breathed his last on 20th July, 2007. Aged 90, and having spent 68 years in India. A man so human and holy.
What we can take from the life of Fr. Casa, is his humanness, his gentle and kind ways and his deep love for Don Bosco. Having gone through trying times himself, let us remember his words in moments of uncertainty and doubt, “We are in GOD’S HANDS, and they are GOOD HANDS”.