diocesan priest. Born at Castelnuovo d'Asti (Piedmont) of a wealthy peasant family, he was educated in the seminary of Chieri and ordained priest for the Turin dioceses in 1833. After three years' further study he was appointed lecturer in moral theology. Undersized (like Bellarmine) and called ‘The little one’, he made his mark both as preacher and spiritual director. In 1848 he became superior of the Institute of St Francis at Turin which housed sixty young priests from different dioceses and of diverse political opinions. He also directed a retreat house at Lanzo, while his special apostolate for prisoners and convicts, including preparing the condemned for execution, was widely admired.
From 1827 he directed John Bosco into an apostolate for boys, helped him to settle in Turin, introduced him to wealthy patrons, and came to be regarded as the second founder of the Salesian congregation. In 1860, still under fifty but ill with pneumonia, he knew that death was near and made a will in favour of the foundations of Joseph Cottolengo and John Bosco. His funeral was attended by large crowds and Bosco was the preacher. His cause was begun in 1895: he was canonized in 1947. Feast: 23 June.
F. Accornero, La dottrina spirituale di S. Giuseppe Cafasso (1958);G. Bosco, Biografia del sacerdote Giuseppe Cafasso (1960);other Lives by L. N. de Robilant, G. Bitelli, and C. Salotti (all 1960);see also B.L.S., vi. 181–3;N.C.E., ii. 1049–50;Bibl. SS., vi. 1317–21.