foundress of the Salesian Sisters. Born of a large farming family at Mornese (Piedmont), she worked hard in field and vineyard until 1860, when she caught typhoid fever nursing her relatives. Weakened by this disease, she became a professional dressmaker and employed several girls in this enterprise. Meanwhile she had become most devout and was a member of a sodality founded by the parish priest. In 1864 John Bosco, hoping to found a boys' school, visited Mornese. His plans were frustrated, but aware of the need for nuns to do similar work for girls, he established this sodality, with Maria as first superior, as the Salesian Sisters. Eleven sisters were professed that year and another fifteen received the habit.
In spite of her limited education Maria was successful in government. The sisters aimed at encouragement, not repression in their teaching; they shared Bosco's characteristic charity and joy. Maria's fidelity and humility led to her election in 1874 as superior-general, with the mother-house at Nizza Monferrato. In 1876 she sent six nuns to found a house in Argentina. Nowadays her congregation has 1,400 houses in 54 countries.
In 1881 she had to return suddenly from Marseilles owing to illness. John Bosco comforted her, but she said it was time for her to go as she now had her passport. Aged only forty-four she died at Nizza Monferrato soon after; her body is enshrined beside that of Bosco in Turin. She was canonized in 1951. Feast: 14 May.
Lives by H. L. Hughes (1933), F. Maccono (1947), and G. Favini (1951);see also B.L.S., v. 80–1;N.C.E., ix. 523; Bibl. SS., viii. 1062–3.