Vocation in Crisis

The war between Piedmont and Austria broke out in April of 1859 and the seminaries were converted into military barracks. So in 1859, in his fourth year of high school, Joseph along with his companions was forced to lodge with a good-hearted family in the city, while continuing to attend classes in a room of the chancery. When vacation came around, Joseph’s father wanted to persuade him to leave the seminary and enter business college. He was always docile and obedient; in his gentle heart he did not wish to resist his father, much less defy him. The youth began to experience an interior struggle between his father’s voice and that of his own conscience. He passed his days silent and pensive; he wistfully recalled his life at the seminary, and prayed God to give him courage to weather the storm. Despite his sadness, he was careful to seem happy in his father’s presence, so as not to sadden him. His father continually insisted on his plans, and finally Joseph gave in. He wrote his superiors and informed his pastor that to his own great sorrow and only to obey his father he intended to interrupt his studies.

He went to Turin to study. He registered in a course of studies to become a surveyor. Like all the young people of his age, he was enthusiastic about the Risorgimento. He dreamed of becoming active in journalism and politics. Deep down, however, he was not happy. He did not feel at ease in the world: his vision of a political and social commitment capable of meeting the challenge of the times, was confronted by his experience of the cynical and unrestrained ambition of those who took advantage of the situation of misery, or of others’ idealism, solely for their own advancement. He also saw the young abandoned to themselves and attracted by vice; and his upright conscience made him understand the dangers and damages.

This inner struggle continued even prompting him to question himself if he should return to the seminary. In December 1863, he fell ill with typhoid fever and his condition worsened to the point that they feared for his life. In his feverish delirium he seemed to see a cassock. His father and relatives prayed to Our Lady of Consolation with him to obtain the grace of his cure. Joseph heard something like a voice within him that said: “If you go back to the Seminary you will be cured.” He told this to his father who agreed wholeheartedly: “As long as you are cured!”

A few days later, Joseph was completely cured, and he did not even need the long period of convalescence that this type of fever usually entails. He spoke to his Pastor, contacted the Superiors of the Seminary, and at the beginning of February 1864, at the age of eighteen, he went back to his Seminary in Asti.