Servant of God Josph (Giuseppe) Cognata (1885-1972),
Bishop of Bova and Founder of the Salesian Oblates of the Sacred Heart
Born at Agrigento on 14 October 1885 of Vitale and Rosa Montana, he showed a great wealth of human gifts and talents since childhood.
As a twelve-year-old he entered the 'San Basilio' Salesian college in Randazzo (Catania), Don Bosco's first work in Sicily, ready to accept the call to religious and apostolic life among the Salesians; a vocation strongly opposed by his father and grandfather, with its trials and long and painful struggles, but crowned with joyful success.
On 5 May 1908, cleric Giuseppe Cognata made his perpetual profession at San Gregorio di Catania, into the hands of the then Rector Major, (and today Blessed) Fr Michael Rua, and the following year, on 29 August 1909, he received his priestly ordination in Acireale.
He had graduated brilliantly in both Literature and Philosophy and then went to young people not only as a teacher and assistant, but also as a zealous priest, carrying out his mission at Bronte in Sicily, at Este in Veneto, and at Le Marche in Macerata.
The First World War saw Fr Cognata, the soldier, in Palermo, Trapani, Padua. And it was in Trapani that he laid the first foundations of the Salesian Work which he was called to direct a few years later. He was Rector of a number of works, but even more the director of souls. From Trapani he was called to lead the college at Randazzo (Catania), then the college at Gualdo Tadino in Umbria and finally he became Rector of "Sacro Cuore" (Sacred Heart) in Rome.
In the Consistory on 16 March 1933, Pius XI appointed Fr Giuseppe Cognata as Bishop of Bova, a particularly poor and disadvantaged diocese of Calabria. He received his episcopal ordination the following 23 April in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Rome, from the Salesian Cardinal (today Venerable) Augusto Hlond, Metropolitan Archbishop of Gniezno and Poznań, co-consecrators being the Salesian Bishop of Sutri and Nepi, Luigi Maria Olivares, also Venerable, and Bishop Romolo Genuardi, auxiliary bishop of Palermo.
Along steep paths and mule tracks, Bishop Cognata – who had chosen the Pauline expression “Caritas Christi urget nos” as his episcopal motto – sought to visit and comfort not only all the small villages of the diocese, but also groups of poor families scattered here and there in the most remote and inaccessible places.
He gave life to a pious society of generous young women willing to work with courage and joy in the smallest, lost, and most abandoned centres. Thus the Congregation of the Salesian Oblates of the Sacred Heart was born on 8 December 1933.
In 1939, an infernal storm raged against the Founder and his Institution. On 20 December 1939, the Congregation of the Holy Office, on the basis of false accusations, unjustly condemned Bishop Cognata to dismissal from his episcopal dignity. He then went far away, living for long years in silence and solitude, separated from his spiritual daughters. He was welcomed into the Salesian houses in Trent and Rovereto until 1952 and then at Castello di Godego (Treviso) until 1972, carrying out an assiduous and appreciated ministry as confessor and spiritual guide.
The Cross is hope, the certainty of resurrection and life. In Easter 1962, Bishop Giuseppe Cognata was reintegrated into the Episcopate by Pope John XXIII. Thus, by the will of Pope Paul VI, he participated in the second, third and fourth sessions of the Second Vatican Council. On 6 August 1963, he was appointed titular bishop of Farsalo. On 29 January 1972, he had the joy of seeing his Institute recognised by the Holy See with the “Decretum Laudis” or “Decree of Praise”. He died on 22 July 1972 in Pellaro (Reggio Calabria), the initial headquarters of the missionary activity of the Salesian Oblates.
His remains lie at rest in the General House of the Oblate Sisters in Tivoli.
Address to the Postulation
Via Marsala 42