Samuel Mazzuchelli founded the Sinsinawa Dominicans in 1847. Born in Milan, Italy, in 1806, Mazzuchelli came from a wealthy family of merchants and bankers. At the age of 17 he entered the Order of Preachers (also known as the Dominicans) despite the disapproval of his father. While studying in Rome he came in contact with a priest from Cincinnati recruiting missionaries to serve in Ohio and the Michigan territory. In 1828 he arrived in America and was ordained a priest two years later. His first task: to serve as the only missionary priest in an area larger than Italy.
After initially serving from a mission base on Mackinac Island in Michigan, Mazzuchelli made his way south to the Upper Mississippi River valley. There he worked as a missionary among settlers, miners, and Native Americans. He also was an enlightened educator, a voice for social justice, a civic leader, and a proponent of the arts. In addition to founding the Sinsinawa Dominicans, he built more than twenty churches and founded more than thirty-five parishes that crossed racial, cultural, and ethnic barriers.
Unlike many white settlers, Mazzuchelli was a vocal defender of Indian rights. He visited their families by canoe, on horseback, and on snowshoes and sleds, learning about their cultures and admiring their spirituality, their respect for the aged, and their love of children. He wrote letters to Congress and President Andrew Jackson protesting the treatment of Native Americans and began schools for native children in which they were taught in their own language by their own people. He published a Winnebago prayer book in 1833 and a liturgical almanac in Chippewa the following year—the first book printed in what would become the state of Wisconsin. He served as the chaplain for the first Wisconsin Territorial Legislature and was a civic, as well as religious, leader for the region.
Mazzuchelli died in 1864 from a case of pneumonia contracted while visiting the sick during a bitterly cold February. In 1993 Pope John Paul II approved Mazzuchelli’s first step on the road to sainthood by declaring him “Venerable.” The second step is that of beatification, for which the community of Sinsinawa prays diligently.
Mazzuchelli’s spirit continues to inspire the Sinsinawa Dominicans as well as others around the world. In his words: “Let us wake up then, open our eyes in apostolic charity, and if we are called, set out for any place where the work is great and difficult.”