Beginning of diocesan process on October 20, 1995. Vice postulator: Fr. Abbud Gharghour
Married, but husband ill; they remained childless
Matilde Chelhot Salem was born in Aleppo on November 15, 1904 to a well-to-do family. She studied with the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, thanks to whom she developed a wonderful interior life.
On August 15, 1922, at 18 years of age, she married Georges Elias Salem, a well-to-do businessman. Georges was authoritarian and possessive, but a good man. Matilde needed to be very patient to calm him down at times. They soon discovered they could not have children. Georges became ill with diabetes.
Dreams of opening a technical school for young workers
Matilde remained beside her husband for 22 years. She loved him and took care of him, accompanying him on his business trips and being part of the things he did. She was well respected and esteemed by leaders of European business firms. Her husband, advised by Bishop Isidoro Fattal, The Greco-Catholic Metropolitan of Aleppo, dreamed of opening a technical school that would educate future Christian workers: but on the October 26, 1944 Georges died suddenly. Matilde could have given up on life, but it was precisely then that she discovered her true vocation: giving herself completely to her neighbor with the greatest love.
After her husband’s death – head of Georges Salem Foundation
She dedicated herself totally to the huge project which Georges left in his will, heading up the “Georges Salem Foundation,” of which she became President. Her family became the poor young people of the city, and she set out to really be a mother to them. In collaboration with Bishop Fattal, she went to Turin to deal directly with the Rector Major, Fr. Peter Ricaldone, in order to entrust Don Bosco’s sons with the work. They had come there in 1947. She had a small house built near the institute. From then on, the Salesians would be her home and her family.
‘Mama Margaret’ for children in Aleppo
She brought her husband’s remains there for burial and would be buried there herself. In short, she became the Mama Margaret for the youngsters in Aleppo. She gained many spiritual experiences: Salesian Cooperator, daughter of Saint Francis of Assisi, co-foundress of the Infinite Love Institute. As for her charity, there was hardly a charitable work that she had not contributed to: catechetical society, Saint Vincent de Paul Society, summer camps for poor and abandoned children, vice president of the Red Cross, an Islamic charity, works in favor of delinquents, and she embodied Salesian apostolic energy to the fullest.
Death from cancer; reputation for holiness
In 1959, she discovered she was suffering from cancer. When told by doctors, she had but one comment to make: “Thank you, oh my God.” Hers was a ‘via crucis’ of 20 months. In her will, she gave all her goods to the various charities, to the point where she was able to say: “I am dying in a house that no longer belongs to me.”
She died with a reputation for holiness on February 27, 1961 at 56 years of age, the same age as her beloved Georges. She is buried in the Salesian Church at Aleppo.