Joseph Cafasso was born on January 15, 1811 in Castelnuovo d’Asti, Italy to well-to-do peasant parents. From birth, he suffered from a deformed spine and was of a very small and misshapen stature. As a child, he exhibited unusual piety, devoting his time to prayer and attending Mass along with other religious exercises. His teachers, friends, and family noted his humility, innocence and faithfulness to rules. Shortly after his ordination Cafasso began teaching young priests about the errors ofJansenism (an excessive preoccupation with sinand damnation). He was a popular professor of moral theology, an excellent lecturer and an example of holiness and discipline. Cafassso helped priest become pastors with rich inner lifes and profound zeal in pastoral care, faithful to prayer and committed to preaching and to catechesis, dedicated to the celebration of the Eucharist and ministry of Confession. One of his students was St. John Bosco.
As 'Priest of the Gallows', Cafasso worked to improve the dehumanizing conditions of inmates in the Turin jails. Serving as their pastor he took into account each person's life circumstances and gently taught them about God, prayer and sacraments. He accompanied to the scaffold after hearing their confessions and administering the Eucharist to them.
Joseph Cafasso died at the age of forty-nine from pneumonia and complications of congenital medical problems. He had poured himself out unreservedly for both God and neighbor. St. John Bosco preached at his funeral.