Mario Montessori: Maria's Only Son

by Matt Bronsil, author of English as a Foreign Language in the Montessori Classroom

Mario Montessori (March 31, 1898 - February 10, 1982) was the co-founder of the Association Montessori Internationale and a Montessori teacher and teacher trainer. He is the only child of Italian physician and educator Dr. Maria Montessori. His father was Italian psychologist Giuseppe Ferruccio Maria Montesano.

Mario Montessori Index
Parents: Maria Montessori and Giuseppe Montesano
Birth and Early Life
Mario Montessori in America and first wife: Helen Christy
Mario Montessori's Second Wife: Ada

Mario Montessori's Basic Information:
Born: March 31, 1898
Died: February 10, 1982 (Age: 83)
Wives: Helen Christy (1917-1936); Ada Pierson (1947)
    Marilena (1919-2009): Jan Henny (spouse)
    Mario, Junior (1921-1993): Elly van der Linde (spouse)
    Rolando (1925-1988): Anne Dege (spouse)
    Rinelde (1929-2012): Jose Luis Matute (spouse)

Mario Montessori's Parents

When we say "Montessori," we are generally referring to Dr. Maria Montessori. Before she started her first school, she worked to help teach children with severe learning disabilities in a psychiatric hospital, and she was a prominent leader in the fight to allow women the right to vote. To put it simply, she was an extremely busy lady. But before her first school opened, there was another Montessori who would become important to the Montessori movement. Before we get to who he is, it is important to understand Maria Montessori's particular situation.

In the late 1890s, she began to volunteer for a research program at the University of Rome's psychiatric division. This was not a nice place to be with a lot of couches and staff that care for you. This was likely a very deplorable place where people were simply dumped off and left there. As a worker commented how children would grasp at crumbs on the floor, Montessori realized that these children were seeking sensorial stimulation. She began to study works of psychologists and educators and brought many of their ideas to the children. The sensorial materials became an amazing tool to help the children connect with the world and learn and is now one of the key parts of the Montessori classroom. Children stuck in this situation were amazingly passing the exams given out at the local public schools. Montessori was becoming nationally and internationally known as an expert in her field. At one point, Maria Montessori was working with a man named Giuseppe Montesano and, as things often do, a romance developed.

Giuseppe Montesano (October 4, 1868 - August 9, 1961) was an Italian psychologist. He graduated from the University of Rome and worked with Maria Montessori. Even after breaking up with Maria Montessori, Montesano still worked in the field of child psychology.

Birth and Early Life

On March 31, 1898, Maria Montessori gave birth to a boy. Montessori was faced with a difficult choice for that time in Italy. Marrying Montesano would mean giving up her career to stay at home and raise her son, a career that had defined exactly who she was and fought against so much oppression to get to. Not marrying and raising a child alone would have been a terrible stigma given the social situation at the time. A difficult decision was made to quietly have the child, and send it off to live elsewhere. Montessori and Montesano agreed they would do this, as long as they never married anyone. Fred Kelpin notes that his name was listed as "Mario Montesano Montessori." He also notes his father, Giuseppe Montesano, is listed as the father while the mother is listed as simply "NN," which is used when the mother is to remain anonymous.

Eventually, Giuseppe Montesano broke his promise. In 1901, Montesano claimed custody of Mario and soon married Maria Aprile (he seemed to really like the name Maria). Montessori broke off all contact with Montesano after that and dove into her work. When Mario was 14 (February, 1913), he made the decision that he wanted to meet his mother. Maria had visited Mario before, but she had never been previously identified as Mario's mother. Maria went to the boarding school Mario attended and they both agreed - he would stay with his mother.

On Friday, November 21, 1913, Montessori sailed to America for the first time. Just nine months after reuniting with her son, she wrote this on the ship:

"I saw my heroic child waving goodbye and comforting me from the quay. He jumped up and down, puffed out his cheeks, and shouted, 'I am happy!' His voice reached me even when I could no longer see him. Eventually, the quay became an indistinct blur."

Mario almost never left Montessori's side after that, even visiting America with her on her next trip in 1915. Mario stayed in America and ended up getting married in San Francisco to Helen Christy in 1917. He opened a Montessori school in Hollywood, California, which was attended by the children of famous movie stars of the day. In 1918, the couple moved to Barcelona to live with Maria Montessori. They ended up having four children: Marilena, Mario Jr., Rolando, and Renilde.

Mario Montessori Jr. with Maria Montessori
Mario Montessori, Jr. with Maria Montessori.
Mario Montessori, Jr. was the son and second child of Mario Montessori.

What about Helen Christy?

Helen Christy was born in Kinsman, Trumbull, Ohio on February 26, 1897. Her parents were Laurence D. Christy and Jessie Allen. Her grandfather was a soldier in the war of 1812 and moved to Ohio in 1805. He was a blacksmith by trade. Mario and Helen divorced in 1936, sometime before the Spanish Civil War. She stayed in Barcelona, where she died on November 16, 1985. I could not find much more information about her life.

Helen Christy, the first wife of Mario Montessori Senior
Helen Christy, the first wife of Mario Montessori.

Second Marriage: Ada Pierson

Mario did go on to marry again. He was with his mother in India during World War II and had been taken into an internment camp. He was released on Maria's birthday in 1940. During that time, Ada Pierson was maintaining the AMI headquarters in Amsterdam. In 1947, he married Ada Pierson. She was the secretary of AMI (Association Montessori Internationalle) and remained with AMI after Mario's death.


Mario became instrumental in the Montessori movement, which he continued to promote and work for until his death in 1982. Ada remained on in AMI to continue Maria and Mario's work until her death in 1988.

Some of Mario's children also helped a lot with promoting Montessori. Mario Junior, a psychologist by profession, fought for better Montessori quality education in the Netherlands. Rinaldo had a son, Philip, who started the Montessori Corporation, which provides products and information about the Montessori Method. Renilde Montessori became a Montessori teacher and was President of AMI until she retired in 2005. Rinelde's son, Saulo, has also been closely associated with AMI for many years.

So the next time you hear the term "Montessori," you might automatically think of Maria Montessori. I know I do. But you might also want to think about the fact that there is also her son, Mario, who was crucial in keeping the Montessori movement alive long after the death of Maria.

Mario Montessori sitting with Maria's students during his visit to America. 1915
Mario Montessori visiting America, 1915.

Matt Bronsil is the author of these posts. He can be contacted at To subscribe to the email list, sign up on our contact page and you will receive an email when the list is updated.

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