In A Fog—
FIFTY YEARS AGO The Coming Of The Salesians
Three Salesians carrying with them Don Bosco's blessing and great expectations, arrived at Victoria Station on. November 16, 1887, in a fog which enveloped London in almost complete darkness.
At the station, waiting for them, was Fr. Francis Bourne, the future Cardinal, and Fr. Francis Dalmazzo from Wandsworth. The arrivals were an Irishman, Fr. Edward McKiernan, Superior of the small community; a convert Englishman, Fr. Charles Macey, and an Italian lay-brother, Rossara.
Father Bourne had known these Salesians in Turin, where for about four months he had lived with St. John Bosco. When a theological student at St. Sulpice, in Paris, he had seen and heard the saint, who had given a Conference. Francis Bourne had kissed his hand, admired his charm of sanctity, and formed a desire to speak to him and perhaps to work for him. Soon after his ordination he went to Turin, in 1866, and was actually numbered among Don Bosco's postulants, There he remained for about four months, but was then recalled to Southwark by his Bishop, who wrote to him that if he wanted to work for boys he would find plenty needing his help in England.
Meantime the young English priest had learned Don Bosco's ways and methods, so he left with the saint's blessing, promising that he would do all he could for the Salesians when they came to London. He well discharged that promise, for he gave a hearty welcome to the three newcomers and took them through the fog to 26, Trott Street, Battersea, where they remained for some little time.
The Pioneers Edward McKiernan, as a boy, had been entrusted to Don Bosco, with four others, by an Irish Bishop, who had stated that he would allow them to remain with St. John if they had developed a Salesian vocation. Edward was an exemplary student, and at the school of the saint he grew up to become a priest, At the time of his appointment he was Prefect at the Mother House.
Charles Macey came from Salisbury. He had lost his father early in life. At sixteen he was received into the Church. He was twenty-five, with a great desire for the priesthood, when through the interest of Lady Herbert of Lee, he found his way to Don Bosco in Turin in 1879. He came into close contact with the saint, who
assisted him at his first Mass. Shortly afterwards he was chosen to join Fr. McKiernan for the first English foundation. The lay-brother, Rossaro, knew some cooking, and was sent as a general help.
With leave from his Bishop, Mgr. Butt, Fr. Bourne had come to Battersea for a time to take over the church of the Sacred Heart and to prepare for the corning small community, in conjunction with Fr. Dalmazzo, whom Don Bosco had sent on ahead as his representative, he had prepared and rented a humble cottage in Trott Street, where the Salesians settled down in great poverty. On Sunday, November 20, Fr. Galleran, the then parish priest of Wandsworth, came to preach and introduce the first Salesians to the parishioners of West Battersea. It was an acquaintance which now lasted for fifty years. Father Bourne remained forty days with the cornmunity, his kindliness extending in many ways. Even when he had reached the dignity of a Cardinal he delighted in calling to mind his experiences of those days.
The Founder's Anxiety
Don Bosco's care for the new community furnished them with letters of presentation to friends in London. The letter to the then Duke of Norfolk is characteristic of his paternal solicitude and understanding of difficulties. It is worth recording:
My Lord Duke,—When your Grace and family honoured our Oratory by your weicome and much esteemed presence. the late [lieu:; and deeply lamented Duchess. after mainfesting her graeitnie approval of the way in which our little orphans attend to their religious (halm expressed the desire that I should undertake the foundation of a similar Institution in the English Metropolis.
At that time such all enterprise was impossible for want of English-speakiug subjects, but now (moved perhaps by her Grace's pious zeal). I feel inclined to make a trial; and in feet 1 have already taken charge of a church in Battersea, London.
For the present I intend to send to Battersea not fewer than five Salesians, and I hope, in Divine Providence, to be able to send others to join them later on.
I must confess, my Lord Duke, that this undertaking COtitS Me not a little anxiety. For in London a work of such a character will encounter .main' and great difficulties, and will, therefore, require wore energy and courage than, I. am afraid, I am capable of. But as God has always aided us in the past, hope Ile will help us in the pretreat undertaking, which I beg to place utider your Grace a kind patronage.
The Church which it has pleased God to place under our charge, has been already furnished through a few pious persons, with the more necessary articles for Divine Worship; but as yet we have not been able to secure a suitable residence for the priests who are going to officiate it. Hence, my Lord Duke, I have presumed to turn to Your Grace for help and advice. Our Fathers—Fr. Edward MacKiernan and Fr. Charles B. Macey—while taking the liberty of personally waiting on Your Grace, and presenting niy best respects, will gladly accept all the aid and counsel which your charity will deign to give them.
At the Oratory we will always remember with deep gratitude Your Grace's benevolence towards us; and both I and my poor orphans will pray daily that God may bless and protect Your Grace, and, if such be His Holy Will, restore your noble Heir to perfect health and vigour.
With profound respect, I remain my Lord Duke, Your Grace's most humble obedient servant.
(Signed) SAC. Gm. Bosco. The Oratory, Turin.
13th November, 1887.
Don Bosco speaks of sending five Salesians. There were as yet only three; but in a short time two more were sent: Fr. Bonavia and Fr. Rabagliati, then a sub deacon.
Death Takes Toll
Don Bosco died in January, 1888. Fr. MacKiernan fell into a decline and died in December of the same year. The Laybrother could not stand the climate and had to be sent to Belgium. Of the first three arrivals, therefore, only Fr. Macey was now left to carry on, with the aid of Fr. Bonavia and Fr. Rabagliati and a postulant, John Avaro, who replaced the Lay-brother. Fr. Macey was appointed Superior.
Trials also had to accompany the work for vocations, and the first postulant, John Pash, a young man of much promise and edifying life, was taken away by illness three months after Fr. MacKiernan. But Don Bosco had comforted his children when leaving him with a big blessing. He had told them : " The London House shall be one of the most important of the Congregation." Eventually they moved to what is now 148 High Street, Battersea, and in 1891 to 58 and 60 Orbel Street. On December 8 that year, the fiftieth anniversary of Don Bosco's first instruction given to the boy Garelli, the chronicler is happy to note that " The community has now reached the number of eighteen."
Stages in Progress
The building of the fine church at Battersea was started in the following year, and the church was consecrated, in 1893, by Mgr. Cagliero, the future and first Salesian Cardinal. The Province was canonically erected in 1902. On the fiftieth anniversary of the first foundation there are now fifteen houses in England, Ireland, South Africa and Malta. Seven of these are colleges for secondary education; three Schools of Arts and Trades; four Schools of Agniculture, besides the Novitiate and Studentate Houses. The Daughters of Our Lady Help of Christians founded by St. John Bosco have nine Convents. The Association of Salesian Catholic Co-operators, representing the Salesian apostolate of the laity and Catholic Action, is gradually spreading and bringing Salesian influence into the home.