Photo 1: The orphanage in its original state at Villa Oneto dei Cataldi, in the Marassi region of Genoa.
Photo 2: Don Bosco and Fr. Albera at the centre of a group photo into which several others have been “photo-shopped”
Photo 3: Fr. Albera as a young priest.
In February 1871, Don Bosco was in Genoa. Two Genoese men, Mr. Domenic Prefumo and Mr. Joseph Varetti, members of the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul in Borgo Incrociati, approached him to ask if he would open a house for needy children in Genoa. Don Bosco did not say no, but he made it clear that such an undertaking would require considerable means. The men promised to do what they could. Matters remained there until Providence stepped in. The Conference of St. Vincent manged to rent Villa Oneto in Marassi, on the eastern slope of the Val Bisagno, for 500 lire, from Baron Cataldi. They offered it to Don Bosco and he accepted. On October 26, he sent Fr. Albera with two young Salesians, three trades teachers and a cook to launch the work. Fr. Albera accepted to be director of the house with a serene spirit. As he was leaving to begin his new assignment, Don Bosco encouraged Albera not to worry about anything and to put all his trust in the Lord. He then asked him if he needed anything.
“No, Don Bosco”, he answered. “Thank you, I have 500 lire with me”. Don Bosco replied: “You won’t need too much money. Do you think there will be no Providence in Genoa? Don’t worry, Providence will take care of you there, too”.
Don Bosco took the 500 lire and handed Albera a much smaller amount. Indeed, Providence did not disappoint. Thus begins the story of Don Bosco’s work in the Ligurian capital. The neighbours of Villa Oneto in Marassi called the Salesians “the guys with those urchins”, which nobody mistook as a complement! But before long, the neighbours were won over by the familiarity that existed between the Salesians and their boys: they conversed, played together and in the evening, they sang in the courtyard. The once sceptical neighbours were witnessing the power of the preventive system in action: a warm welcome, a family atmosphere, and the joyful practice of religion.