1914 – 1918

| Armed conflict |

#23 | The Great War

PANEL 23: The Great War

Original and retouched group photo of Salesians during their spiritual exercises, October 12-13, 1916. Their names are handwritten on the back of the photo.

Fr. Albera’s Story

From 1914 onwards, some 1,500 Salesian confreres and novices – almost half of the Congregation – were directly involved in World War I. Since the salesians came from so many different countries, they often found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.

At the end of the War, the Salesians numbered
– 144 officers
– 55 were military chaplains
– 44 had been awarded or decorated;
– 66 injured
– 70 deceased 

“A staggering number of beloved confreres, including many young priests, are compelled to remove their religious habit and put on a military uniform. They have to put down their beloved books to take up the sword and rifle. They are yanked from their peaceful student residences and trade schools to live in barracks and trenches, while some, as nurses, took care of the sick and the wounded. Not a few find themselves on the front lines. Some have already died, while others come back horribly battered”

P. ALBERA, Lettere circolari ai Salesiani, 182

Fr. Paul Albera sent 32 circular letters to the Salesian soldiers between March 19, 1916 and December 24, 1918.

“Through the holy and worthy battles of education you were tireless, earning for yourselves a rich harvest of heavenly merits even as you enriched your Fatherland with the first fruits of your intellectual and moral energies. Now your Fatherland has also demanded your physical energies as well, and you have responded decisively.
With constant cheerfulness, you have willingly accepted every sacrifice…
…May the goodness and gentleness of your souls shine through all of your actions. This must be your constant disposition; you have been formed in it, and in it you must persevere. This must be the quality that distinguishes you as sons of Don Bosco …
… Always be ready to render service to your comrades; be the first to assist them in any need. May they recognize the burning flame of charity that shines in your heart through your promptness to undertake every good work.
There will be no shortage of opportunities to do good. Do not miss any of them; seize them all. They will guarantee you heaven’s blessings and the love of your brothers. Be shining beacons of good example…”

Garneri, Vita di Paolo Albera, 325-326. Lettera del 19 marzo 1916arneri, Vita di Paolo Albera, 325-326. Lettera del 19 marzo 1916.

Fr. Albera organized spiritual retreats for military confreres on furlough

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