Letters from Salesian soldiers to Fr. Paul Albera during the Great War.
The Central Salesian Archives contain 3390 letters and military postcards addressed to Fr. Paul Albera and other members of the Salesian Superior Council, written by 791 different Salesian soldiers. Fr. Albera and the other superiors maintained constant personal correspondence with these Salesians on the frontline.
Letter from Stefano Ferrando, Salesian cleric
(After the War, Fr. Stefano became a missionary to India, bishop of Krishnagar and Shillong, and founder of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians. He died in 1978 and was declared Venerable on March 3, 2016 by Pope Francis).
War Zone, 28-7-17
Most Reverend Fr. Albera,
Since the beginning of the month, I have been at an officers’ training course in the infantry. I have not yet been posted to the front line, and at the present moment we have been given a small break to revive our spirits and prepare for what is to come.
I finished reading your last circular letter today and I found it very appropriate to my new situation, in which human respect suggests many subtle and specious arguments to intimidate and distract the soul from frankly professing the faith… May the example of many confreres who preceded me in this type of life and who were outstanding in their religious and military virtues, be of help to me and remind me of the other army to which I belong.
As I mentioned above, new trials probably await my regiment and therefore I recommend myself to your prayers, that Mary Help of Christians might help me and that I might carry out the will of the Lord….
Cl. Ferrando Stefano
Alfonso Novera, Salesian soldier, reports a providential experience on the frontline:
“I received your beautiful letter, with the maxims and advice you offered, and especially the image and relic of our dear Founder, Venerable Don Bosco, a saint who is very dear to me. I always keep his relic close to my heart for assistance in all my spiritual and temporal needs. I know I have already experienced its protection. If I am alive today it is surely a miracle. On the 22nd of last month, I was a sentry on the frontline, in the trenches near a piece of heavy mountain artillery. We were engaging the enemy when they returned fire, clearly targeting our canon. They shot eight 152mm bombs at us, killing our men as far as six metres away. Their fire caused rocks to fly into the air. One rock, the size of two fists, crashed down on my head, splitting my metal helmet in half. But I didn’t feel a thing, and I sustained no injuries. I was safe and sound. I am convinced that Don Bosco has protected me on many occasions.”
(ASC, B0440146, Novera-Albera, 14.12.1917; No personal data available).