1914 – 1918


#27 | Orphans of the Great War

PANEL 27: Orphans of the Great War 

Photo 1: The Salesian orphanage in Austria.
Photo 2: Viennese children in front of Don Bosco’s private rooms in Valdocco.
Photo 3: The St Paul Oratory in Turin.
Photo 4: A first communion souvenir dated April 17, 1919.
Photo 5: Fr. Albera at the Orphanage building

Fr. Albera’s Story

The Congregation opened orphanages throughout Europe. One of Fr. Albera’s inspirations in 1920 was to organize holidays in Italy for 100 Austrian children.

From a child’s letter to his mother:
“Dear Mommy, we are all fine here, we eat well, we play, we go for walks and we are happy. So don’t cry anymore as you did when I was home and you cried at dinner every night thinking about daddy who had died in the war. When I grow up, I want to make sure that you will be even better off than when daddy was with us. Be courageous. I am better off here than at home. They have given each one of us a nice iron bed, a basin, a bar of soap, a bedside table… Take care, keep well. Every morning at mass and communion I pray for you and for daddy. The superiors are good to us and they love me.
Bye bye, a thousand affectionate kisses from your Pinot”.

The oratory was another work that was very dear to Fr. Albera. Oratories were opened almost everywhere in the years following the War, even in places with complex social problems. In Turin itself two more oratories were founded in those years: St. Paul and Monterosa. The first to be inaugurated, at the end of 1918, was the St. Paul Oratory:

“On December 8, more than 300 children, friends and benefactors were packed inside the hay barn that had been transformed into a chapel, decorated more with faith and hope than with paintings and decorations… Fr. Paul Albera, with tears in his eyes, celebrated Mass and distributed Communion to the children… He spoke with that sweetness that made him unforgettable to those who knew him, and afterwards stayed on to cheer the children with little presents. Mr. Gastaldo thanked him on behalf of everyone, to which he replied from a balcony. These simple people, fathers and mothers of the children, were touched by the goodness of that priest, and their hearts were conquered”. (From Adolescente 11 (November 1925) pp. 30 and 66. Written by Fr. Albert Caviglia).

Audio guide