70 years of Salesian achievement
JUST 70 years ago, as whiter was coming down over England, a small group of priests arrived in London, sent by St. John Bosco to found the first Salesian house in this country.
South of the Thames, in Battersea, they found poor lodging, a tin church, a small school, and plenty of hard work.
From these humble beginnings has grown the huge college in Surrey Lane, power house of the Salesian Order in Britain, full to overflowing with 400 boys and the hub and starting point of a work which has spread to Africa. Australia and Malta, and from which missionaries have gone to every corner of the world.
The Feast of St. John Bosco is next Thursday. January 31. He died within a few months of sending his pioneers to Battersea, the only English foundation made directly by the saint-made through the help of Cardinal Bourne, then a young priest.
Less than a life-span from the founder's death the Salesian picture is superb. St. John Bosco is canonised-an honour already shared by him with St. Mary Mazzarello, who with him was the co-foundress of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Salesian nuns.
Then, only a few years ago, one of his pupils, St. Dominic Savio, became the only canonised schoolboy saint.
Fr. Michael Rua, who played an outstanding part in the development of early Salesian work in England, is among others whose cause for beatification is making steady progress. Among them are Fr. Philip Rinaldi, third successor of the saint; the Polish prince Fr.
Augustus Czartory ski, whose benefactions helped to build the Sacred Heart Church at Battersea; Fr. Andrew Beltrami; Bishop Versiglia. once well known at Battersea, and who with Fr. Caravario was put to death in China; some 110 victims of the Spanish Civil War, and the Patagonian boy, Ceferino Namancura.
Battersea's Church of the Sacred Heart-which is being redecorated in celebration of the centenary of that feast kept last year-will probably be finished next week in time for St. John Bosco's feast day. It was consecrated by a Salesian Bishop, the future Cal dine! Cagliero.
At the time of Don Bosco's canonisation in 1934, the Salesians already had a cardinal-Cardinal Hlond, Primate of Poland-seven Archbishops, 12 Bishops, three Prefects Apostolic, and three Administrators Apostolic.
Since then more honours have come upon the congregation, and now, with a diocesan Bishop among its former pupils-Bishop Restieaux of Plymouth-they are the third largest congregation in the world and in England-where they are the second largest-they have 389 priests and clerics and 67 laybrothers.
Their first property in Battersea, after moving from the house of a parishioner, was a house in the High Street. Then came the acquisition of two houses in Orbel Street. where the convent now is.
Fr. McKiernan, first Superior, was followed by Fr. Macey. The church was completed in 1893, the former tin church becoming a refectory and kitchen for cornmunity and boys.
Other small buildings were slowly acquired until at length a Georgian mansion, known as Surrey House, was bought after a novena to Our Lady. Help of Christians.
Here started the boarding school which today, modernised and enlarged, stands as the centre of a great block with large wings.
Thr oug h it have passed thousands of pupils. From it -now the mother house of the Anglo-Irish province-have gone forth Salesians to start new enterprises in England, Scotland and Ireland.
And it will be to Battersea in November that all the community, the thousands of pupils past and present will look with gratitude on this almost incredible story.