HELPER OF THE AGED
The next best thing for the homeless
By Margaret Veale
I SAW Fr. Paul Bidone at his
headquarters, the House of Our Lady of Fatima. 40. Christchurch Road, S.W.2, recently on the sixth anniversary of the opening of this the first home for the aged in the country by the Congregation of the Sons of Divine Providence. This lively, energetic priest, now in his 43rd year, is a fighter.
Little wonder he felt so much at home in the company of Douglas Hyde, for whom he was interpreter, help and travelling companion whilst collecting facts for "God's Bandit "-the story of Don Orione, the beloved founder of his Order. Both have a great sense of justice and a respect for the rights of the individual.
Fr. Bidone comes of farming stock and was born at Pozzolo Formigare in Piedmont, Northern Italy. He studied for the priesthood in the diocesan setninary, Tortona, which for size compares favourably with Southwark.
He was ordained in 1937 with fellow students for the diocese of Tortona. As part of his last year's ecclesiastical training, he was an assistant priest at weekends in the village of Ponteourone the birthplace of Don Orione.
HIS first full-time post was at
Casella, a mountainous resort near Genoa, where he remained for 12 months. Meeting Don Orione, by whose sanctity and personality he was attracted, Fr. Bidone joined the Congregation of the Sons of Divine Providence in August, 1939.
As a student, he always wanted to serve the Church in Africa. But God had other plans for this zealous priest.
On receiving instructions from Don Orione, Fr. Bidone set out for Albania in 1940, a country in which the Order had been working since 1935 establishing orphanages, and which now gave scope for further expansion. At the end of a few weeks, he was back in Italy reporting to his superior Don Orione on contacts made and work to be done.
Then came the sad news of the death of Don Orione. But the work had to go on, and he was soon back at Albania accomplishing his heavy tasks. He remained
there until after the war, when the Communists took over and he was reluctantly forced to leave.
0WING to the war, Fr. Bidone did not make his novitiate until 1945 at Bra in the north of Italy, noted for being the birthplace of St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo who was the friend of the homeless and responsible for setting up a shelter which now houses 11,000. Towards the end of 1946, he was appointed parish priest of San Michele in Tortona.
Providence, Fr. Bidone told mt. soon provided him with a chance to make use of his services in a wider field, and in 1949 he set out for England. This was the opportunity he so long awaited.
With only a 10s. note in his pocket, and no knowledge of the English language, he arrived in London. Soon he had not only mastered the language but also gained a good insight into the English way of life.
When visiting Haywards Heath, where Fr. Bidone lived, Bishop Cowdcroy spoke of the need for a home for the aged in his diocese and asked Fr. Bidone to start one. A committee was set up under the chairmanship of Mr. Reginald Jebb (Belloc's son-inlaw); but there was no money to start the project.
FR BIDONE'S faith in a Divine
Providence was not daunted, and he put in an advertisement in the Press for a private loan of £3,500, which was granted; the bank advanced the rest, and so the house was bought in 1952.
The secretarial work was carried out by voluntary workers. and so were other jobs in connection with the preparation of the house to receive the first inmates in November, 1952. On November 17. the name of Don Orione and his work were made the subject of a "Good Cause " appeal on the radio by Robert Speaight.
This was of great help, and was all the more remarkable since appeals are not usually made for new ventures. The chapel at Christchurch Road given by a generous donor is dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, and was blessed by Bishop Cowderoy in 1954.
Fr. Bidone described to me how the spacious house at 40 Christchurch Road now accommodates 21 old-age pensioners. including three non-Catholics. They pay 12
a week and keep 10s. for pocket money. It is strictly undenominational.
ITS residents arc made to feel
that this is a home, not an institution. where they can come and go as they please. There are no petty restrictions.
" There is no place like home' and, to those who are denied the right of every individual to possess one's own place of abode. the Sons of Divine Providence have provided the next best thing. It more than compensates by its Catholic atmosphere.
Now a similar home called the House of Our Lady of Westminster caters for old people at Hampton Wick, Kingston:onThames, whilst various other projects, including a House for Vocations to the Sons of Divine Providence, are under way.
"It seems," said Fr. Bidone to me, " that Don Orione is busy in Heaven. He is determined that the work he started here will go on." FR. PAUL BIDONE, F.D.P.
His cause is in good hands for Fr. Paul Bidone is a man of action and has the determination and enthusiasm, together with an implicit faith in the goodness of God and the charity of mankind, which are characteristic of a son of the soil who means to succeed.