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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 777-778

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Book Review

Paolo Albera and Calogero Gusmano. Lettere a don Giulio Barberis durante la loro visita alle case d'America (1900-1903)

Paolo Albera and Calogero Gusmano. Lettere a don Giulio Barberis durante la loro visita alle case d'America (1900-1903). Edited by Brenno Casali. [Istituto Storico Salesiano--Roma, Fonti--Serie Seconda, 9.] (Rome: LAS [Libreria Ateneo Salesiano]. 2001. Pp. 515. Lire 50.000 paperback.)

This volume is part of a series of the Salesians' founding documents. It consists of letters to Father Michael Rua, Don John Bosco's successor as the Salesians' superior general, and to Father Giulio Barberis, who held various posts in the Salesians' administration, from Father Paolo Albera, Father Rua's representative, and from Father Calogero Gusmano, Father Albera's secretary. The letters were written between 1900 and 1903, when Father Albera and Father Gusmano were on a pastoral visit of Salesian houses in the Americas. Their assignment was to visit each establishment staffed by the Salesians of Don Bosco or the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, and to report on the houses' activities. [End Page 777] They stuck to their task, seldom commenting on political, economic, or social situations they encountered.

The letters were written from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, United States, Great Britain, and France. The South American letters are the heart of the collection; the letters from the last four places concern mostly travel arrangements. The letters contain four sorts of information. Father Albera and Father Gusmano always included how they were feeling and what their travel plans were. Occasionally, they produced vivid paragraphs describing pastoral ministry (or, in the case of the evangelization of the Indians, lack of it; no one knew the languages). They describe the Salesians' educational ministry, providing enough information to piece together what the novices' devotional life was like, and what their superiors gave them to read.

The letters' main topic is community life. Neither Father Albera nor Father Gusmano was trained in psychology or the social dynamics of community life. Rather, they had a mental checklist of potentially destructive behavior that they looked out for. In each house, they reported either that all was well or that the place was afflicted with gossiping or other conduct not conducive to community living. Sometimes they commented on specific persons and suggested improvements. The discussion of life in religious houses reveals the fathers at their best. They had an ideal of religious life, understood not everyone always lived up to it, and, within their understanding, worked to realize their ideal.

Each letter is carefully annotated. The volume begins with an introduction to the letter-writers, the recipients and the pastoral visitation project, and concludes with an appendix of letters from Father Rua to Father Albera and Father Gusmano and indices for personal names, places, and concepts. The letters are divided into sections by year. Each section starts with a summary of the letter-writers' itinerary and a map of their travels.

This collection would probably be useful for the study of South American Catholicism. It would be most useful for the history of religious orders in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Mary Elizabeth Brown
Marymount Manhattan College



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