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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 758-760

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Book Review

Il Mezzogiorno d'Italia e le Istituzioni Educative Salesiane. Richieste e Fondazioni (1879-1922). Fonti per lo studio

Il Mezzogiorno d'Italia e le Istituzioni Educative Salesiane. Richieste e Fondazioni (1879-1922). Fonti per lo studio. By Francesco Casella. [Istituto Storico Calesiano, Studi--15.] (Rome: LAS [Libreria Ateneo Salesiano]. 2000. Pp. 831. Lire 80.000 paperback.)

Interest in the Salesian Society was spurred by Vatican Council II (1962-1965), which led to the formation of the Salesian Historical Institute and the calling of international conferences in Rome, in 1991, 1995, and 2000. The socio-economic context for the emergence of the Salesian movement was set by Liberal Italy's failure to cement political unification with the promotion of social cohesion, only attainable through a vast reform program encompassing every major facet of southern life. Absence of national initiative and concerted effort worsened the ill effects of diseases, droughts, earthquakes, emigration, illiteracy, unfair taxation system, inequities in land ownership, wars, technical backwardness, lack of capital and foreign investment, and problems of water supply, health care, and sanitation. With the confiscation of church properties and educational facilities, communities in the South were left without schools and seminaries. Apparently, the Risorgimento, climaxed by territorial unification in 1859, had no redeeming value worth mentioning, while the Church, its attitude and policies, does not merit criticism. [End Page 758]

Confronted by desperate conditions, prelates of every rank, laymen, private citizens, municipal authorities, a prefect or two, directed appeals for assistance to Don Giovanni Bosco in Turin, first capital of United Italy. Sanctioned by Pius IX in 1869, its constitution approved in 1874, the Salesian Society had its headquarters in Turin, with a General Chapter (Capitolo Generale) as the governing body, and a Chief Rector (Rettore Maggiore) serving for twelve years, the term renewable. The stated mission was evangelical, educational, and pastoral. Casella's study concentrates on the second proviso. The Bollettino Salesiano (Salesian Bulletin) was the official mouthpiece boasting of wide circulation in and out of Italy.

Installed in 1876, Bosco, with his keen sense of history, mandated that all records, local, regional, national, and international, be meticulously kept, enabling future historians to pursue scholarly investigations into the work of the charitable association. Protocol required that all petitions be endorsed by the local bishop. Each establishment (fondazione) was to be personally examined by the Chief Rector or by a "visitor" of his designation. Inspectorates were eventually set up in Rome and Naples. Upon Bosco's death in 1888, he was succeeded by Don Michele Rua (two terms, 1888-1910), Don Paolo Albera (1910-1921), and Beato Filippo Rinaldi (1922-1931). By the end of the 1800's, the Society had expanded in France, Spain, Great Britain, and the Americas. Permanent and temporary personnel stood at 1,035 in 1888 and 3,816 in 1901.

Casella's formidable undertaking serves three distinct purposes. The first is to make scholars aware of the many depositories of source materials which could be readily tapped for a long overdue comprehensive synthesis of the far-flung activities of the missionary order. The second objective consists of descriptive enumerations of the hundreds of requests received, emanating primarily from the Italian Continental South, and the results. The final goal is to bring the reader in close contact with the real Mezzogiorno, not the fictionalized versions, but the South of the Southerner in his daily troubles with an absentee government, insensitive ruling classes, and an improvident Nature.

The volume is structured in terms of parts (five), including many charts. Although it is understandable for the management of a complex subject, this reviewer experienced difficulty in identifying and correlating appeals and dispositions in the textual narrative with the illustrated details submitted in the graphs. Each part is introduced by a brief analysis of the historical background. Most rewarding are the biographical-professional summaries placed in footnotes at the bottom of the page. The General Bibliography lists the Salesian Central Archive in...


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