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News > Province History

No.7: March 1996

(A Private Newsletter of the London Province of the MCCJ)

Horsforth -- St.Davidís Day

Dear confreres,
As we approach the beatification of Bishop Comboni I am happy to present a special edition of Vox Nostra containing brief notes on the history of our Province. It is in the Acta of our confreres that we can best see the spirit of Comboni alive in the Church today.
Our notes finish in 1966. Here in the UK, Public Records after that date are closed to scrutiny by the Thirty Year Rule which I am happy to apply to our provincial archives.
After 1966, people and topics are still so much alive that it is impossible to take an objective historical view.
I have set out persons, places and dates but I have not delved into motivations or underlying choices. Looking at the facts each one can do this for himself.
I would remind you that these notes are not complete because they do not recall
"vari casi dolorosi", in obedience to the Apostle's admonition that these things should not be even mentioned among Christians, and they do not do justice to the love and kindness and generous sacrifices of so many confreres and friends and benefactors which must remain hidden and form the true history of our Province, as it is recorded in the Book of Life.
May God reward those who have gone before us and may he give us the grace to emulate them in the years to come.

Yours sincerely in Corde Jesu,

The following chapter gives a taste of this very interesting document which is 52 pages in length. You may read the full text here or download the history of the London Province in pdf format by clicking here.

The War years

On June 11th 1940 the Community of Sunningdale was carried off in a Black Maria to begin an unexpected and very undesired tour of England. Frs. De Negri, Cerea, Bresciani, Mosna, Sina, Stellato, Colombini and Bros. De Rossi, Lunardi and Taverna were given time to pack some personal clothing and then carried off to Guildford where they found many other Italians in the same unhappy situation. Then, after a few days, off to Kempton Park, a race-course near London, to join thousands of Italians who had been rounded-up across the South of England. After three days, the confreres were among a thousand internees carted off to Bury in Lancashire. Here they met-up with Frs. Frizzero, Fortuna, Gualandi and Maccagnan, who had been arrested in Nottingham, where they were attending the Colonial Course.

On June 20th all the Verona Fathers (with the exception of Fr. Frizzero, who was to end up in Canada) were transported to the Isle of Man, where they were interned in Palace Camp, Douglas, some thirty boarding houses surrounded by barbed-wire and patrolled by armed guards. The parish priest of Douglas, Dean Turner, visited the Fathers each week and did all he could to be of service. Within a short while the Fathers had set aside a large room as a chapel and were fully occupied with the spiritual needs of their fellow prisoners, many of whom turned to God in their time of trial.

Fortunately the house at Sunningdale had been prudently registered in the name of Propaganda Fide and so was not seized as enemy property. However it was requisitioned by the Government, which all during the war paid a rent to the Apostolic Delegate, Mgr. Godfrey. Efforts by Cardinal Hinsley to have the Fathers released were unavailing and all he could do was to counsel them to stay willingly in the camps for the good of their fellow prisoners.

Acting on this advice Frs. Gualandi and Fortuna went to Metropole Camp, Douglas, at the end of September, and in November Frs. Maccagnan, Cerea, Sina and Bro. Taverna were transferred to Granville Camp (Ramsey?).

In February 1941, Mgr. Godfrey visited the camps and was received by all with great solemnity as Delegate of the Holy Father. During the year Archbishop Downey of Liverpool made three visits to the camps on the Island.

In May 1942, Cardinal Hinsley wrote in Italian to Fr.De Negri congratulating the Verona Fathers on their zeal in promoting "il benessere spirituale e temporale degli internati." This was followed by a visit from Mgr. Mathew, Auxiliary of Westminster, who had special responsibility for the internees and was later to be Apostolic Delegate to British East and West Africa.

With the arrival in the United Kingdom of large numbers of Italian POWs, Cardinal Hinsley called on the Verona Fathers to volunteer as Chaplains for the prison camps and Frs. Colombini, Maccagnan and Sina were selected for this apostolate.

The surrender of Italy, in September 1943, made their continued imprisonment even harder to bear. Notwithstanding the efforts of Mgr. Mathew it was not until the end of January 1944 that the first confreres were released. They had no home to go to, as Sunningdale was in the hands of the Norwegian Ministry of Shipping which was to show no rush to leave. The Jesuits kindly offered hospitality at Manresa House, London, but, at the end of the Spiritual Exercises, re-newed heavy bombing of the city made it expedient to seek lodgings elsewhere. During the year the remainder of the confreres were released and finally in Dec. 1944 Frs. Gualandi and Fortuna were allowed to sail for Africa, the first group of our missionaries to do so since the outbreak of hostilties. It was to take them over two months to reach their destination.

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