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Early Development

This period saw the growth of the Salesian presence in the south of England, the foundations in Cape Town (1897) and Malta (1903) and the beginnings in Ireland (1919). In the south of England houses were founded at Burwash in 1897, Farnborough in 1901, and Chertsey in 1902. These foundations came largely through the direct or indirect intervention of Bishop Francis Bourne who had met Don Bosco as a seminarian in France and who later as a young priest had formally requested from Rome permission to leave the diocese and enter the Salesians.

He arrived in Turin just as the first group was about to leave for London and was asked by Don Bosco to return to welcome them. Intriguingly, in his papers, he left a letter from Don Bosco with only the signature and the address intact; the contents had been painstakingly removed. Bourne's devotion to Don Bosco and the Salesians was never in doubt and he was able, as Archbishop of Southwark, to invite them to take over the Church and parish at Burwash in Sussex and at Chertsey in Surrey. One of his greatest friends was John Baptist Cahill, Bishop of Portsmouth, one of Bourne's important backers in his ascent to Westminster, and he was persuaded to offer the Salesians the parish in Farnborough.


Burwash became the novitiate house with the parish, Chertsey a Chaplaincy to the Salesian sisters and parish, and Farnborough began as a home and school for the orphans of military families. All these foundations survived but two more foundations in the Archdiocese of Southwark, the parish of St Mary Magdalene, East Hill, Wandsworth near Battersea, which was opened in 1903 but later handed back to the diocese, and St George's Home for Boys, also taken over from the diocese in 1904, did not survive long term. The parish opened a small school for boys after the church was built but the site was too restricted and in 1922 the parish was handed back to the diocese. The St George's Home for boys had been started by Canon St John and moved into new premises in 1902 but, after an outbreak of meningitis in which two of the Salesians died, it was handed back to the diocese in 1907.The architect of the Salesian expansion was clearly Francis Bourne rather than Fr Macey. The failure of the project for a Home for Boys, tragically marked by the death of the two confreres, and the subsequent sickness and exit from the priesthood of Fr V Campana, the Rector, proved to be an ill omen for the future of this type of hostel work in the English Province. Attempts to develop hostels for difficult youngsters, outside school settings and in inner cities, have proved very difficult for the Salesians to sustain. Subsequent attempts in Soho in the 1930s and later in Glasgow at Tollcross in the 1970's both faltered and had to be abandoned.

A glance at the figures of the growth of the Salesians in England in this period, however, show that between 1887 and 1907 there was a steady period of growth from 3 confreres in 1887 to 90 in 1907. This initial expansion was followed was a period of stability till 1921.

In the decade from 1890-1899 there were 23 first professions, in the following decade 1900-1909 there were 33 but from 1910-1919 there were only 20.

The Extraordinary visitation of 1908 and the appointment of Fr Scaloni as Provincial highlighted the peculiarities of Fr Macey's personal regime but they also highlighted a deeper crisis of growth.

Part of the problem was Macey's personal paternalistic style and the fact that he had been Superior for nearly 20 years. He found himself unable to let the younger Salesians grow up or take serious responsibility.

In Fr Scaloni who was also in charge of the houses in Belgium, the Superiors had found a very capable and dynamic leader. His controversy with the Belgian socialists had made him a national figure in Belgium and his responsibilities in England must have seemed, by contrast, somewhat parochial. In fact, during the First World War he was stranded in German-occupied Belgium so that Fr Macey effectively carried on as Superior at Battersea till the end of the war.


Last modified on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 16:26