Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nonno and the Istituto Salesiano di San Gregorio

Vincenzo Dibennardo, ca. 1918. 

In past blog posts, I have shared translations of my grandfather’s diary, written during the school year of 1915-1916 – his fourth year of high school.  He was a boarding student at the Istituto Salesiano di San Gregorio, hoping to become a novice and enter the priesthood.  My nonno was born in 1900 and lost his mother two days before his ninth birthday.  In those days, it was unusual for a man to raise children on his own, and my grandfather did not have any living grandparents.  My great-grandfather must have felt that the best solution was to send my grandfather to the Salesian boarding school, where he could still visit occasionally, and where his son with receive a first-class education.  Furthermore, my grandfather had an aunt who was the Mother Superior of the Salesian order of nuns and could look out for him.  I am not sure if she was related to my grandfather on his mother’s side or his father’s side.  Her name was Sister Filomena (Suor Filomena), but nuns often take on new names, so it is likely her birth name was another. 

I have determined from my grandfather’s diary that he spent four years at San Francesco di Sales in Catania but then moved to the Salesian Institute of San Gregorio in 1915 due to San Francesco di Sales becoming a hospital for those wounded in WWI.  In fact, my grandfather often visits his former institute in the diary and describes some of the wounded. 

Some genealogical research goals that I have had are to visit both Salesian institutes to see if they have any records left from when he was a student at either school, and also to research his aunt, Sister Filomena.  Unfortunately, I could not go to Sicily this summer, but my parents are visiting relatives there, right now, and they have promised to do some of the legwork for me.  I have worked hard with my mother to transcribe Nonno’s diary and publish it in book form with scans of the original pages of his diary so I could donate the books to each institute (and share with my relatives).  My parents will have to donate the book for me, and maybe they will receive information in exchange.  My grandfather was only 15 when he wrote the diary, and he is so descriptive of life as a student in the Salesian schools, and of the teachers and priests, that I feel it would be of historical interest to the schools.  I am also working on a translation of the diary, and I hope to create a new edition of the book that will include the Italian transcription as well as the English version.

Entrance to the Salesian school in San Gregorio
The other day, my parents visited the Istituto Salesiano di San Gregorio.  I received some pictures from them, which were wonderful.  They spoke to the director of the institute who also showed them the school – where my grandfather would have eaten his meals; where he would have visited with his father the few times he appeared at the school in the diary; the church (attached to the school) where he would have attended Mass, as he often describes; etc.  The director was given one of the published books I created, and when he saw the picture inside-- of my grandfather dressed as a novice-- he recognized exactly where the picture was taken.  In fact, it was taken at the school, in the garden.  My parents and relatives were taken to the spot and took pictures there as well.  That was the highlight of their visit for me!  The bad news was that there are no more old records.  Apparently, they disposed of them one or two years ago.  This is extremely upsetting, and I don’t know why they couldn’t have been preserved somehow, but the director said they are in bad financial shape and hoping to be able to stay open, so perhaps it was a financial decision. I just hope the other school hasn’t destroyed its records.  I guess we’ll find out when my parents visit in the next few days.

My relatives in the same spot that my grandfather took his picture in 1918 (see above).

The area where my grandfather's picture was taken is in the school's garden (above).
This attached chapel is where my grandfather attended the Masses he describes in his diary.

Where my grandfather would have eaten his meals.
The school hallway
Another view of the garden and the old well below

No comments:

Post a Comment