ENGLISH SPEAKING MISSIONARY DELEGATION
During his visits to Argentina in 1921 and 1934 Don Orione’s attention was drawn to England and the English way of life. This was possibly because of the many links that existed between Argentina and Britain and he set out to learn as much as he could about the country. “Half the world speaks the English language,” he wrote. “I have prayed and reflected, meditated and thought and I feel it is necessary and urgent to establish The Sons of Divine Providence in England”.
In 1936, three Italian priests of the Order: Fathers Gaetano Piccini, Luciano Mancini and Hadrian Calegari were sent to Cardiff where they opened a house catering for the needs of the Italians who worked in the Welsh coal mines. The house, however, was closed at the outbreak of World War II and the establishment of the Sons of Divine Providence in Britain was suspended.
Fr. Paul Bidone
Don Orione died on 12th March 1940. So it was left to his successor as Superior General of the Order, Father Carlo Pensa to sanction the re-establishment of a presence in Britain. He chose for this purpose Father Paul Bidone an enthusiastic young priest who had joined the order following a personal encounter with Don Orione.
World War II and particularly the blitz had left Britain with its cities in ruins and its population struggling to recover from the aftermath of war. The ‘welfare state’ was in its infancy with limited resources and it was struggling to cope with providing care for the many, many orphans, handicapped and aged.
Father Bidone left his mother, his family, the congregation at Tortona and the warmth and colour of his native Italy and set off for England. He arrived in April 1949, to a cold and grey London with just one ten-shilling note in his pocket and speaking not a word of English. He was fortunate, however, to have some friends in London who obtained for him an attic room close to Brompton Oratory. The accommodation suited his requirements well: it enabled him to attend the early morning Mass at the Oratory before setting off to an English Language School in Oxford Street. Learning English was his first priority and he attended twenty lessons in all. The smoke-filled atmosphere of London, however, did not suit him at all and his health began to deteriorate. An Italian born parishioner of Brompton Oratory, Signorina Parodi by name, came to his aid. She was well acquainted with the Reverend Mother Superior of St. Augustine’s Priory in Haywards Heath to whom she wrote. So it was, that Fr Bidone moved to St Augustine’s Priory in June 1949. In the cleaner atmosphere of Sussex his health was soon restored and he got to like the Priory so much that he thereafter regarded it as his home.
During his first year in Haywards Heath Fr. Bidone began his complete mastery of the English language. One of his tutors was the celebrated Catholic poet and historian Hilaire Belloc.