ENGLISH SPEAKING MISSIONARY DELEGATION
The Friends of Don Orione
At the Priory, Fr. Bidone attracted a band of supporters who became known as the Friends of Don Orione. They were to play an important role in the establishment of the Sons of Divine Providence in England. From their ranks were formed the committees that helped Fr. Bidone to raise funds, procure property, convert the property into homes for the elderly and disabled and run these homes. In 1950 Fr Bidone organised the first of what was to become an annual pilgrimage for the Friends Of Don Orione. Over the years, through these pilgrimages to Italy, Lourdes and Fatima, more supporters were added to the ranks of FODO.
Fatima House, Streatham
Early in 1951, Archbishop Cowderoy of Southwark met Fr. Bidone, while on a visit to St Augustine’s Priory, and asked him if he would like to start a home for the elderly in the Diocese of Southwark. This was the opportunity Fr. Bidone had been patiently waiting for and he accepted the Archbishop’s offer without hesitation even though no funds were available for the project. He together with a committee formed from the Friends of Don Orione immediately set about finding a suitable house that could be converted into a home for the elderly. They found a dilapidated Victorian house with an adjoining garage in Streatham, which they considered could be readily converted into a home for the elderly. As is the custom with followers of Don Orione Fr. Bidone put his trust in Divine Providence and with the help of his committee set about raising funds to purchase and convert the premises. With the help of a firm of solicitors he secured a bank loan for half the amount required. A benefactor loaned him the remainder and so 40 Christchurch Road, Streatham became the first property owned by the Sons of Divine Providence in England.
With the help of his band of supporters the house was cleaned and on 2nd February 1952 he moved into the premises. A small committee of supporters was formed to help Fr Bidone with raising funds for the conversion of the house into a home for the elderly. They suggested that the house should be dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima and so 40 Christchurch Road, Streatham became Fatima House. Much work needed to be done to complete the conversion and building materials were scarce. To the rescue came Stephen Tomei, a descendant of an Italian builder who had a large family business. He not only supplied the materials required but remained a friend and adviser for many years. With his assistance the garage was converted into a Chapel and the house renovated. The work on the Chapel was completed in August 1952 and the house soon afterwards.
By 1955, Fatima House was well established. It had become a home for twenty-three elderly men who came from all walks of life and ranged in age up to ninety. It was the headquarters of the Sons of Divine Providence in England, whose affairs were administered by Fr Bidone with the support of voluntary helpers. It provided accommodation for visitors and in particular priests and brothers of the order who came over from Italy to learn English. The chapel became a Mass centre for the local inhabitants.
Notable visitors to Fatima House
Among the early visitors to Fatima House was Fr. Joseph Tirello who arrived from Italy in 1954 to help out at the house while learning English. He did not return to Italy and went on to play an important role in the expansion and development of the work in England. Another notable visitor to Fatima House was Angelo Colombo from Italy whose family later provided very generous monetary support for some of the projects initiated by Fr. Bidone.
Westminster House, Hampton Wick
In 1955 a devout Catholic woman: Miss Cecilia Cooper donated her home at 23 Lower Teddington Road in Hampton Wick to the Sons of Divine Providence. Work commenced immediately to convert the house into a home for the elderly.
In 1956 the neighbouring house was purchased with funds raised by the Friends of Don Orione augmented by a donation of £2000 from Cardinal Griffin on behalf of the diocese of Westminster. The new property was annexed to Miss Cooper’s house and converted to provide extra rooms for residents and visitors. In 1958, Fr Bidone together with some of the residents from Fatima House moved into the new residence, which was named Westminster House.
Chapel, Hampton Wick
The house donated to the Sons of Divine Providence by Miss Cooper included a room, which she had adapted into a chapel in which, with the Cardinal’s permission, a monthly Mass was celebrated. This became the chapel of the community in Hampton Wick. The first High Mass in the chapel was celebrated in 1959. It serves the community to this day.
Grotto, Hampton Wick
Miss Cooper had also built a grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. This grotto became the rallying point of an annual street procession in honour of Our Lady: claimed to be the first street procession in honour of Our Lady held in England since the Reformation.
The ‘Bridge’ Magazine
In 1959 Fr Bidone launched a quarterly magazine, which he named ‘The Bridge’, to record the work of the Sons of Divine Providence in Britain and to unite people everywhere in the love of Don Orione.