The Provincial Council: “Its Purpose and Functions”:
An ‘updated’ document informing Cooperators about the purpose and functions of the Provincial Council in Great Britain. Downloadable HERE
The three articles below give the background history of the UK Province's Cooperators Association.
Click on the headings below to read
1. Historical Background to Salesian Cooperators
2. History of the Salesian Co-operators in the UK
3. Key Dates in the History of the Salesian Cooperators
1. The Origins of the Salesian Cooperators is one of the most debated subjects among Salesian Historians.
Which came first the Co-operators or the Salesian Society?
Two French Salesians, Frs Francois Deramaut and Joseph Aubris, both fine historians, when studying the origins of the Salesians highlighted the undoubted fact that Don Bosco began his ministry among young people as a secular priest and had very little direct experience of religious life. In fact, the episode in the Memoirs of the Oratory, when he took the exam to enter the Franciscan Noviciate in Chieri, in the Via Della Pace, but was warned in a nightmare that he would never find peace among the feuding friars, stands out a testimony to the current views of religious orders in Don Bosco’s youth. From this they wondered if originally Don Bosco really intended to found a religious order like the Jesuits, or the Dominicans or something much looser like a Salesian Movement?
Don Bosco’s original co- workers in Turin were other diocesan priests, like Fr Borel (a Chaplain to the Royal Family) who have been characterised by recent historians as part of a movement of ‘zealous clergy’ among Turin’s priests. They sought to respond to the rapidly changing pastoral needs of growing city with new or renewed institutions such as the Convitto Ecclesiastico, the work of the Oratories or the Little House of Divine Providence.
A widespread group of lay people from different social strata were also involved directly in the work of the Oratories from the beginning, including Mamma Margarita, Mrs Rua, and Madame Gastaldi, who would collect the boys’ worn shirts socks and underwear and take them to the convents to have them repaired. There were lots of others who helped with catechism, taught reading or writing or even one who organised military games often blowing his bugle to the alarm of neighbours and passers by.
However, during the Revolution of 1848 and the subsequent War against Austria, divisions developed among the clergy and lay people. There were some who supported the war against Austria and the Liberal constitutional movement in Piedmont, one going so far as to lead a group of older boys in support of the Piedmontese troops. But there were others like Don Bosco, who hesitated to enter directly into the Nationalist and revolutionary movement, for fear of the consequences for young people and the position of the Pope in Italy.
Fr Desramaut sees this group volunteers who surrounded Don Bosco, made up of secular priests and lay people as the original Salesian Movement and as the originators of the Salesians of Don Bosco. Among them, according to Don Bosco’s historical introduction to the first Constitutions, was a committed group of ‘priests and lay people’ dedicated to the work of the oratories and who Don Bosco called Salesians. Sometimes he referred to them in his later editions of the Constitutions as ‘Extern Salesians’. This development was disrupted by the Piedmontese involvement in the Wars of Italian Independence.
Desrameaut and Aubris believed that the break-up of the Oratory Movement in Turin due to political divisions and Don Bosco’s need to ensure Episcopal and Papal approval of the Salesian Society meant that his original more flexible ideal of Salesian Life was institutionalised by pressure from Pope Pius IX into the highly centralised religious order we are accustomed to.
In their view, the reform of Vatican II was an invitation to re-discover Don Bosco’s original pattern of co-workers who were Salesians but could live with their families, and be married but still be full members of the Salesian Society.
Other Salesian historians are not convinced by this interpretation.
Fr Aldo Giraudo, one of the foremost authorities in Salesian Studies at the UPS, would argue that the Co-operators actually emerge not only from those directly involved in Don Bosco’s mission but also from the much wider group of friends and benefactors without whom the Salesian mission at any stage would have been impossible. Their degree of involvement and their commitment were completely different in nature from that of the group who called themselves: Salesians.
His view would be that, and Arthur Lenti would agree that the crisis of the Oratory Movement in Turin actually forced Don Bosco to clarify his ideas about how his work for the young should develop. When so many of his key adult co-workers abandoned his work and when he had to endure so much criticism from clergy and laity alike he began to realise that he would have to change direction. It was at this point that he began to realise that his own boys who he had brought up in the Oratory or the attached hostel would become the future founder members of his Salesians.
It was then that he began to prepare some of them such as Rua, Cagliero and Francesia by sending them to a private grammar school for secondary studies. It was then and with the help of Minister Urbano Ratazzi and the Pope himself the modern Salesian Society emerged as a formal religious order.
Much has been made of Don Bosco’s flexible attitude to the canonical aspects of religious life. He tried desperately to avoid a formal noviciate, and for years his seminarians, only attended lectures or only took exams at the seminary but were working pretty much full time in the various oratories while they were studying as well. This partly reflected the surrounding circumstances where the seminary was closed by the Archbishop and the seminarians found a home with Don Bosco and his ability to create an atmosphere where priestly formation flourished among the playgrounds and workshops full of youngsters.
It has to be said that Don Bosco did on some rare occasions actually have private arrangements of private Salesian vows with some secular priests such as Don Pestarino at Mornese, who were essential to the founding of specific works. However, in general, Don Bosco, wanted the Co-operators, to embrace a whole wide group of lay people who would support his work for the young: Co-operators, friends and benefactors, titles that could be used practically interchangeably.
In the aftermath of the Special General Chapter in 1978 a whole re-think of the Co-operators was undertaken and resulted in the modern pattern with a rule book and formal promises, where the Co-operators can appear as a ‘quasi-religious order’ with its constitutions, promises, and provincial councils.
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2. With this background what can we say about the Co-operators in the UK. One of the most interesting of Don Bosco’s first helpers was Fr Francis, later Cardinal Bourne. His father died when he was young and his mother had to send him to Ushaw in Lancashire at the age of 7. He tried his vocation with the Dominicans but returned to enter the diocesan seminary. His bishop decided to send him to the famous French seminary of Saint Sulpice where he heard Don Bosco speak and felt so attracted to him that he wanted to become a Salesian. After his ordination, he still persisted in this desire and when his bishop refused to countenance the idea, Bourne appealed to Rome. There he was given permission to try his vocation with the Salesians. However he arrived at Turin just as Don Bosco was about to dispatch the first pioneer Salesians to Battersea,London so in a letter from Don Bosco that Bourne retained all his life, but which he cut the contents out, and it’s suspect Don Bosco let him become a fully professed Salesian but secretly so he could come to support the foundation at Battersea in person, which he actively did.
Another person who made a critical contribution is the Countess Georgiana de Stacpoole. She belonged to an Irish noble family who had befriended the French King in exile, Louis XVIII in London, and when he returned to France he enobled her brother who later supervised the building of the restoration of the Basilica of St Paul’s outside the Walls, becoming a papal duke.
Georgiana made the headlines during the ill-dated Roman Republic in 1849 when she smuggled Pope Pius IX out of Rome from under the noses of the revolutionaries, dressed as her maid in her carriage to Gaeta where he lived in exile.
She also helped Don Bosco and the Salesians in PARIS at Rue des Pyrnenees, Menilmontant.
She had become involved at our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, East Battersea , and then had a dispute with another lady about who was to donate the high altar. When she found that her altar had been left in a side chapel in high dudgeon she decamped to Battersea West where she bought the property and built the primary school and a tin shed as the Church of the Sacred Heart. She set up a trust to administer the property which still exists, but of course fell out with the Salesians when the new church was built so that she refused to come to the opening ceremony,
Another notable co-operator was Mrs Paish, an Irish washerwoman who welcomed the first Salesians to stay with them the first night they arrived, introduced by Francis Bourne. Her daughter Nelly became one of the first Salesian sisters and her son John became the first Salesian aspirant.
Others that are mentioned in the early period are Mrs Ainsworth who gave a wonderful altar which is in the school chapel at Battersea.
These are just to illustrate that there have been a wide variety of different sorts of Co-operators who have in various ways contributed to the establishment of the Salesian mission in the UK. Don Bosco it seems to me had a very inclusive approach to his mission and wanted to involve as many people as possible in his work for poor and abandoned young people.
This was edited from text written by Fr John Dickson SDB
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3. Key Dates for Salesian Co-operators UK
1976 This was the year of the First World Congress of Cooperators in Rome
and it was at this Congress that the first steps in outlining a “ blueprint of
autonomy” were produced. Annabel Clarkson (Battersea) attended that first
The first draft of the new “REGULATIONS FOR APOSTOLIC LIFE” (RAL) was circulated around the Centres who contributed to it’s final review.
1977 Visits to all the Centres in the Province by Fr Colliandro SDB the Rector Major’s Delegate from Rome. Chertsey Centre’s response to Fr Colliandro’s visit was immediate. At the meeting to decide how we were to respond the three officers were elected: Coordinator: Ken Greaney Secretary:Joe Bannan Treasurer: Ella O’Bryan
Fr John Docherty SDB: Provincial Delegate, commenced a follow up visiting all the Centres. His inspiration enabled more detailed plans to be drawn up as a further response to the RAL initiative.
A National Meeting of Cooperators in Great Britain led by Fr John Docherty SDB and Mother Ida Grasso FMA was held in Kendal for all Cooperator Coordinators and local SDB/FMA delegates. Development strategies included a setting up of three geographical areas North, South and Scotland.
1979 Meeting of all Southern Coordinators and local delegates was
organised in Chertsey. It was agreed to arrange 3 events a year - a Don Bosco “Prep Day “ in January (Battersea) replaced in 2008 by a Mary Help of Christians Celebration day in May; a Family day in June (Chertsey) continued until the early 90’s and Family Days were also hosted in the North and in Scotland; a Retreat Day(Cowley) in the Autumn, replaced by the ongoing Provincial Retreat in 1982
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1982 The first Cooperators Retreat Weekend was held in Bollington.The event was attended by over 60 Cooperators. At the end of the weekend a Provincial Council was formed and the Ken Greaney(Chertsey) was elected as the Provincial Coordinator of the GB Province. Fr Albert Winstanley was the SDB Provincial Delegate and Sr. Monica Smith was the FMA Provincial Delegate. Matt Murphy (Farnborough) Treasurer and 2 Secretaries; an organisational post, Vince Hall Bollington) and a minutes secretary Annabel Clarkson (Battersea)
1983 - 1985 During these years the initiatives of the Provincial Council had a very influential and positive impact on the development of all Centres
A model Formation programme was drafted, published and implemented, guidance was given re the structure and format of the monthly meetings; the annual Provincial Retreat had been inaugurated; directives given re the organisation of the local Centre; the duties and terms of office of the elected officers…
Throughout this period all Centres received annual visits from the Provincial Coordinator.
Much work on the draft RAL was undertaken in preparation for the Second World Congress of Cooperators which took place in Rome in October 1985 and lasted for a week. Representatives at the World Congress were:
Annabel Clarkson (Battersea) Gabrielle Harrison (Liverpool\0 Ken Greaney (Chertsey)
The Congress produced the final draft of RAL. at least 12 important amendments (to the first draft) promoted by the Province were adopted by the Congress.
The Congress was to elect The World Consultative Body of Cooperators (to represent the, then, 7 SDB Regions). Ken Greaney (Chertsey)was elected to represent the English Speaking Region covering Great Britain, USA, Australia, South.Africa, Canada and Malta.
Sean Kelly was elected to replace Ken Greaney on the Provincial Council but in view of Ken’s position as a World Councillor the Provincial Council invited Ken to remain on the Provincial Council - as an ex-officio member - for another term of 6 years
In this Jubilee year there were many events celebrating the centenary of the death of Don Bosco in which the Provincial Council played its part alongside the SDB and FMA Councils. Perhaps the highlight was the Pilgrimage to Turin. Over 100 people went on that pilgrimage: Br. Michael Grix SDB was the overall organizing genius behind it but the Cooperators were very much the “hands on” operators.
This information was edited from a article by Ken Greaney
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