Today we accompany some novices from the past to the door of the novitiate, to observe together what items they took with them at the beginning of their religious life.
In fact, it is commonly believed that young people, when crossing the door of the novitiate, leave behind the “world” and all that belonged to them, including all personal objects and effects. This is not exactly so.
There were objects expressly requested by the novitiate, very often personal underwear falls into this category, but also goods that the novices wished to take with them, for various reasons.
During the reorganisation of the holding ofthe Neapolitan Province, a very interesting register was found: it lists the personal belongings of each boy. It was compiled from the 1930s until the 1960s.
There is no similar register for the other Provinces, perhaps it has been lost or perhaps it is a custom observed only in the novitiate of the Neapolitan Province. The register was also useful in cases where the candidate changed his mind and wanted to leave, to verify and return what he had brought.
The journey that these boys made from their home to the door of the novitiate stopped in Naples, at Via della Cerra no. 2, in the Vomero district, where Villa Melecrinis was located, the site of the novitiate until the early 1940s.
Later, it was the Sozi – Carafa Castle, in Vico Equense, that welcomed the Jesuit aspirants, suitcase in hand. The photograph accompanying today’s in-depth study depicts precisely the community of Vico Equense with the young novices.
Personal belongings can give us some more information about their previous lives, often about how similar they were to their peers, past and present.
Inside the suitcase
There are a few categories of possessions common to all: blessed medals depicting Our Lady or saints of the Company, books of exemplary lives, the Gospel – which more than a few have in Italian rather than Latin – the Bible.
Several boys had recently come out of seminaries or apostolic schools, bringing with them dictionaries and textbooks that I had already used.
Let’s have a look at the other items, which are part of everyday life.
Many bring with them photos of family members, especially fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, holy pictures, the rosary, as well as watches, a new pair of shoes or “tennis shoes”.
Products and tools for daily hygiene are recurrent: soap and soap box, toothbrushes, razors, underwear, shaving brush, shoehorn, toothbrush, electric razor, hair gelatine, which in some cases is registered as ‘brilliantine’.
Stationery is very common: fountain pens, biro pens, notebooks, sheets.
Some bring with them objects and instruments perhaps related to some passion: music albums and sheets, mouth harmonica, watercolour painting, a terracotta Virgin’s head, magnifying glass, stamp collection, typewriter.
Why these objects?
Talent related to drawing, music or singing was not penalised, on the contrary, it could be cultivated and made available to the Company: many brothers were talented artists and skilled craftsmen, those with a flair for music would follow the boys to the colleges and the brothers to the scholae cantorum.
One might wonder why there were hygiene items in the suitcases. One would expect them to be already in the novitiate. The Order would obviously provide clothes, material, food and whatever would be necessary, especially for the less well-off novices.
Indeed, there are those who arrive at the novitiate without anything. In this case the items were provided by the Company, as happened in the novitiates of the other provinces, also thanks to legacies and donations. We have seen in a previous article on vocations, that the parents of a novice wished for his clothing and objects to remain in the house of first probation, even when he would continue his religious life, so that others could benefit from them.