Skip to main content
Historical Archives
Jesuits - Euro-Mediterranean Province
Historical Archives Curiosities and news The apostolate in orphanages

The apostolate in orphanages

Foto di gruppo di bambini ospitati nell'orfanotrofio di Scutari in Albania negli anni 1920-1930 - Archivio Storico, Gesuiti - Provincia Euro-Mediterranea

Among the many apostolates of the Society of Jesus is the spiritual care of orphans. In the New Society we do not have many traces of this apostolate, so far records of three orphanages have been found in the archives, of which only two have a connection with the Society.

L’accoglienza di neonati e bambini

Exposed, projectees, foundlings are many of the names by which children who were orphaned or entrusted from an early age to the facilities that cared for them were defined, famous the famous “Wheel of the Exposed” that guaranteed that a child who could not be cared for could be left anonymously.

Over time, especially in the West, large orphanage facilities have been closed, and today children and youth live in foster homes, awaiting adoption or foster care.

The management of orphanages was often entrusted to women’s religious orders, confraternities, hospitals, later to the state so in our Historical Archives we find neither records of the children received in the institutions, nor material on their identities only. The documentation, which is often scarce, tells us about the existence of these institutes whose memory has often been lost and about the apostolate the Jesuits carried out here.

These papers can also help researchers concerned with the history of care for abandoned children by providing information on religious care.

The sources

In Albania, in Shkodra, the Jesuits participated in the organization of a boys’ orphanage between the 1920s and 1930s; we are left with some letters, financial records and a few photographs. During the communist regime the Jesuits lost all property and we have no sources regarding the history of the orphanage from the 1940s onward.

In the case of the Fermo brefotrophy, of which we find traces in the Roman Province fund, there are no records of apostolates: the correspondence relates to the resolution of a census in favor of the Conservatory he exposed of St. Mary of Charity. The Jesuits therefore had no ministries within the institute.

In today’s in-depth study, however, we will get to find out what spiritual assistance consisted of, thanks to the third orphanage of which we have documentation.

The orphanage in Chieri

On November 22, 1887, and a board meeting is underway at the Chieri orphanage, convened precisely to discuss the impossibility for Fr. Cerutti to assist the Pious Institute, as reported by the Rector of the house of St. Anthony.

P. Cerutti was a Jesuit, was part of the Chieri residence and was in charge of religious assistance in the orphanage. He was now very old, in his eighties, and Fr. Torti, the rector who is named in the document, had proposed to discontinue his apostolate, to be replaced by other religious.

At the insistence of those in charge of the orphanage he had then guaranteed his confrere’s commitment for weekdays.

What were Fr. Cerutti’s tasks?

The apostolate in the orphanage

In addition to the minutes, a document is preserved that lists the “duties of the Reverend Chaplain of the Orphanage Chieri Institute,” among which are the daily Mass and blessing of the Blessed Sacrament on the following feasts and occasions:

“on all Sundays and holy days of obligation,
in the main Novenas of the year,
on the seven Wednesdays preceding the feast of St. Joseph,
in the novenas and on St. Joseph’s Day,
on the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the titular feast day in the church of reference for the guests of the orphanage
on the feast day of St. Louis,
on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
in that of St. Jerome, patron of the institute,
on that of the Assumption of Mary, on the Immaculate Conception,
at Christmas.
On the first day of the year
on the last day of the year
on the day of St. Stephen
on the day of the Purification
every day of the month of May, dedicated to Our Lady”.

The Jesuit also ensured attendance at solemn services on the days of the Most Holy Annunciation, Quarantore, Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Jerome.

He was also engaged in the explanation of the Gospel and catechesis from the first Sunday in November, until the first Sunday in August, exceptions being those of Advent and Lent during which the guests of the orphanage attended preaching in the parish.

Other Jesuits may have held ministries in the orphanages; one of the earliest sources is the annual historical catalog, although it does not report all the assignments of each Jesuit, e.g., for Fr. Cerutti there is no record of it.

The photographs accompanying today’s in-depth study depict children taken in at the orphanage in Shkodra; they were found in the file of Fr. Giovanni Longoni who was assigned to Shkodra for five years between 1928 and 1933 during which he had worked at the institution.

This is the only case where the names of the children are preserved in the back, and this may allow their descendants a search to ascertain the presence of their ancestor in this institution.

Maria Macchi