THE COLOGNE OF PREGGIO 1949 - 1960
The story told by the protagonists themselves
Before telling the story of the Colonia di Preggio, I think it is necessary to frame it in the historical period in which it began. We are in 1949, close to the end of a disastrous war which, in addition to the destruction and deaths it left behind, also left most of the population of our country in a state of profound misery. And this also happened in Umbria, in Umbertide and in Preggio. Many families had difficulty putting together lunch and dinner every day, even if the solidarity between people typical of the rural areas helped to alleviate the state of discomfort. In this difficult context, the Archbishopric of Perugia decided to establish in Preggio the male college of the "Madonna delle Grazie" colony where in the period from 1949 to 1960 many poor, disadvantaged and orphaned children were hosted, mainly from Umbria but also from other regions. From 1961 to 1963 the facility continued to function only as a summer camp. The period of stay of the children was about five years, those necessary to attend the state primary school in Preggio.
The management of the Colony was entrusted to the "Sisters of Providence and the Immaculate Conception" who were helped in following the children by some young teachers also from Umbertide.
The number of guest children was about 80/85, aged from 6 to 12/14 years, and together with the children of Preggio and its surroundings they formed the five elementary classes.
During the summer, after school was over, many children who could not return home remained in the boarding school. The only holiday was that of a few days by the sea at the “Colonia Stella Maris” in Senigallia, also owned by the Archbishopric of Perugia.
For the children they were very hard years, away from home, from family affections, forced to follow, at that age, the rules and the rigid discipline of the boarding school but, as is also clear from their testimonies, they managed to overcome it thanks to the spirit of brotherhood that had been created between them.
The flood of the Polesine
In 1951 the flood of the Po caused the disastrous flood of the Polesine which affected a large part of the province of Rovigo and part of that of Venice, causing almost 100 victims and about 180 thousand displaced persons, with dramatic social and economic consequences. In the poor Italy of that time, however, a generous race of solidarity was opened to help the populations of those territories devastated by the disaster. With this spirit, the Diocese of Perugia decided to give hospitality to some children of the flooded city of Adria, in the province of Venice, at the colony of Preggio.
The visit of the Patriarch of Venice and future Pope Angelo Roncalli
An important date, for those who could have been there and still remember it with great pleasure, was that of May 30, 1955 when the then Patriarch of Venice Angelo Roncalli came to Preggio.
The future Pope John XXIII and today a saint, came to Preggio to thank the population and the workers of the college for having given hospitality to some children of Adria.
The celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the event
To worthily celebrate the 60th anniversary of this historic event, with Oscar Marta as president, the Committee of the ex-children of the Colony who today are people of seventy years and over was formed, which together with the Pro-loco di Preggio organized a gathering of ex children of the Colony for 30 May 2015. After an intense research work, many of the ex children of the Colony found themselves in Preggio on an unforgettable day, without physically recognizing themselves after so many years, but recognizing themselves in the various stories of the past period in Cologne. And it was a particularly emotional and emotional moment for all of them. This special day was attended, in addition to the president of the local Pro-loco Alberto Bufali and the former children of the Colony, also the mayor of Umbertide Marco Locchi, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti (president of the CEI), the parish priest of Preggio Don Francesco Bastianoni and two masters Antonietta Vagniluca and Antonio Miscia, teachers in Preggio during the Colony period. It was also an opportunity to inaugurate the naming of the main square of Preggio to Pope John XXIII, the good and holy Pope, with a plaque donated by the former children of the Colony, who thus wanted to pay homage to the preggese for the generosity shown in the against them during their time in Cologne.
A book to tell the history of the colony
From that event the idea was also born of creating a book that would tell the story of the Colonia di Preggio, starting from the memories, emotions and testimonies of those who lived that life experience firsthand. The publication, edited by the president of the Pro-loco of the time Alberto Bufali and by the ex-children committee of the Colony, is full of documents and photographs that trace the history of the Colony which is intertwined with that of Preggio in that historical period. There is also talk of the elementary school, with the school registers from 1952 to 1963, the kindergarten, the teachers who accompanied the life of the children and the numerous testimonies of life in the Colony, recovered with patience and dedication by the committee of former children.
The work carried out by Alberto Bufali and his collaborators is a precious gift for our entire community and beyond. An accurate testimony of a difficult historical period in a small town where solidarity was never lacking.
Extracts from the interventions of President Bufali and Cardinal Bassetti
Alberto Bufali , president of the Proloco:
“Today Preggio is the center of the world. Center of so many universes of humanity as all those people who talk about themselves today teach us.
Stories of men, women and children who meet again here in Preggio, after having searched and found each other with great enthusiasm and great joy. Enthusiasm and joy that involved everyone, especially the preggese, thrilled to relive a historic day like the one 60 years ago,
when Pope Roncalli came here to Preggio.
To underline the importance of this event, we commissioned a philatelic cancellation with the image of Saint John XXIII from the Italian Post Office, we also gave those present a souvenir parchment, and finally we signed a donation for the children of Nepal affected by the earthquake ".
Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti:
"The emotion is also great for me who am here in this somewhat extreme fraction of the Municipality of Umbertide and the Diocese of Perugia, and as Pope Francis says all the suburbs must be visited, but I take the opportunity of the fact that after 60 years a cardinal arrives here and I also feel this responsibility and this profound emotion.
Since you also remembered Pope Francis, I want to bring you a greeting and a blessing from him too, because I haven't seen him long ago.
Pope Francis is deeply linked to Pope Roncalli, not only for reasons of sympathy, but also by the way he approaches people. When one reads a sentence like the one reported on the commemorative plaque "Always learn to greet the people you meet, because you will form a sweet and peaceful soul and you will get along with everyone and you will have a peaceful life", are also the sentences of Pope Francis , always phrases of profound human wisdom.
On the other hand, there cannot be Christian wisdom without human wisdom. But there is another reason more: I know Pope Francis quite well, I also met Pope Roncalli in an audience as a seminarian and he had prepared a sheet for the speech, then to a
some point he put down the paper and said “No, I want to tell you some words that come from the heart, I want to tell you something more immediate” a bit like Pope Francis does ”.
Then, addressing the former children, he continues:
“You came together because you have good memories. It is true that you have been deprived of family affections, but it is also true that you have received assistance that you otherwise would not have had.
You studied and this allowed you to work later. You have acquired principles of Christian life that have served you to form your family, principles that you have passed on to your children and grandchildren. The commemorative plaque has a meaning of human and Christian wisdom. The
greeting is a sign of education and then a sign of friendship and fraternity ".
Finally, the blessing of the commemorative plaque:
“Lord bless us all and this plaque which commemorates an episode of humanity and exquisite evangelical value, which remembers precisely the visit of a great Bishop such as Pope Roncalli. Make this plaque that will remain here among us and in our homes, remain as a
a sign of goodness, as a touch of God's grace and as an example that will also be passed on to our children and to all generations. For Christ Our Lord Amen ”.
The comments and testimonies of some of the former children of the colony
Oscar Marta of Perugia:
On 30 May 2015, 60 years since the visit of the then Patriarch of Venice, Angelo Roncalli, who became Pope John XXIII and is now a saint, the former children and young people of the Madonna delle Grazie colony in Preggio, found themselves placing a plaque in memory.
The Patriarch's visit was due to thank the workers of the Colony led by Mother Superior Sister Giuseppina Donati, and the population of Preggio for the hospitality given in 1952 to the displaced children after the Polesine flood.
…… ..All the people of the Proloco did their utmost to ensure the success of the event and that is why the former colonials donated the commemorative plaque to the population of Preggio.
During my introductory speech as president of the association, thanking them for the presence of the Cardinal and the Mayor, I prayed to them not to let the structure of the Colony go to waste, but that they would do their best to renovate it to accommodate children in need and disadvantaged. I also urged everyone present to seek out people willing to do this.
Pierino Monaldi of San Secondo (PG):
“…… .. but I must tell you that the greatest emotion is to see that less fortunate friends arrived in wheelchairs, with walking problems, helped by their families, yes, but they were there, and they were happy. I saw tears of happiness fall from their eyes.
Like all of us, they must have said we are there too WE HAVE DONE IT!
…… .we ex children on that day of May 30, 2015, as ex children in need we wanted to think of the children of Nepal by collecting donations. It is a good amount that has been reached, but for real needs it is like a grain of sand, like a drop in the sea. But many drops form the oceans.
…… .and then I tell you that the other desire, this too is not impossible, and I tell you with the words of Pope Francis: NEVER AGAIN THE WAR. Thus no child will be denied the embrace of a father because the war killed him.
I would like to remind you that Pope John XXIII, today Saint, saved us from the third world conflict, therefore nothing is impossible, each in his own small way gives his contribution ”.
Pierino Monaldi, orphan of war, son of Giuseppe. Buried in the Italian Military Cemetery of Honor in Ojendorf (Hamburg, Germany) with 5,849 other fallen Italians.
Beniamino Ingegneri , currently living in Milan, originally from Adria:
"Sometimes I forget recent facts and people, but by association of ideas and memories I have clear my experience of sixty years ago, in fact, as I have already written I cannot forget that particular period for me and for my brothers Angelo, Leopoldo and my cousins now in America.
…… ..dear preggesi, it was a brilliant idea to dedicate the square to San Giovanni XXIII.
A historical sign that you lived and worthily handed down to future generations. In my name and in that small group of former flood victims now dispersed throughout the world, I express to you, some of whom I remember with affection, my sincere wishes for a happy holiday and a future of
serene prosperity ".
Friar Leopoldo Ingegneri , Capuchin, brother of Beniamino, writes from Budapest:
“I am very sorry not to be able to be present in person at the event you have decided and are carrying out in your city.
…… I remember the trip from Perugia to Preggio. I did it in "ape" the means of transporting goods for the nuns. I was alone, I was crying, but I consoled myself by eating the apples that were on the bee.
… ..Of course the flood was a sad experience. But I thank the Lord who consoled my sadness with the presence, the affection and the concrete and disinterested help of so many people of Preggio. Preggio, for me is synonymous with generosity and hospitality, qualities that enriched and built my childhood and that now, in the mission in Hungary in which I find myself I try to repeat and
to give to others ".
Angelo Ingegneri , brother of Beniamino and Leopoldo, writes from Milan:
“64 years have passed since that short period spent in Preggio with my brothers and cousins. But that period has stuck in my mind, and I always remember it, even today, with great pleasure.
Unfortunately for health reasons I am unable to be physically present in the midst of flights in this extraordinary event, but only with my mind and heart.
There is a detail of your celebration that moves me and fills me with joy, and that is your choice of owner of the central square of your beautiful town in San Giovanni XXIII.
As you well know Angelo Roncalli, before being appointed pope, was our beloved Patriarch of Venice. And it fills me with emotion to know that he personally felt the need to go to Preggio to thank all the citizens for having hosted a group of Venetian boys who escaped from the disastrous flood of the Polesine.
So I too, albeit very late, thank you for this gesture of solidarity and welcome.
Beniamino, Angelo and Leopoldo are part of that group of children from Adria who were hosted in Preggio after the Polesine flood and for whom the Patriarch of Venice Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII exactly sixty years ago, came to Preggio.
- Photographic Archive of the Municipality of Umbertide, Corradi Photographic Archive
- The photos of the flood in the Polesine from the adria.italiani.it website
- "The Colony of Preggio - The children of the Collegio tell stories 1949 - 1960" by Alberto Bufali and the former children's Committee of the Colony, Local Publishing Group - Digital Editor Srl - Umbertide, 2017
- Local information - n.4 2017, “La Colonia di Preggio: a book to remember it” by Eva Giacchè
- Preggio News - December 2015
- Press release by Pierino Monaldi