As I was reorganizing some files in my office, an old folder, worn and faded, grabbed my attention. When I pulled it from the shelf, a newspaper clipping of the Evening Independent fell on the floor. It was dated July 12, 1949 and it was titled “Italian Boys Towns Lead Orphans Back from Misery to Self-Respect.”
The article talked enthusiastically about the creation in Civitavecchia, north of Rome, of La Repubblica dei Ragazzi (The Boys’ Republic) by Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing. Here is an excerpt from it:
There are seven Boys Towns in Italy now, and 50 smaller centers, which together are caring for 20,000 waifs salvaged from lives of destitution, misery and petty crime. Of them all, Civitavecchia is the paradise. Its center is an old villa standing in a palm-dotted garden on the Mediterranean …
When the war passed over southern and central Italy it left thousands of orphaned, maimed, homeless children …
Monsignor Carroll-Abbing and Father Rivolta decided to establish a center where self-discipline, self-government and self-responsibility would take the place of the discipline normal to orphanages and reformatories …
“We started in Rome in the winter of 1944 with about 100 boys,” Monsignor Carroll-Abbing says. “Our first ‘Shoeshine Hotel’ was the basement of a bombed-out school. … This experiment was so successful that in a few months the villa here [in Civitavecchia] was offered … The boys moved in in August of 1945.”
That was the beginning of what would become La Repubblica dei Ragazzi, the first organized town founded by Monsignor Carroll-Abbing in Italy. A few years later he started his lifelong project in Rome, La Città dei Ragazzi (Boys’ and Girls’ Towns of Italy). Monsignor kept supporting La Repubblica dei Ragazzi, even when he became fully involved with the Towns in Rome.
Our Board of Directors recently decided to sponsor a new project at La Repubblica dei Ragazzi. A Chance In Life will fund the renovation of a building where citizens who turn 18 will be able to live for a few months while they find a job. This allows young boys and girls, at a critical time in their lives, to have a safe place to stay as they prepare to go out in the world.
We are now in three continents, empowering children through self-government to become responsible citizens. Now, like then, this is possible thanks to your generosity. From Civitavecchia to Rome and from Ethiopia to India, our children will be always grateful for the chance in life you are providing to them.