OUR VISIONARY FOUNDER
Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing was born near Dublin on August 11, 1912. At age 18, he completed doctoral degrees in Sacred Theology and Canon Law. He was ordained a priest in 1935 and named a Monsignor shortly thereafter.
At the outbreak of World War II the Monsignor was working for the Vatican Diplomatic Service. As the fighting around Rome intensified, the Monsignor courageously brought food and medicine to civilians in battle-affected areas, organized evacuations and set up hospitals and clinics. For his efforts, Italy honored Monsignor Carroll-Abbing with the Silver Medal for Military Valor.
Liberation brought an end to the fighting, but not to starvation and homelessness. Due to the Monsignor's heroic efforts during the war, both American and Italian officials recognized him as a man capable of leading relief efforts. He became President of the Italian National Medical Relief Commission and organized a vast aid plan to tackle the problems of malaria and vitamin deficiency. He also became Director of American Relief for Italy and set up a network which fed over 180,000 children.
Particularly concerned with the plight of the thousands of war orphans, Monsignor Carroll-Abbing sought the permission of Pope Pius XII to assist the children living on the streets. With the Pope's blessing, the Monsignor set up the Shoeshine Hotel in the basement of a war-damaged building and organized the shoeshine boys hanging around Rome's Termini train station to come inside for a warm dinner and safe place to sleep.
Monsignor Carroll-Abbing quickly realized that in addition to food and shelter, these youth needed to be given a chance to take on responsibility, to feel appreciated and to gain self-confidence. The first Boys' Town was established in Civitavecchia in 1945 as a self-governing, democratic community complete with its own currency, elected officials, assemblies and courts.
In the post-war period Monsignor travelled throughout the United States and organized volunteer committees which raised money to expand his efforts. By the end of the 1950's, there were eight other Boys' and Girls' Towns throughout Italy.
The Towns have been visited by every American President from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George H.W. Bush, Pope John Paul I, Prince Charles of Wales and Princess Diana of Wales and many other world leaders and celebrities.
Monsignor Carroll-Abbing’s efforts were recognized by humanitarian organizations around the world. He was honored with the Foreign Press Association's World Humanitarian Award in 1985. In 1987 he became the third non-Italian Honorary Citizen of Rome, following U.S. Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Monsignor Carroll-Abbing received the Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1988.
In 2001, Monsignor Carroll-Abbing passed away, but his legacy lives on through A Chance In Life.