What were Don Bosco’s missionary plans for Argentina once he had set foot in that land? With the information in his possession thanks to research by Fr Giulio Barberis, and to correspondence with local authorities and Salesian missionaries, six months after the first expedition Don Bosco was able to send the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide, Cardinal Alessandro Franchi, a first report on the immediate results of the work of Salesian missionaries in Argentina (no. 98). He asked for financial aid and the setting up of an Apostolic Prefecture for the territories of Pampa and Patagonia to refer those who belonged to no institution either ecclesiastical or civil.
He also asked for financial support from the Italian Minister for External Affairs for Salesian assistance to Italian immigrants in Argentina (no. 99), and from benefactors in general for houses already opened in Argentina, those requested in Chile, for the costs of voyages and the necessary personal effects for new missionaries (no. 100).
At the end of 1877 he once again sent the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda Fide a new broad-ranging memo on the importance of the Salesian missions, on the results achieved over two years, on the personnel involved and his limited financial resources. He finished with a request to erect an Apostolic Vicariate in central north Patagonia and an Apostolic Prefecture further south (no. 101).
As soon as the new Prefect of Propaganda Fide, Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni was appointed, Don Bosco briefly repeated the same request, which amongst other things he had also forwarded to the new Pope Leo XIII, who shared Don Bosco’s plans for America and India, but left all decision in that regard to the appropriate Congregation (no. 102).
He sent a memo on the state of the Salesian Society in the Patagonian missions to the same pontiff in April 1879, and again asked for formal recognition by the Holy see for those parts, so he could obtain financial assistance from the Pious Work of the Propagation of the Faith in Lyon and the Holy Childhood (no. 103).
Broad-ranging information with attached documentation on the progress of the Salesian missions are contained in two other memos: above all in a broad report to the Pope on the missions in Patagonia in 1880 again with a view to obtaining an Apostolic Vicariate in Patagonia, and then in an even briefer but detailed history of the individual Salesian foundations in Patagonia sent to the Work of Propagation of the Faith in Lyon in March 1882, so he could have some financial support to improve apostolic results (no. 105).
The repeated requests for new juridical circumscriptions were accepted the following year. On November 16, 1883 the Vicariate and Apostolic prefecture, so long desired, were erected (no. 106).
Our brief collection concludes with a circular to missionary Cooperators in 1886 (no. 107), translated into 4 languages and sent all round the world, in which Don Bosco referred to the imminent development of Salesian works in Chile, down in the Magellan territories in the south, in Brazil, while he renewed his request for prayers and for financial help.
Nine expeditions had already left with more than 100 Salesian missionaries and 40 Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. While Don Bosco was still alive, a further three expeditions followed (April and December 1886, December 1887) with around thirty other missionaries, men and women who by now had arrived in the extreme south of Chile (Punta Arenas, 1887).
Reference time period: 1876 – 1886
Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 306-348.
Istituto Storico Salesiano