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Father Fracassi - A Tribute To A Great Priest

(THIS ACCOUNT WAS ABSTRACTED FROM THE SALFORD DIOCESAN NEWS SHEET CALLED " THE HARVEST " AND APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN DATED JUNE 1941.)

The Rev. Gaetano Fracassi. S.T.L., Parish Priest of St. Alban's, Ancoats, died at sea on the 2nd July 1940, as a result of enemy action. On the llth of June - within twenty-four hours of Italy's entry into the war - he was removed from his presbytery and interned. It was learnt on the 26th June that he had been transferred to an unknown destination; it was not until 7th March that an unofficial certificate could be issued. According to this, "Fr. Fracassi sailed on the Arandora Star and was not among the survivors".

Requiem Mass was sung at St.Albans on 20th March by Rev. A.McNulty, assisted by Frs.Weston and Daly, in the presence of the Bishop, who gave the Absolutions and preached.

His Lordship gave a brief resume of the circumstances leading up to the internment. "It is with deep sorrow that we are gathered here today to pay a last tribute to one who worked amongst us for so many years; the sorrow which follows the death of a priest is the more profound if his passing is associated with dignity. Fr. Fracassi was not a citizen of this Commonwealth of Nations, his nation is at war with ours. But Christian Charity no national feelings can obliterate; this Charity we extend to our Catholic enemy, and this Charity we extend to our Catholic enemy to extend to our sons who may fall into their hands."

"On the llth of June, I understand, Fr.Fracassi was taken from his home. I knew nothing at all about it officially, but on hearing the story from outside sources, I called at St.Alban's. As soon as I ascertained the truth, I wrote to the Cardinal asking him to point out to the authorities that Fr. Fracassi was an old man and an invalid. I suggested that Fr.Fracassi might be sent back to his own country. The Cardinal was informed that nothing could be done, and Fr. Fracassi was sent to an internment camp."

His lordship then read a letter received from Fr.Fracassi on 17th. June - his last - scribbled in pencil on a scrap of paper.

"I wrote in reply," continued His Lordship, "and on the 26th.June word was received that - all internees, among whom was Fr. Fracassi, have now been transferred to an unknown destination. We cannot, therefore, hand to him your correspondence. In the meantime, however, Fr. Fracassi may be able to communicate with you direct."

"And so we waited. No word arrived, and on 2nd July occurred the sinking of the Andorra Star. In the days that followed many rumours circulated throughout Manchester that Fr. Fracassi had been drowned. Three weeks later when the names of the survivors were being made known, I communicated with the Home Secretary. Some days later I received an acknowledgment and, after some weeks had elapsed, a printed circular asking for further particulars; the form was duly filled in and returned."

"No doubt many will be puzzled at the late date of this Requiem Mass; but it must be realised that no further official notice was received until, in response to a letter of mine in January of this year, I was informed that Fr. Fracassi had sailed on the Arandora Star and was not a survivor following the sinking of the ship on 2nd July. It was not until last week that I secured a certificate serving the purposes of a death certificate."

"I do not wish to comment on Fr.Fracassi's arrest; but I knew him very well and, like others of his close acquaintance, I knew that he was violently opposed to his country entering the war. He was viciously opposed to it and would never even listen to Italian broadcasts. It came, therefore, as great surprise when he was interned. He lived in poverty so extreme that on many occasions his fellow priests came to his assistance, and it is due to this that he made the fatal mistake of renting his parochial club to a political party. But after all, the letting of the this club was no worse than the letting of the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, to political bodies and other organisations I have heard of. I have to say that Fr. Fracassi was loyal and was not in any way whatsoever connected with any body working to harm this country...."

In conclusion. His Lordship appealed to his congregation to remember the deceased priest in their Masses and prayers: " To you, my fellow priests, I commend this dead priest who was never by any means an enemy of this country. There is no tombstone over his body. His grave is the Atlantic. There is nothing to remind you of his death, and so I ask you that, when you pass this church, you will look upon it as his tombstone, and pray for him and teach your children to pray for him."

Fr. Fracassi was born on 18th.April 1876, at Pescarolo, near Cremona,and studied for the priesthood at the local Seminary and at Fribourg, where he obtained his Licentiate in Sacred Theology. He was ordained for the diocese at Lucerne on 3Oth.November, 1898, to serve the large Italian Colony. He loved to describe his arrival - in his soutane, and knowing no English!

He resided for some time at the Cathedral House, and then at St. Bede's College, to study English. It is interesting to recall that the first appointment which he received was as curate to Fr. Timony at St.Alban's. His spiritual work was devoted to Italian residents; he said Mass for them, preached to them and administered the Sacraments both in St.Albans and in St.Joseph's, Goulden Street. But in 1900 he became unsettled and, after a brief period as Chaplain to the Good Shepherd Convent, returned to his native country, where he engaged as a boy's tutor and as a chaplain to an Italian family. He returned to Manchester in 1904 and was appointed to St.Brigids, Manchester, as assistant priest. He was curate at Failsworth in 1906 and remained there for five years. His last curacy was at Greenacres and in 1913 he was made parish priest at Stacksteads, where he worked for nine years - the happiest years of his life. It was with deep regret that he left Stacksteads in 1922 to work once more at St.Alban's.

The death of Fr. Pappalardo had made it advisable that Fr. Fracassi should return. Hardly had he arrived when he was faced with reconstructing the school, which could not be delayed. There was no money; all had to be borrowed. The result was a greatly improved school, with a parochial club, which could be used as a classroom. Unfortunately an unmanageable debt of 7000 was contracted - a heavy burden on so small a parish. To make matters worse, the population began to decline. Owing to slum clearance the population in two years dropped from 1800 to 600, but Fr. Fracassi struggled on in the reduced circumstances to which His Lordship the Bishop referred. In 1933 a nervous breakdown kept him from the parish for the greater part of a year. He never really recovered from his set-back, and in the early part of the war a recurrence of his nervous trouble was feared.

Extremely sensitive to physical pain, his suffering must have been intense. Yet, he evidently bore it with heroic fortitude and retained his spiritual balance to the end. A survivor has said that an incident will always stand out in his memory of the final scene - the sight of Fr. Fracassi raising his hand in absolution over the struggling mass of terrified prisoners as the ship went down. We may, surely, believe that Fr. Fracassi's patron saint was watching over him; that Saint whom he liked to invoke as patron of Divine Providence - St.Cajetan. How few of those who die at sea have the opportunity of receiving absolution before the end! Fr.Fracassi used often to say. "St.Cajetan never lets me down !" Whilst we devoutly hope that such heroism in the performance of his priestly duty may have been sufficiently meritorious in the sight of God, we trust that all who know him, and especially those who shared his company, will remember him frequently at the Altar and in their prayers.

May he rest in peace !

 

 
The Very Reverend Father Gaetano Fracassi 1876-1940

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