Life as a Salesian a privilege for Fr Frank

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Life as a Salesian a privilege for Fr Frank
Fr Frank Bertagnolli with Dominic College year 10 leavers.

Fr Frank Bertagnolli has dedicated more than 60 years to working with youth, especially those who are struggling in life.

In fact it was the charism of the Salesians to help young people and his own experiences with the order growing up, that led him to become a Salesian at the age of 15.

One of seven children raised in a small village in the Italian Alps, a young Frank grew up with Salesian Sisters in his strongly Catholic community.

“The Sisters were running a kindergarten, child minding centre, weekend activities… so we all were in there,” Fr Frank said.

He was also inspired by a neighbour who became a priest and encouraged him to look for further education opportunities through the Salesians, in other parts of Italy.

“So I went away to do secondary education with the idea of becoming a draftsman,” Fr Frank said.

“When I was about 14 or 15 one of the priests said to me ‘what are you doing here, you should be studying to become a Salesian,’ so I said I’d give it a go.”

As a Salesian, Fr Frank has studied and worked in many parts of the world.

Fr Frank said the Salesians had a strong focus on missionaries gaining work experience before studying for their final vows.

“After the first three or four years of study we all take a break and do actual youth work,” he said.

“When you have had the experience of teaching or working, you go back to studies and think about whether you really want to follow this vocation.”

For Fr Frank, the decision to take his final vows was not a difficult one.

In 1956, after completing his philosophical studies and teacher training, Fr Frank was asked to come to Australia.

While Melbourne was not the first ‘mission territory’ Fr Frank expected to be sent to, he found a rewarding start teaching at Salesian College, in Sunbury.

“I am still in touch with many of the people I taught in those days, several are retired and are grandfathers now,” he said.

During his years as a Salesian, Fr Frank helped develop many facilities for young people, particularly in Samoa, Melbourne and most notably at Boys’ Town in Sydney.

He first came to Tasmania in 1977 as principal and rector of Dominic College, but after being elected Salesian Provincial for Australia and the Pacific, was called back to Melbourne after four years.

Six years ago Fr Frank, who is now 78, returned to Dominic College where he is now rector and is part of a small Salesian religious community in Tasmania of five.

He is also still active in youth work, through the school’s Magone Centre, showing young people that “with a bit of help and support you can make a change in your life.”

“Is it a privilege to be a Salesian and to do this work, even though it can be challenging,” Fr Frank said.

“Every day I thank almighty God for giving me these opportunities of helping so many people and being useful in life to others in some way.”