Sebastiano Natali

Born in Gallipoli on March 11, 1887 and left, after only 4 years, fatherless he grew up under the care of his paternal grandfather in the new suburb of which he himself wrote some 50 years later: “I projected my physical and intellectual gaze on this poor area, pondered its birth, its growth, its future development; I looked at it deprived of all assistance, I grieved for a population not very civilized and areligious, so much so that I could find there the “non est qui faciat bonum non este usque ad unum”, and mysteriously felt in me the quivering of an apostolate in the one and the other field”.

Having completed his technical studies in 1900, he spent the following year in the local seminary where he completed his classical and philosophical studies. In his thoughts there was always the village and he was meditating on devoting himself completely as a priest to its social and moral rehabilitation: “if I become a priest, I will create houses of education for civilization and a temple for religion”. He completed his studies at the Jesuits in Lecce and on December 12, 1912, they consecrated him a priest.

Two years later Bishop Muller rector of the seminary appointed him spiritual father of the Confraternity of the Rosary and deputy curate of Sannicola, from which he carried out an intense mission as confessor and spiritual director of the nuns and community of the Starace Institute in Alezio. In January 1916 he became pastor of the newly established parish of the village in S. Maria del Canneto. However, he soon had to leave it because he was called to perform his duty as a soldier during World War I, during which he was appointed canon.

In Lecce he carried out his ministry as military chaplain. From there he returned to Gallipoli in 1919, resuming his duties as parish priest and especially his old project for the village. In January 1920, as he himself wrote, “he succeeded in planting in the heart of the Borgo a Cross and sowing the seed of two houses of education for the one and the other sex”.
For this they considered him a “fool” as they could not see any possibility of raising sufficient funds for the young priest’s ambitious projects.

Instead, he obtained from the municipality, in 1922, the formal concession of land for the construction of the parish church and a large boarding school for boys. Work on one and the other began in 1930 thanks to handouts from the Province of Lecce, the General Bursar’s Office for Vacant Benefits, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Insurance Institute, various Banks, and above all to the proceeds of three national raffles in 1924, 1925 and 1930.

The boys’ boarding school, inaugurated on Dec. 8, 1930, took the name of the Michele Bianchi Institute; fourth and fifth grade and first gymnasium school courses were immediately established there with 63 students. By the 1931-32 school year the number of pupils had increased to 103 with the establishment of second, third and fourth gymnasium courses as well.

For this work canon Natali had to suffer the ostracism of a part of the local bourgeoisie; although he had employed in the meritorious work a large part of his paternal property, he had to undergo burning accusations of mismanagement and squandering of public funds. Reason why he thought he could defend himself by giving to the press a volume of memoirs and documents; they published it in Rome in 1938 under the title of History of a Work of Divine Providence and a Life of Apostolate.

But he had recklessly challenged political and civil authority, even violating press laws. The volume was immediately seized. Subsequently Canon Natali, much to the delight of his enemies, was sentenced to a short period of exile in Cephalonia. After the war Canon Natali resumed his great project for Gallipoli by engaging in another great social work: the Institute for Abandoned Children.
It arose as if by magic on a barren area of contrada “Arene” , on the scirocco seafront; it was immediately entrusted to the Salesian Fathers who directed it for some time. He was also planning to build a similar institute on land he owned there where Falcone-Borsellino Park stands today.

He had reserved for himself a small room at the “Salesian” Institute, where he lived, very poor, until the day death seized him on 2.4.1967.
All that Canon Natali had accomplished, after his death, passed into public availability dispersing what was supposed to be the social function in favor of the underprivileged classes and underprivileged youth.