Mario Borrelli

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Mario Borrelli
Mario Borrelli 1965.tif
Mario Borrelli in the mid-60's
Born(1922-09-19)19 September 1922
Naples, Italy
Died13 February 2007(2007-02-13) (aged 84)
Oxford, UK
Known forChildren of the Sun
a Morris West's book;
Il bacio del sole - Don Vesuvio
a Siro Marcellini's movie;
La Casa dello Scugnizzo (The House of Urchins) - Founder;
CCM (Materdei Community Centre) - Founder;
IPRI - Italian Peace Research Institute - Founder;
AwardsStella della bontà (1963)
Honorary Member of the Deutscher Kinderschutzbund
Ecclesiastical career
ChurchRoman Catholic Church

Mario Borrelli (Naples, 19 September 1922 – Oxford, 13 February 2007) was a Neapolitan priest, sociologist and educationist.

In the 50's he established a home for the street children of Naples which later evolved into an international network for social support, called Casa dello scugnizzo (House of the Urchins). Subsequently, following his laicization, he maintained his international reputation for his civil commitment and his studies on peace research and education.

«The insecure, tormented, down-trodden people, in whom we are submerged, are no different from all the others spread over the rest of the world, even if their eyes, skins, creeds are not the same as ours. Our common destiny is to be the guts of the world, digesting the myths that have sustained empires and manufacturing the vital lymph to sustain the world of tomorrow. Hard work though it may be, we are beginning to digest today's society and church; in time we shall make one another better. Although my white hair and the weight of years make me feel I'll never see the promised land, they have not deprived me of my serenity, enthusiasm or joy in my labours; the urgent thing now is not to get split up, but to close the ranks in support of all who, loyally identifying themselves with the most defenceless, are making their presence felt in the social fabric of our city. They, and all you others scattered everywhere, will be my sweetest consolation when I depart this life.»

Mario Borrelli, The continuing story from Morris West, Children of the sun, Fontana Books Ltd, 1983.


Childhood and education[edit]

Born in a family of the working-class, Mario Borrelli interrupts his education at the age of nine for economic needs and works, for three years, as a metal gilders and lad in a barber shop, his mother and father are modest artisan goldsmith's in Naples and have other four children. Eager to resume his studies, at the age of twelve, he decides to stop working and is accepted at the Apostolic School, thanks to the efforts of his mother and financial support of Father Nobilione, a priest who attended the barber shop where he used to work and who will pay the school fee for the first year. In 1946, Mario is consecrated priest and immediately stands out in his vocation for the poor and discriminated: in Naples he founds the first section of the “Gioventù Operaia” (Young Labourers) and is one of the promoters of “ONARMO” Opera Nazionale per l'Assistenza Religiosa e Morale degli Operai (National Labour for the Religious and Moral Assistance of Workers), becoming the factory chaplain of various companies. During these years, he reaches the most remote suburbs of the city with his “flying church”, a little second-hand Austin car he had bought by the Allies in departure from Naples, whose trunk he had transformed in an altar for the Mass and in a puppet theatre to teach catechism to children. In 1949, the young priest teaches religion at the Jacopo Sannazaro High School of Naples although he is not a common religion teacher since he knows the most remote corners and streets of Naples and, together with his seminary companion, Father Ciccio (Francesco) Spada, he decides to carry out an enterprise among the street children, commonly called in Naples “scugnizzi” (street urchins).

«…how does the street urchin live? The essence of life is the gang. Six, seven, eight and in some cases up to twenty youngsters organized in a gang with a leader. A leader who has been able to impose on its own in perfect style with the wild; the rules of the street can be considered a subchapter of the rules of the wild.»

Mario Borrelli, Marciapiedi, Edizioni La Meridiana, Molfetta, 1995.

The venture among the street urchins of Naples[edit]

The “street urchins” in the era of post World War II are abandoned children, who survive precariously. Adults can guarantee them no food nor lodging, let alone education, and actually, in the general disorder of those years, for their extreme poverty and deceitful tricks, street urchins more commonly elicit disdain than pity. In this social context, Father Mario Borrelli is certain that the “street urchin” is not a delinquent and, after having obtained permission by this superiors, he decides to dress like a street urchin and, at night, mingles with them sharing their life and misadventures in the street, for four months. In the meantime, Father Ciccio Spada and the other priests of the Comunità Piccola Opera di Materdei organize a provisional dormitory in the small deconsecrated church of San Gennariello, with the hope that Father Mario convinces the street urchins to find shelter there at least for a night. During one of these nights as a street urchin, Father Mario reveals his true identity to the gang he belongs to and, not without discussions, succeeds in bringing the street urchins to the dormitory of San Gennariello. In a few months, hundreds of youngsters are housed in the structure that will soon to become the Casa dello Scugnizzo (The House of the Urchins), a community more than an orphanage, where nobody is forced to stay unwillingly and where all participate to the community's expenses working as junk dealers.

The Casa dello scugnizzo offerered hospitality, boarding, education and moral support to the young and homeless, taking the place of the family; the education given to the young has as aim the single individual's engagement in relationship to the needs of the community to whom it belongs and, with the help of public charities, in a few months the boys are lifted from the burden of work to leave space to schooling and professional training.

«…Mario is an uncommon priest, who becomes a street urchin “like them” by taking off his talar, when the Little Brothers of Charles de Foucauld and their experience of incarnation is still in the future. And Mario is a peculiar priest, who lives “with them” to accompany them towards freedom, when the theology of liberation is yet to be practiced, and all this when the churches of the world, catholic and protestant, at their best operate “for them”. »

Giuliana Martirani, Foreword of Marciapiedi, Edizioni La Meridiana, Molfetta, 1995.

The Casa dello scugnizzo[edit]

Between 1951 and 1969, Casa dello scugnizzo was not only the physical location providing assistance and support to the street urchins but more importantly it is a network of committees and voluntary groups, distributed throughout Europe and The United States. What truly allows the House of the Urchins to bring up the boys, in fact, is the fund-raising carried out by the community of Italian, English, American, Canadian, Australian, French, German, Belgian, and Dutch voluntary groups; the true novelty is the simple approach followed up by the Casa, which fascinates educators and families of catholic, Anglican and Protestant origin. Father Borrelli's reputation is enhanced by national (Stella della bontà 1963) and international (Honorary Member of the Deutscher Kinderschutzbund: Federation for the protection of youth) recognitions, the American magazine Reader's Digest, translated in more than 12 languages, spreads his story around the world and, in 1957, Children of the Sun, the biographic novel of Father Borrelli's undertakings written by Morris West, increases his popularity in the Anglophile world by transforming him into a “myth”. In 1958, the film Il bacio del sole (aka Il Bacio del Sole-Don Vesuvio), taking inspiration from Mario's venture among the street urchins, is released at the cinema and distributed throughout Europe, while the English broadcasting ITV Television Playhouse produces a biographical television series entitled “Children of the sun”. Father Mario puts his great popularity at the service of the poor, maladapted and socially excluded children of Naples: he continues to raise funds incessantly for the street urchins and their poor families. Likewise the American priest Henry Rosso, founder of the first fund-raising school in the world, Mario Borrelli's way to raise consciousness for the poor can be described as the art to teach people the joy to give. Several conferences taking place in various parts of the world allow Father Borrelli to strengthen his, already florid, network of contacts in support of his initiatives and while the Casa dello Scugnizzo builds additional housing and offers the boys new possibilities of training and education, Mario identifies the context in which child abandonment is rooted. During the 60's, Father Mario comes to the conclusion that the underlying problems, the social causes of abandonment, maladaptation and social exclusion remain yet unresolved, he decides to live in the Neapolitan slums, together with the Little Sisters of Charles de Foucauld, at the core of a network of voluntary groups of Christian origin that look at the Vatican Council II as a spiritual and civil source and inspiration.

«10 dicembre 1962. If somebody asks me why I am here in the slums, I must honestly reply I don't really know. I could reply: “Because I love you”. If someone from outside addresses me the same question, what do you think I should reply? “Because I love them”. Even this sounds like a sentence that has become rusty by centuries of abandonment. We have become Pharisees and always prefer considering the poor as the sole responsibles of their misery.» Mario Borrelli, Un prete nelle baracche, La Locusta, Vicenza, 1967.

The return to the lay state[edit]

In 1967, Father Mario, has published several historical-archival works since he has succeeded in obtaining a diploma in diplomatic and archival paleography, other than carrying out his pastoral activity. After having followed a short course in sociology at the TUFT University, he decides to enroll at the London School of Economics to obtain the most accredited Master in Social Administration of the time. In the meantime, he has come to the decision to leave priesthood as his personal, moral and political, views are incompatible to those of the Neapolitan Christian church; the conservative position of the local Christian church appears to him to be in contrast with the Christian mandate and, thus, adverse to the social changes so necessary for the human and cultural development of the Neapolitan working class. His idea of a participative democracy, so close to the position of intellectuals like Paulo Freire or clerics as Frei Betto, makes way and is in total contradiction with the government proposed in Naples by the representatives of the Democrazia Cristiana (Christian Democratic Party). Even on a personal level, the return to the lay state seems to represent a natural step for him on his human journey, rather than an afterthought of sorts, he remains a member of the Congregation of San Filippo Neri as a laic and gets married.

«…I have never understood in what way the Kingdom of God could be incarnated in public life as a clan of groups of human interest that would use God as flag and tablecloth for their daily meal. In what way an elected boss, through his patronal-Mafia network, could bring God to the Neapolitans and make them more honest and good examples of Christianity; when I realized that this Church felt the message too metaphorically and remained distant and absent from the poor, I felt cheated in my vocation. I felt as a prisoner, a wheel of a mechanism that tended to save and perpetuate itself instead of saving and helping others.» Mario Borrelli, Tanquam Peripsema, Naples, 1970.

The Materdei Community Centre[edit]

The next step is to reflect the activities of the House of the Urchins in a wider and more communal dimension, "opening" the Institute to the outside world by eliminating the boarding and lodging facilities, and by constituting a multi-purpose social structure, which provides different services in response to practical and immediate needs, but at the same time, which functions as “ignition” and stimulus for a community-based participation. Twenty years of historical research leave the pace to social studies, disseminated in international conferences and shared among the collaborators. For ten years, the Materdei Community Centre focuses its activities on the defence of women and children rights, schooling and health, especially during the outbreaks of cholera and “male oscuro” (obscure illness), an infantile disease affecting the respiratory system and particularly common among the children of Naples at the time whose name was derived by its inexplicable nature and difficult diagnosis and treatment; the Community Centre also provides direct social assistance, promotes initiatives in favour of the local community and coordinates the voluntary groups of Naples.

«Until everyone continues to rush, and wants to be first, to gain more at any expense, even by trodding on others in every sense it will be difficult to entrench peace, which consists essentially in the perfect balance between power and resources. What is necessary instead is a work of social reform where the cooperation of others is essential. In the end, humanity is like a wall of bricks: every row needs the other rows to avoid collapsing. Courage is not heroism: it is a moral duty, a social responsibility.»

Mario Borrelli, from the interview released to Donatella Trotta, E nel dopoguerra spuntò Don Vesuvio, Il Mattino, 1985.

The Italian Peace Research Institute[edit]

In 1977, Mario Borrelli, Tonino Drago and Giuliana Martirani founded Italian Peace Research Institute (IPRI), chaired by the same Borrelli until 1988; the Institute is affiliated to IPRA, the International Peace Research Association, founded in 1964 by Johan Galtung and which counts with 26 researchers and 250 correspondents distributed in 60 Italian cities. The small institute has the aim to promote initiatives focused on peace research that involve voluntary associations and non-violent peace-inspired movements, a network of people operating in universities and in basic movements for peace. IPRI follows the same path of its international sister institution by promoting research in the field of communal non-violent defence, peace education and non-violent economy and also publishes a bulletin, the IPRI Newsletter; this small institute contributes to some of the major works on peace research published internationally, ranging from economic development to the international division of labour, from the social services for children to peace research and education. Mario Borrelli is also a member of the P.E.C., Peace Education Commission, within the IPRA. Various essays, but especially the experimentation carried out at the Materdei Community Centre, remain as testimony of his experience as a researcher for peace education.

«Naples is a large swamp in which it is difficult to swim. People who really want to work hard, by sowing seeds on a daily basis, become enemies of the city by fighting against the conspiracy of the precarious, or institutionalization of the provisional, and of disgrace on which this city seems to live on, and which has increasingly deteriorated over the last five or six years or so. The earthquake has been devastating: it has broken the harmony, although only apparent, and has given an enormous power to the emerging social class of “organized crime”; the dominant impression is thus that of a “perpetual begging at all levels that ensures survival”. .»

Mario Borrelli, from the interview released to Donatella Trotta, E nel dopoguerra spuntò Don Vesuvio, Il Mattino, 1985.


The list below refers to the most significant works written by Mario Borrelli during the entire length of his activity.


  • Mario Borrelli e Anthony Thorne, A street lamp and the stars, London, Peter Davies, 1963 (Italian translation: Mario Borrelli e Anthony Thorne, Naples d'oro e di stracci, Rome, Borla Editore, 1965.)
  • Mario Borrelli, Un prete nelle baracche, Vicenza, La Locusta, 1967.
  • Mario Borrelli, Marciapiedi, Molfetta, Edizioni La Meridiana, 1995.

Historical-archival research[edit]

  • Mario Borrelli, La concezione Copernico-Galileiana e la Filosofia di Tommaso D'Aquino, Naples, 1961.
  • Mario Borrelli, Compositori nelle opere dello Zarlino, Naples, 1962.
  • Mario Borrelli, Il largo dei Girolamini, Naples, Tip. D'Agostino, 1962.
  • Mario Borrelli, Le malattie e i medicinali dei figlioli del Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo, Naples, Tip. D'Agostino, 1962.
  • Mario Borrelli, Un'interessante raccolta di libretti a stampa di oratori della fine del Seicento presso la Biblioteca dell'Oratorio di London, Naples, Tip. D'Agostino, 1962.
  • Mario Borrelli, Due rari e sconosciuti opuscoli a stampa del Tarugi presso l'Oratoriana di Naples, Naples, 1964.
  • Mario Borrelli, L'Epistolario di Giusto Calvino nei suoi rapporti col Baronio, Naples, 1965.
  • Mario Borrelli, L'Architetto Nencioni Dionisio di Bartolomeo, Naples, Tip. Agar, 1967.
  • Mario Borrelli, Le costituzioni dell'Oratorio Napoletano, Naples, Ed. Congregazione dell'Oratorio, Tip. Agar, 1968.
  • Mario Borrelli, I fratelli Vosmeer e il Cardinale Baronio, in Soliditas: Scritti in onore di Antonio Guarino, Naples, Ed. Jovene, pp. 3835–3908, 1984.

Works on social administration[edit]

  • Mario Borrelli, The role of voluntary groups in Britain, London, 1969. (typescript)
  • Mario Borrelli, Unearthing the Roots of the Sub-Culture of the South Italian Sub-Proletariat, London, 1969. (typescript)
  • Mario Borrelli, The Society of Southern Italy, in which Naples is situated and the factors giving rise to pressure groups and community development, London, 1970. (typescript)
  • Mario Borrelli, Social action groups and community development, London, 1970. (typescript)
  • Mario Borrelli, Scuola e sviluppo capitalistico in Italia, in "Social Deprivation and Change in education", Proceedings of the international conference, York April 1972, Nuffield Teacher Enquiry, York University.
  • Mario Borrelli, Socio-Political Analysis of the Sub-Proletarian Reality of Naples of Intervention for the Workers of the Centre, 1973. (typescript)
  • Mario Borrelli, Basic Concepts for Community Action in the Urban Sub-Proletariat in "Les plus defavorisés, aù nous ménent-ils?", Proceedings of the international conference of The Hague 25–27 October 1974, Federation Europeenne d'aide a toute detresse, 1974.
  • Mario Borrelli, Hypothesis of the Existence of a "Peripheral" Europe with consequent different types of Social Policy Intervention, 1975.
  • Mario Borrelli, Exclusion from the Productive Process, Social Deviance and Mental Illness, 1975. (typescript)
  • Mario Borrelli, Alimentation and Direction of Social Intervention among the Neapolitan Sub-Proletariat, 1975. (typescript)
  • Mario Borrelli, Communication and Consciousness Raising (a Strategy for the Socio-Economically Marginal and Excluded), in "Europe and Africa: exploitation or development", Vasterhanings Seminar Proceedings, Sweden 1–14 August 1975, by IPRA Summer Seminar, 1975.
  • Mario Borrelli, Psychological Problemy of Children living under non-optimal Social Conditions, 1975.
  • Mario Borrelli, Socio-Political Analysis of the Neapolitan Reality and Programme o Intervention for the Social Operators of the Centre, 1976.
  • Mario Borrelli, Tourism as an Expression of Economic Subordination. Relationships between Emigration and Tourism (An Analysis of the Italian Experience), 1977.
  • Mario Borrelli, Italian Compulsory School and Mental Retardation (an Enquiry among Children between 6-14 years), Proceedings of the international conference, Montecarlo October 1978, British Association of Social Psychiatry, 1978.

Peace research and education[edit]

  • Mario Borrelli, Integration Between Peace Research, Peace Education and Peace Action, Proceedings of the IPRA General Conference, Oaxtapec, Mexico 11–16 December 1977.
  • Mario Borrelli, New Trends in International Division of Labour and their Effect on the Conditions of Workers ln Industrialised and "Third World, 1977.
  • Mario Borrelli, Analysis and critique of M. Rocca, in The impact of European Integration of its members: The Italian Experience, 1979.
  • Mario Borrelli, Education for Peace and Community Development, 1979. (in replicate copies)
  • Mario Borrelli, Exploration of the Preliminary Conditions for a Defensive and Economic Strategy for Central Europe Leading to its Balanced Insertion into Mediterranean and African Areas (An Analysis from the Italian Context), 1981.
  • Mario Borrelli, Deterrenza, Educazione al Disarmo ed Educazione alla Pace, 1984.
  • Mario Borrelli et alt., Se vuoi la pace educa alla pace, Turin, EGA, 1984, ISBN 88-7670-008-0.
  • Mario Borrelli, Preminenza dell'educazione alla pace sull'educazione al disarmo, 1st National Review of the Experiences on Education for Peace and Disarmament, Turin, 26–28 April 1985.
  • Mario Borrelli, Paradigmi per un'azione sociale non violenta, in G. Tafuri, Maestri italiani contemporanei dell'educazione alla pace, Bari, Edisud, 1987.
  • Mario Borrelli, Magnus Haavelsrud, Peace Education within the Arcipelago of Peace Research, Arena Publisher, 1993, ISBN 82-91040-03-6.

Other Media[edit]

  • I milioni della Lotteria Italia ai poveri di Napoli in La Settimana INCOM n° 582 (1951)
  • The innocents, Daily Mirror article by UK columnist Cassandra, (3 December 1957)
  • ll bacio del sole, directed Siro Marcellini, with Oskar Fisher, Nino Taranto, Marisa Merlini, Lorella De Luca, produzione CIFA – Munich (1958)
  • ITV Television Playhouse, Children of the Sun directed by George More O'Ferrall script by Morris West (1961)
  • This is Your Life, BBC TV Programme (1961)
  • A Sun Casts a Shadow, IHC International Help for Children (1964)
  • The Urchin Priest, Radharc Films, ITV Archive (1966)
  • Line Up, BBC TV Programme (1970)
  • Kinder des Schattens, directed by Kay Bondy, BR Media (1972)
  • Four Corners of the Marketplace: The Calcutta of Europe in The Philpott File, BBC TV Programme (1974)
  • Obiettivo Sud, RAI Talk Show (1979)
  • Interview to Mario Borrelli, by Sue Mc Gregor, BBC Radio (1983)
  • Mario Borrelli racconta se stesso (Mario Borrelli talks about himself), directed by Moreno Alessi (2005)
  • Mario Borrelli, directed by Emanuele Tammaro, Palookaville Ass. Cult. (2015)


  • Morris West, Children of the Sun, London, Heinemann, 1957.
  • Mario Borrelli, Un prete nelle baracche, Vicenza, La Locusta, 1967.
  • Mario Borrelli, Tanquam Peripsema, Naples, 1970. (in replicate copies)
  • Mario Borrelli, Communication and Consciousness Raising (a Strategy for the Socio-Economically Marginal and Excluded), in "Europe and Africa: exploitation or development", ", Vasterhanings Seminar Proceedings, Sweden 1–14 August 1975, by IPRA Summer Seminar, 1975.
  • Mario Borrelli, Socio-Political Analysis of the Neapolitan Reality and Programme of Intervention for the Social Operators of the Centre for the year 1975-1976, Naples, 1976. (in replicate copies)
  • Mario Borrelli, Bisogni umani, diritti umani ed educazione alla pace (Un'analisi attraverso la pratica esperienza del Centro Comunitario Materdei di Napoli), in AA.VV., CCM, Naples, 1978. (in replicate copies)
  • Salvatore Vasca, Il dissenso cattolico napoletano: messaggio, diffusione, stampa, linguaggio, Degree Thesis, Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, Università degli Studi Federico II di Naples, 1981.
  • Mario Borrelli, The continuing story from Morris West, Children of the sun, Fontana Books Ltd., 1983.
  • Donatella Trotta, E nel dopoguerra spuntò Don Vesuvio, Il Mattino, 1985.
  • Giovanna Tafuri, Maestri italiani contemporanei dell'educazione alla pace, Bari, Edisud, 1987.
  • Mario Borrelli, Magnus Haavelsrud, Peace Education within the Arcipelago of Peace Research, Arena Publisher, 1993. ISBN 82-91040-03-6.
  • Nanni Salio, La ricerca per la pace in Italia, in Andrea Licata, Italia, Università per la pace, ISIG (International Institute of Sociology) e Università degli Studi di Trieste, Gorizia, Grafica Goriziana, pp. 23–28, 1994.
  • Mario Borrelli, Marciapiedi, Molfetta, Edizioni La Meridiana, 1995.
  • Robin J. Burns e Robert Aspeslagh, Three Decades of Peace Education around the World, An Anthology, Garland Publishing Inc., New York and London,1996
  • Catherine Jones Finer, Transnational Social Policy, Blackwell Publishing, 1999.
  • Romeo De Maio, La parte di Napoli che muore – Religione etica e religione quieta. in Piero Antonio Toma, La Chiesa, Cronache napoletane, Gauss Edizioni, 2002.
  • Ermete Ferraro, From Pavement to Piazza: Grassroots of Social Work to Counteract the Globalization of Marginality, in Social Policy e Administration, vol. 37, n. 2, Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
  • Giovanna Caprio, Bibliografia degli scritti di Mario Borrelli, Degree Thesis, Facoltà di Lettere, Università degli Studi Suor Orsola Benincasa, Naples, 2006.

External links[edit]