The Marchesi inauguration speech of the 722nd academic year

It is 9 November 1943, at the height of one of the darkest periods of recent Italian history, when the University of Padua is preparing, in spite of everything, to open its 722nd  academic year. With one detail: the rector Concetto Marchesi, a great Latinist but above all a well-known communist and anti-fascist, had to make the inaugural speech. He was appointed on 1 September by the Badoglio government with the aim of removing the fascist belt from the university, but only a few days later the unexpected happened: Mussolini was freed in Campo Imperatore by the Otto Skorzeny paratroopers and the Social Republic was proclaimed.

The inauguration of the academic year thus became the first blatant gesture of protest against the new regime, as well as against the monarchy that for more than twenty years had given its support to fascism. In the Aula Magna, full of teachers and students and curious onlookers, a few students in the uniform of the republican militia wanted the inauguration to become a moment of a recall to arms and commitment with the new state of Mussolini. Marchesi and the Vice-Rector Meneghetti, taller and more robust than him, came into the hall in their togas, forcefully pushed them away from the podium and out of the Aula. Then, in the silence quivering with expectation and tension, the Rector pronounced his speech, simply unthinkable in Nazi-Fascist Italy.

Marchesi allontana i fascisti dall'aula
Marchesi allontana i fascisti dall’aula

If the tolls of the Bo Tower do not announce the renewal of the usual academic pomp to the city this year, there is something new or unusual, like a great sorrow and a great hope, which brings us here to listen, more thanto the fleeting word of a man, rather to the secular voice of this glorious university, which today makes the appeal toits teachers and disciples; and the teachers and the disciples here present answer for the distant, for the missing, for the fallen. So in a short circle among us today a rite is performed that makes our suffering sacred and hope worthy. The city feels that here, now, what cannot be destroyed is coming together: the constancy and the strength of intellect and knowledge; we feel that the civil custody of Padua University is confirmed here, which will later open its gates to all, like doors to an inviolate temple. To Professor Carlo Anti, who for eleven years with inexhaustible alacrity has governed the University, I greet as successor and colleague. Professor Gino Frontali, pride of our paediatric clinic, was transferred to the University of Rome; Professors Giuseppe Bettiol of criminal law and Gaetano Bompiani in anatomy and pathological histology were appointed in Padua. Many of our colleagues have died.

On November 24, 1942 Giovanni Bertacchi died in Milan, who brought his soul here as a poet and teacher and his unswerving love for all the lands of Italy, from the peaks and passes of his Spluga to the shores of the Sicilian sea. Other deaths hit the university family with those of Oddo Casagrandi and Giovanni Cagnetto to whose memory our heartfelt thought goes. At this moment, the sad news has arrived of the sudden death of Professor Giannino Ferrari Dalle Spade, the professor of history of Italian law. He will be spoken of worthily in the commemoration of a highly esteemed colleague. Andrea Moschetti and Luigi Rizzoli have also left us, free professors who had long domesticity with our university.

I keep silent of many others who perished are missing or held in distant lands: of the students who will no longer return among us, of those we will see again on the day when, the fury of the war over, our pain and regret will be purified. Charitable foundations have arisen to stimulate and aid young scholars: the honour awards of Maria Amelia Comessatti, Guido Caliterna, Cesare Bolognesi, Piras Solinas, SAVA, the Luigi and Angela Rizzoli scholarship, and those named after Dr. Giuseppe Fabbro and the second lieutenant Ferruccio Ferrari. Others are announced. Thus the piety of relatives and friends perpetuates this reverie of studies with a reverent memory. To the usual works of assistance, others are added that the times impose as our needs do not allow us to do as we would like: because Padua is now a centre for gathering and relief for many students who, with the streets cut off that could lead them home, come here as to a safe harbour in the middle of the storm. University buildings have not ceased nor will cease to provide for some of the most urgent accommodations; and I am grateful to remember the radical and providential changes that are taking place in the Institute of Hygiene. The activity of the Consortium, which has been so fervid with works, is today naturally on the decline.

The last works of the Central Palace have been completed and also those of the Institute of special surgical pathology are almost completed, we foresee a future, which we hope is not too remote, when the beautiful mirages of the clinics will take shape when the demolished houses will rise again under the sky of Italy, no longer furrowed by the devices of death. In the year that is, ending Padua University has seen the number of its students increase by 1500, reaching the figure of 8741 enrolled: an infallible sign of a continuous growth, that only bitter events can interrupt, because it has more impetus for recovery. Thus the scientific activity of the institutes and schools, nor the reduced staff, nor the suspended communications and businesses, nor the concern and anxieties that pass as contagion in the air, have prevented our very high tasks. Even in this hour of prolonged turmoil, we feel the university as an ever more vital organism that continually inserts itself into the nation, renewing and fortifying its energies.

The university is certainly the highest intellectual gym of youth: where the problems of the spirit arise slowly or impetuously, where the minds are more intent on knowing or recognizing what may remain the fundamental truths of individual existence. Moreover, we teachers have the duty to reveal ourselves whole, without seclusion or reticence, to these young people who ask us not only what are the aims and procedures of the particular sciences, but what is stirred in this vast and infinite and mysterious journey of human history. This task is not just of moral, historical and literary sciences but it extends to all the branches of higher education: and we know how much enlightenment of doctrine, as examples of dignity, what noble and vigorous appeal to the freedom of the intellect come at all times from scientific institutes, where research moves towards all spaces; from engineering schools, where art and technology await together with beauty and social utility; from the classrooms and the medical laboratories, where man has constantly contended for the secret that surrounds him and undermines him and the evil that strikes him from every part in the perpetuity of the generations.

It is not ambitious to say that the University is the high impregnable fortress where every nation and every people gathers it is most splendid and fruitful energies so that humanity has a support and a light along its path; it is the fortress that dominates or nourishes the entire world of work. Beyond that world, the voice of science becomes silent or turns into evil. Beyond the boundaries in which working people perform the destiny of their daily labour, the nourishment of man’s spirit is lacking, is void if it is not reduced to a beneficial offering and to healthy refreshment to the need and suffering of life. The road that goes from the school to the workshop, from the scientific laboratories to the ploughed and sown soil, is today certainly much wider and straighter than it was before; on that path the aids of inquiring and creative science are constantly comingin the hands of the worker and the peasant; but those hands do not yet tend enough nor do they cling to that solidarity bond that arises from the fraternal sense of a common need.

In the world there is still to be established the true and great kinship that will make others safer, that extends to the branches of descendants and affinities. The modern society that appears so enormously complicated compared to the ancient one is instead –it may seem heresy – enormously simplified in its spiritual activity. This miracle of clarification and simplification has worked a factor of prodigious power: work. There has always been work in the world, indeed work imposed as a fatal damnation. But today work has relieved the back, freed the wrists, we are able to lift our heads and look around and look up: and the slave of the past was able to throw away the chains that held his soul and intelligence for centuries. Not just a multitude of men, but also a multitude of consciences entered history to ask for light and life and to give light and life.

Today everywhere we look at the world of work as the awaited kingdom of justice. Everyone reaches out for this work to come out of it purified. And all will be well for everyone, the State and the individual; the State that can truly constitute and represent the political and social unity of its free citizens; the individual who can finally find in himself the only source of his indestructible value. Under the hammering of this immense conflict secular privileges and insatiable fortunes fall for ever; dominions, realms, assemblies that were considered perennial, fall: but perennial and irrevocable is only the strength and power of the working people and of the community that constitutes the people instead of the caste. Gentlemen, in these hours of anguish, among the ruins of an implacable war, the academic year of our University reopens. None of us, or the young, lacks the spirit of salvation, when we have this, everything will resurrect what was badly destroyed, and everything will be fulfilled, what was rightly hoped for. Young people trust in Italy. Trust in your fortune if it is supported by your discipline and your courage: trust in Italy that must live for the joy and the decorum of the world, in Italy that cannot fall into servitude without obscuring the civilization of the peoples. On this day 9 November 1943 in the name of this Italy of workers, artists, scientists, I declare open the 722ndyear of Padua University.