Princess Diana arriving at the Babino Gesu Hospital, Rome, Italy, April 26, 1985. She is wearing a Bruce Oldfield suit in black and white with a swathed jacket that buttoned at the side. She paired it with a fez style straw hat by Viv Knowland with a seeded pearl flower hat pin and black seamed stockings with tiny bows at the ankles.
The Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital (Ospedale Pediatrico Bambino Gesù) is a children’s hospital located in Rome, Italy. It accomplishes its institutional Christian testimony by providing public services in the healthcare field.
The Hospital, which was founded in 1869, is now part of the network of the National Healthcare System in the city of Rome on extraterritorial area administered by the Holy See. Since 1980, due to its prestige and to the strengthening of its relations with the Italian National Health System, it has become a significant point of reference for paediatrics at the national level.
During her walkabout outside the hospital, Diana tried out her Italian on the crowds and fans she shook hands with. The Italians were delighted and proclaimed that her solo visit to the hospital was a huge success. Prince Charles had met with the President of the Italian Senate that same morning.
In the afternoon, after a brief visit to the British Company FAO, the Prince and Princess of Wales visited Boy’s Town, an orphanage that was started after World War II by Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing.
At the end of World War II, thousands of orphaned children in Rome found themselves living on the streets, hustling and shining shoes to buy their next meal. These ‘shoeshine boys’ captured the attention of the Irish Catholic priest Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing, who, with the blessings of the Pope, took leave of the Vatican and made his first foray into what would become his life’s work.
The Monsignor started off sheltering these boys at what was called ‘The Shoeshine Hotel’ near Rome’s Termini train station. Gradually, he built a community where these children found food, shelter and an opportunity to grow in a safe and loving environment.
In 1951, Boys’ Town was built on the outskirts of Rome, funded primarily by a generous Italian-American donor community that was moved by the Monsignor’s appeal. This 200-acre community welcomed orphans of war and victims of poverty and gave them, in the Monsignor’s words, “A Chance in Life”, a phrase that would soon become the motto of the organization.
At Boys’ Town, these young people received education and vocational training to help them find employment and build secure lives upon becoming adults. Crucially, the Monsignor also established a self-government model and gave these young people the responsibility of managing the Town. This ultimately created a community of empowered, self-reliant youth.
The Prince and Princess toured the facility with Monsignor Carroll-Abbing and visited with the children in the pottery studios and various other classrooms.
Princess Diana unveiled a commemorative plaque during the visit and Prince Charles gave a speech in the school’s auditorium after which one of the boys thanked them for visiting.
They were presented with a large round ceramic plate made in the school’s pottery studio.
The press that day reported that the tour of the Boys’ Town was of immense interest to the Princess and that she was keen to see and learn about the childrens’ lives there.