The establishment of the Fondazione Opera S. Maria del Porto (Mariport) was encouraged by the Port Superintendent and the Diocese in the joint belief that it was necessary to create a body to provide moral and concrete assistance to seafarers and port workers.
The initiative saw the direct involvement of Comm. Giuseppe Dall'Abaco, the then head of the Personnel Office of the Port Superintendence (Provveditorato al Porto) which was in charge of the Association of Port Workers (Compagnia Lavoratori Portuali).
The reasons that drove its foundation go back to the Second World War, more specifically:
- from 1935 to 1943 more than 1,000 port workers were transferred to Eastern and Northern Africa to help unload the material needed by the Italian troops. Many of these workers never made it back home and are buried in cemeteries overseas;
- the opening of Wharf A, the section of the port located in Marghera, at the time a deserted and inhospitable area, only recently freed from the scourge of malaria and located far from the nearest town and not served by public transport. At the time, all the thousands of seafarers and port workers had available was a small inn.
The idea was to found a Charitable Institution on Wharf A to offer concrete and spiritual support to seafarers and port workers. It was meant to be very different from the institutions available in other ports and was to be the pride of the City of Venice. The Mariport Centre was finally established in 1953 and started operating in early 1954 when the Patriarch, Cardinal Roncalli, and the Superintendent Ing. Cicogna followed by his successor Ing. Toniolo finally found the right legal status for the Foundation, having received, earlier than expected, from the State approximately one hectare of land. Thanks to the funds received from the Port, the Province, the Municipality, from 15 different ports, the Army, Maritime Agents and Forwarders, the firms operating in the port and especially from the Association of Port Workers (Compagnia Lavoratori Portuali), in 1956 the works started for the erection first of the Aid Centre and then of the Church. The latter finally provided a proper burial place for the workers who had lost their lives at work and those who lost their lives in war both in Venice and abroad. The whole project was supported and partly financed by the Ministry for the Merchant Navy that also confirmed the Foundation’s legal and administrative status that is a unique example in Italy of a double patronage provided by the Church and the State.
The Foundation is in fact an Ecclesiastic Body that nevertheless acts by state concession (and can thus be subjected to Government control).
Its articles of association were drafted by the Patriarch and approved by the President of the Italian Republic; its Board of Directors is appointed by the Patriarch, Chaired by an Executive in office or retired from the Port Superintendence and made up, amongst others, by representatives of the most important branches of the port’s operations, by a member of the Diocese’s Administrative Office, the Port’s Chaplain and a General Director straight from the Ministry. Recently, the Board has come to include also the Director of Caritas.
Church and State have equal status in the institution: a true Venetian will immediately recognise the similarity to the way charitable institutions were organised in the Serenissima Republic.
This most unique situation that the chaplain and his auxiliaries enjoyed enabled them to dedicate all their energies to their pastoral ministry free from all practical concerns.
Indeed, the raising and administration of funds and the solution of legal, administrative, customs and all other issues was a concern of the Board Members who were generally experts in all these areas.
The Foundation was also able to resort to an income generated by the canteen and the donations provided by various patrons, in addition to the constant support supplied by the Port and the Association of Port Workers.
The institution’s effectiveness has been appreciated in many occasions over the years, and its actions proved to be most valuable at the end of the last century when it was called upon, with the help and dedication of the Chaplain, Ft. Angelo Tironi, and the volunteers of the Parish of Sacro Cuore, to face the unprecedented emergency of the many ships seized in the Port of Venice.
All the Patriarchs, two of which later became Popes, visited the Foundation several times. Pope Giovanni XXIII granted the chapel the privilege of using the Pontiff’s coat of arms; Pope Paul VI, as suggested by the Cardinals Siri and Urbani, Ordinaries of the port cities of Genoa and Venice, summoned the President Giuseppe Dall'Abaco to become part of the Papal Household as Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester Pope. In 1985, the Pontiff John Paul II visited the Foundation and our Port.