On 30 August 2019, one of the last sunlit days of summer, Albert Dreston left us. The focolarino, professor and theologian also played a lead role – for generations – with football at Loppiano, the Focolare’s international centre in Italy where he lived for 52 years.
Even during his earliest years, life was never simple. He was born in Rhineland in 1939, and at the age of six he lost his father in World War II. Despite the pain and amid the tears, he made his first great discovery of God.
“Suddenly,” he recalled, “there was a strength and a voice inside me, as if God were telling me, ‘You are no orphan; I am your father’. From that moment on, I never missed my father, and I never ever felt alone again.”
At a young age he had to have a lung removed, and it seemed he would not live for long. As often happens, however, what someone who could lose everything does is to take a step toward a great “treasure” they have discovered.
That is exactly what happened in 1957 at Münster when, in a meeting with some focolarini, he was touched by “Jesus in the midst, the fruit of reciprocal love”. His life started upon the path of the Ideal, which would help him live through the tribulations and physical difficulties with a new awareness.
The next year Fr. Foresi and Chiara agreed that he would start his life in focolare. A few years later, it would be Fr. Foresi yet again to tell him that, once he had finished his Old Testament studies, he would go to teach at Loppiano, the first permanent Mariapolis.
It was in 1967, when Albert was 28 and his physical condition had improved, that sports at Loppiano became an essential way to get to know, share and relate to others. In that framework, a new era started for him – he became the young trainer among young people from all over the world. Throughout his years of service at Loppiano, he never stopped being a resource for others. He taught both in class and on the field, with the dedication of a football enthusiast, the intelligence of a teacher and the love of a focolarino.
You could not really say that he was a star player of the beautiful game, a great goal scorer. He was more than that. In recent years, having seen 75 springs, it could happen that he did not feel up to playing. Yet you would find him there, 30 minutes early, to gather the players and set up the same field that in a few months will be named after him.
He was truly much more than that, a champion of perfect timing – in a single game he could be groundskeeper, coach, referee, linesman, sweeper and overall sports director. There was always a team to build, and he always managed to select a pair of good defenders, whether they be African, Brazilian or Asian.
Albert Dreston was Loppiano football. He was a true captain, a teammate to everyone, even when on the opposing team. He was a genuine legend.
To speak his name today is to open the great book of the Focolare Movement, which is rich with wonderful people and precious lives. It is to dwell on a chapter of someone who, in quite different ways, knew how to give of their time to help others.
In recent years the question came up of whether he could keep playing, whether it was the time to have a farewell game, hang up his boots and close his story in style. Someone took courage and whispered it to him respectfully. Yet all of us who tried were kidding ourselves.
Albert, headstrong with German consistency, responded, “I will go straight from the sports field to potter’s field.”
And so it was, kind of. He bid us farewell on a Friday. As usual, this was perfect timing: for the last call at the match vigil, to form teams and continue without delay… on the Elysian fields.
Enjoy football heaven, captain… and thank you!