St. John Bosco
St. John Bosco
St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian Society, was born in Piedmont, Italy on August 16th, 1815. When he was two years old his father died leaving three boys to the care of their mother, Margaret Bosco. As a child he was a shepherd and was first instructed by his parish priest. It was readily apparent that he was a bright child with an appetite for scholarship. Due to his family’s financial poverty, he often had to give up studying, but the desire to learn never left him. In 1835 he entered the seminary and was ordained by the archbishop of Turin in 1841.
The Catholic Encyclopedia states that Don Bosco entered zealously upon his priestly labors. It was at this time, while accompany another priest, Don Cafasso, on his visits to the prisons of the city that the conditions of the children confined to these places made such an impression upon him. He resolved to devote his life to the rescue of these unfortunate outcasts. In 1841, the first of these children of the streets, Bartolomeo Garelli, came to his attention. Don Bosco instructed him, and other children were drawn by a kindness they had never known. In 1842, the Oratory, so called after the example of St. Philip Neri, numbered twenty boys. By 1846, there were four hundred. In addition to academic instruction, outdoor activities and lunch were prepared for them and a band was even organized once he realized the charm music held for them.
By 1845, while working with another priest, Don Borel, Don Bosco organized a night school so those boys who worked in factories would also have access to education. However, this venture was short lived as Bosco encountered myriad difficulties that seemed to spell the ruin of his undertaking. Since the children with whom he dealt were considered a nuisance, every attempt was made to stop his work. When he was finally able to find suitable lodgings for the Oratory that by then numbered 700 members, he was joined by his mother who gave the last ten years of her life in devotion to this first Salesian home. She parted with all her belongings to support her son’s work and brought the solicitude and love of a mother to these street children.
At this point the civil authorities recognized the importance of his work and cooperated with his desire to build technical schools and workshops. In 1858 Don Bosco built the church, Our Lady, Help of Christians, in a poor quarter of Turin to meet the needs of the people.
Don Bosco was said to have had a dream in his youth, in which he heard a voice say to him, Not with blows, but with charity and gentleness must you draw these friends to the path of virtue. It was in this spirit that Don Bosco’s presence filled the Oratory. His approach to these children was to draw them to him by small presents and pleasant walks to favorite spots in Turin. If it was Sunday, he would say Mass, give a short instruction on the Gospel, feed them breakfast and organize games. Later Vespers would be sung, a catechism lesson given and a rosary recited. He would have nothing to do with punishment but allowed no effort of the boys towards virtue to go unappreciated. As far as possible avoid punishing. Try to gain love before inspiring fear, he said. Don Bosco believed that any causes of weakness in character sprang from misdirected kindness in the rearing of children. He believed that frequent confession, frequent communion and daily Mass were the pillars, which should sustain the whole edifice of education. He also believed play was the way to a child’s heart and placed it among his first recommendations.
Don Bosco selected the brightest of his pupils and taught them Italian, Latin, French and mathematics. They became the teaching corps for the new homes which quickly grew up in other places. Today, the Salesians have houses in all parts of the world and work in hospitals, asylums and prisons.
Don Bosco died on January 31st, 1888. At the time of his death, there were 250 Salesian houses in all parts of the world caring for 130,0000 children. The Salesians took their name from the French bishop, St. Francis de Sales, known for his amiability.
Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1934. Pope John Paul II gave him the name of Father, Teacher and Friend of Youth. His feast is celebrated on January 31st.