St. John Bosco
Giovanni Bosco was born on the 16 August, 1815 in Colle dei Becchi, a place near Castelnuovo d’Asti, now called Castelnuovo Don Bosco, about 40 km from Turin. Born into a poor family he prepared himself, not without effort, by studying and working for the mission he was told about in a dream at the age of nine and which was later often reconfirmed in an extraordinary manner. He studied in Chieri, not far from Turin. Among the beautiful churches of Chieri, Santa Maria della Scala (the Cathedral) was the one young John liked the best. He went there every day, morning and evening, to pray and reflect before the altar of Our Lady of Grace. In this quiet chapel, he prayed over his future and made up his mind. In March 1834, at age 19, he was completing his secondary studies. He wrote:”It was the time when students usually ponder their vocations… I decided to enter the Franciscan Order “. Informed of his decision, his pastor Fr. Dassano warned Mamma Margherita: “Try to talk him out of… becoming a religious. You are not rich, and you are not getting any younger. If your son withdraws into a monastery, how he will provide for you?”. Mamma Margherita put on her lack shawl and went to Chieri to speak with her son:
“The pastor was good enough to come and tell me that you want to become a religious. I want you above all to consider carefully the step you will take. Then follow your vocation without regard for anyone. The most important thing is the salvation of your soul. The pastor urged me to make you change your mind because I might need your help in the future. But I want to tell you that in this matter I am not to be considered because GOD COMES FIRST. DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME. I am not asking on you, and I expect nothing from you. Remember this: I was born poor, I have lived poor, and I want to die poor. What is more, I want to make this very clear to you: if you decide to become a secular priest and should unfortunately become rich, I will never pay you a single visit. Remember that well”. John never forgot his mother’s strong words. Considering his vocation carefully, John continued to pray and to reflect, and God would help him understand His will. He also consulted Father Giuseppe Cafasso. Following his advice he decided to enter the seminary to study theology.
Don Bosco was ordained priest in Turin on June 5, 1841, in the Church of The Immaculate Conception. On that occasion He made several commitments, including these three: “To use my time rigorously well. To suffer, to work, to humiliate myself always and everywhere when souls are at stake. May the charity and sweetness of St. Francis de Sales guide me in everything”. He became a priest at the age of 26. Once he arrived in Turin he was shocked by the sight of hundreds of youngsters with neither a job nor a direction and he decided to dedicate his life to their salvation.
On the 8th December, 1841, in St. Francis of Assisi church he met the first of the many young boys who were to get to know and follow him – Bartolomeo Garelli. And so the Oratory begins, at first wandering, then after Easter 1846, in its permanent centre at Torino-Valdocco, the Mother House of all Salesian work. By now the youngsters number hundreds. They study and learn a craft in the workshop Don Bosco built for them. In his education programme he was help by his mother, Mamma Margherita, whom he summoned from Becchi to support him and be a mother for all those who had lost their parents. In 1859 he asks his first assistants to form the Salesian Congregation with him. Soon many oratories, technical schools, boarding schools, training centres, parishes and missions start appearing.
In 1872 he founds the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA) who will work in many different ways to help young girls. The co-founder and first Mother Superior was Maria Domenica Mazzarello (1837-1881) who will be declared a Saint by Pope Pius XII, 21st June, 1951. Don Bosco also managed to involve many laymen in his education programme together with the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. By 1869, he had started the Pious Union of the Cooperators who truly belong to the Salesian Family and share its spirit, working within the ecclesiasticalservice.
At the age of 72, Don Bosco dies at dawn 31st January, 1888, in Torino-Valdocco, as he had said: “I promised God I would be saving my poor young till my last breath.”
He was beatified 2nd June, 1929 and declared Saint by Pius XI on Easter, 1st April 1934. Don Bosco is rightly regarded as one of the great educators.
With his method, called the “Preventive System” based on “Reason, Religion and Love” he invented an extremely effective model of Christian pedagogy. His homes were always full of typically Salesian spirit – a joyful sense of life, a commitment within society towards common well-being, a love for both the Church and the Pope and hope for Heaven. People liked to call Don Bosco, “The young people’s friend” and “The young people’s saint”. This seed has now been sown for over one hundred and fifty years and the sower was Don Bosco with his great love for the salvation of the young. Later on, many others have sown more seeds of life in the furrows – Domenico Savio, Fr. Rua, Fr. Rinaldi… – so that the field would stay fertile, even after Don Bosco.