31 Jan Saint John Bosco, Confessor
Today is the feast day of Saint John Bosco. Ora pro nobis.
Saint John Bosco, considered one of the greatest saints of modern times, was born in a Piedmontese village in 1815. When he was 2 years old he lost his father, a humble peasant farmer, and he was brought up by his saintly Tertiary mother, Margaret. It was no doubt due to her example and influence that John too joined the Third Order of St. Francis.
John’s early years were spent as a shepherd and he received his first instruction at the hands of the parish priest. He possessed a ready wit, a retentive memory, and as years passed his appetite for study grew stronger. Owing to the poverty of the home, however, he was often obliged to turn from his books to the field, but the desire of what he had to give up never left him. In 1835 he entered the seminary at Chieri and after six years of study was ordained priest on the eve of Trinity Sunday by Archbishop Franzoni of Turin.
Not long after his ordination to the priesthood in June, 1841, he established what he called a Festive Oratory, a kind of Sunday school and recreation center for boys, in Turin. His mother came to be his housekeeper and mother of the Oratory. Two more Oratories in the same city followed. When Father John Bosco’s mother did in 1856, the Oratories housed 150 resident boys; and there were four Latin classes and four workshops, one of them a printing press. Ten young priests assisted Father John in his work. Father John was also much in demand as a preacher; and he spent half of his nights in writing popular books in order to provide good reading.
On the eighth of December, 1841, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, while Don Bosco was vesting for Mass, the sacristan drove from the Church a ragged urchin because he refused to serve Mass. Don Bosco heard his cries and recalled him, and in the friendship which sprang up between the priest and Bartolomeo Garelli was sown the first seed of the “Oratory”, so called, no doubt, after the example of St. Philip Neri and because prayer was its prominent feature.
Don Bosco entered eagerly upon the task of instructing this first pupil of the streets; companions soon joined Bartolomeo, all drawn by a kindness they had never known, and in February, 1842, the Oratory numbered twenty boys, in March of the same year, thirty, and in March, 1846, four hundred.
As the number of boys increased, the question of a suitable meeting-place presented itself. In good weather walks were taken on Sundays and Holy Days to spots in the country about Turin where lunch was eaten, and realizing the charm which music held for the untamed spirits of his disciples Don Bosco organized a band for which some old brass instruments were procured. In the autumn of 1844 he was appointed assistant chaplain to the Rifugio, where Don Borel entered enthusiastically into his work. With the approval of Archbishop Franzoni, two rooms were secured adjoining the Rifugio and converted into a chapel, which was dedicated to St. Francis de Sales. The members of the Oratory now gathered at the Rifugio, and numbers of boys from the surrounding district applied for admission. It was about this time (1845) that Don Bosco began his night schools and with the closing of the factories the boys flocked to his rooms where he and Don Borel instructed them in rudimentary branches.
St John Bosco’s confessor and spiritual director was the Tertiary priest Saint Joseph Cafasso; and Father John too gained the reputation of being a saint. Miracles, mostly of healing, were attributed to him. By his kindness and sympathy and his marvelous power of reading the thoughts of his boys, he exercised a profound influence upon his charges. He was able to rule them with apparent indulgence and absence of punishment, something the educationists of the day could not understand. When necessary, he was known to bilocate even to distant places to help care for his boys.
In 1854 St John Bosco founded the religious order of Salesians, so called in honor of St Francis de Sales. Its members devote themselves to the education of poor boys. The new society grew rapidly. Father John lived to see 38 houses established in the Old World and 26 in the New World. Today it is one of the largest orders of men in the Church.
Don Bosco’s method of study knew nothing of punishment. Observance of rules was obtained by instilling a trueduty, by removing assiduously all occasions for disobedience, and by allowing no effort towards virtue, how trivial soever it might be, to pass unappreciated. He held that the teacher should be father, adviser, and friend, and he was the first to adopt the preventive method. Of punishment he said: “As far as possible avoid punishing . . . . try to gain love before inspiring fear.” And in 1887 he wrote: “I do not remember to have used formal punishment; and with God’s grace I have always obtained, and from apparently hopeless children, not alone what duty exacted, but what my wish simply expressed.”
In one of his books he has discussed the causes of weakness of character, and derives them largely from a misdirected kindness in the rearing of children. Parents have only succeeded in producing an affectionate, perfected, intelligent animal. The chief object should be to form the will and to temper the character. In all his pupils Don Bosco tried to cultivate a taste for music, believing it to be a powerful and refining influence. “Instruction”, he said, “is but an accessory, like a game; knowledge never makes a man because it does not directly touch the heart. It gives more power in the exercise of good or evil; but alone it is an indifferent weapon, wanting guidance.”
He always studied, too, the aptitudes and vocations of his pupils, and to an almost supernatural quickness and clearness of insight into the hearts of children must be ascribed to no small part of his success. In his rules he wrote: “Frequent Confession, frequent Communion, daily Mass: these are the pillars which should sustain the whole edifice of education.” Don Bosco was an indefatigable confessor, devoting days to the work among his children. He recognized that gentleness and persuasion alone were not enough to bring to the task of education. He thoroughly believed in play as a means of arousing childish curiosity—–more than this, he places it among his first recommendations, and for the rest he adopted St. Philip Neri’s words: “Do as you wish, I do not care so long as you do not sin.”
The holy priest, who was everywhere acclaimed as a saint and wonder worker, gathered funds for the church in Italy and France; and somehow he succeeded where others had failed. But in doing so he wore himself out.
On January 31, 1888, he was called to his reward. Forty thousand persons came to pay their respects as his body lay in state in the church at Turin; and his funeral resembled a triumphal procession.
St. John Bosco was canonized in 1934.
Image: Don Bosco la Torino în 1880 (fotografie originală). (10)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff