St. John Bosco
Name: St. John Bosco
Date: 31 January
Saint John Bosco accomplished what many people considered an impossibility; he walked throughthe streets of Turin, Italy, looking for the dirtiest, roughest urchins he could find, then made goodmen of them. His extraordinary success can be summed up in the words of his patron Saint,Francis de Sales: “The measure of his love was that he loved without measure.”
John’s knowledge of poverty was firsthand. He was born in 1815 in the village of Becchi in thePiedmont district of northern Italy, and reared on his parents’ small farm. When his father died,Margaret Bosco and her three sons found it harder than ever to support themselves, and whileJohn was still a small boy he had to join his brothers in the farm work. Although his life was hard,he was a happy, imaginative child. Even as a boy, John found innocent fun compatible withreligion. To amuse his friends he learned how to juggle and walk a tightrope; but he wouldentertain them only on condition that each performance begin and end with a prayer.
As he grew older, John began to think of becoming a priest, but poverty and lack of educationmade this seem impossible. A kindly priest recognized his intelligence, however, and gave him hisfirst encouragement, teaching him to read and write. By taking odd jobs in the village, andthrough the help of his mother and some charitable neighbors, John managed to get throughschool and find admittance to the diocesan seminary of nearby Turin. As a seminarian he devotedhis spare time to looking after the ragamuffins who roamed the slums of the city. Every Sunday hetaught them catechism, supervised their games and entertained them with stories and tricks;before long his kindness had won their confidence, and his “Sunday School” became a ritual withthem.
After his ordination in 1841, he became assistant to the chaplain of an orphanage at Valocco, onthe outskirts of Turin. This position was short-lived, for when he insisted that his Sunday-schoolboys be allowed to play on the orphanage grounds, they were turned away, and he resigned. Hebegan looking for a permanent home for them, but no “decent” neighborhood would accept thenoisy crowd. At last, in a rather tumbledown section of the city, where no one was likely toprotest, the first oratory was established and named for Saint Francis de Sales. At first the boysattended school elsewhere, but as more teachers volunteered their time, classes were held at thehouse. Enrollment increased so rapidly that by 1849 there were three oratories in various places inthe city.
For a long time Don Bosco had considered founding an Order to carry on his work, and this ideawas supported by a notoriously anticlerical cabinet minister named Rattazzi. Rattazzi had seen theresults of his work, and although an Italian law forbade the founding of religious communities atthat time, he promised government support. The founder-priest went to Rome in 1858 and, at thesuggestion of Pope Pius IX, drew up a Rule for his community, the Society of Saint Francis deSales (Salesians). Four years later he founded an Order for women, theDaughters of Mary, Helpof Christians, to care for abandoned girls. Finally, to supplement the work of both congregations,he organized an association of lay people interested in aiding their work.
Exhausted from touring Europe to raise funds for a new church in Rome, Don Bosco died onJanuary 31, 1888. He was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. The work of John Bosco continuestoday in over a thousand Salesian oratories throughout the world. No modern Saint has capturedthe heart of the world more rapidly than this smiling peasant-priest from Turin, who believed thatto give complete trust and love is the most effective way to nourish virtue in others.