Saint of the Day – 31 January – St John Bosco/Don Bosco (1815-1888) Founder of the Salesians, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and the Association of Salesian Cooperators. Priest, Confessor, Founder, Teacher, Writer, “Father and Teacher of Youth”. St John Bosco was born Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco on 16 August 1815 and he died on 31 January 1888) at Turin, Italy of natural causes. Patronages – apprentices, boys, editors, Mexican younth, labourers, schoolchildren, students. His body is incorrupt.
While working in Turin, where the population suffered many of the effects of industrialisation and urbanisation, he dedicated his life to the betterment and education of street children, juvenile delinquents and other disadvantaged youth. He developed teaching methods based on love rather than punishment, a method that became known as the Salesian Preventive System.
A follower of the spirituality and philosophy of Saint Francis de Sales, Bosco was an ardent Marian devotee of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Mary Help of Christians. He later dedicated his works to De Sales when he founded the Salesians of Don Bosco, based in Turin. Together with Maria Domenica Mazzarello, he founded the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, a religious congregation of nuns dedicated to the care and education of poor girls. He taught St Dominic Savio, of whom he wrote a biography that helped the young boy be canonised.
On 18 April 1869, one year after the construction of the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin, Don Bosco established the Association of Mary Help of Christians (ADMA) connecting it with commitments easily fulfilled by most common people, to the spirituality and the mission of the Salesian Congregation. The ADMA was founded to promote the veneration of the Most Holy Sacrament and Mary Help of Christians.
In 1876 Bosco founded a movement of laity, the Association of Salesian Cooperators, with the same educational mission to the poor. In 1875, he began to publish the Salesian Bulletin. The Bulletin has remained in continuous publication and is currently published in 50 different editions and 30 languages.
John Bosco was born in August of 1815 into a family of peasant farmers in Castelnuovo d’Asti – a place which would one day be renamed in the saint’s honour as “Castelnuovo Don Bosco.” John’s father died when he was two years old but he drew strength from his mother Margherita’s deep faith in God. Margherita also taught her son the importance of charity, using portions of her own modest means to support those in even greater need. John desired to pass on to his own young friends the example of Christian discipleship that he learned from his mother.
At age nine, he had a prophetic dream in which a number of unruly young boys were uttering words of blasphemy. Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary appeared to John in the dream, saying he would bring such youths to God through the virtues of humility and charity. Later on, this dream would help John to discern his calling as a priest. But he also sought to follow the advice of Jesus and Mary while still a boy: he would entertain his peers with juggling, acrobatics and magic tricks, before explaining a sermon he had heard, or leading them in praying the Rosary.
John’s older brother Anthony opposed his plan to be a priest and antagonised him so much that he left home to become a farm worker at age 12. After moving back home three years later, John worked in various trades and finished school in order to attend seminary. In 1841, John Bosco was ordained a priest. From that time, John was known as “Don” Bosco, a traditional Italian title of honour for priests, which simply means “Father”. In the city of Turin, he began ministering to boys and young men who lived on the streets, many of whom were without work or education.
The industrial revolution had drawn large numbers of people into the city to look for work that was frequently grueling and sometimes scarce . Don Bosco was shocked to see how many boys ended up in prison before the age of 18, left to starve spiritually and sometimes physically. He was determined to save as many young people as he could from a life of degradation. He established a group known as the Oratory of St Francis de Sales, and became a kindly spiritual father to boys in need. His aging mother helped support the project in its early years.
In 1859, John’s boyhood dream came to pass: he became a spiritual guide and provider along with his fellow Salesian priests and brothers, giving boys religious instruction, lodging, educationand work opportunities. He also helped Saint Mary Dominic Mazzarello form a similar group for girls. This success did not come easily, as the priest struggled to find reliable accommodations and support for his ambitious apostolate. Italy’s nationalist movement made life difficult for religious orders and its anti-clerical attitudes even led to assassination attempts against Don Bosco.
But such hostility did not stop the Salesians from expanding in Europe and beyond. They were helping 130,000 children in 250 houses by the end of Don Bosco’s life. “I have done nothing by myself,” he stated, saying it was “Our Lady who has done everything” through her intercession with God.
John Bosco spent so much time working that people who knew him well became worried about his health. They said he should take more time for rest and sleep. John replied that he’d have enough time to rest in heaven. “Right now,” he said, “how can I rest? The devil doesn’t rest from his work.” St John Bosco died in the early hours of 31 January 1888, after conveying a message: “Tell the boys that I shall be waiting for them all in Paradise.” 40,000 people came to his funeral. Following his beatification in 1929, he was canonised on Easter Sunday of 1934 by Pope Pius XI.
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