St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesian Society was born of poor parents in a little cabin at Becchi, a hillside hamlet near Castelnuovo, Piedmont, Italy, August, 16, 1815. He was raised in a Catholic family but was too young ever to know his father who died when John was only two years old. John’s mother raised four children and taught them the importance of their faith.
At the age of four, John began to do small jobs to earn money to support the household. As a child, John’s favorite pastime was magicians. When he returned home, he practiced their tricks until he had mastered them, and then he would go on the street and perform asking only prayers as payment. From his childhood, St. John Bosco had a great desire to become a priest and help young boys who like himself were not afforded all the pleasures in life. He worked hard so he could afford to leave his family and attend school. Eventually John entered the seminary. He excelled in his studies and served as a model to other seminarians on how to live a holy life of happiness. At the age of 26, John was ordained to the priesthood and set out to take his message to the world.
St. John began his ministry to the young by first forming catechism classes that met after Sunday Mass. At these classes he would offer schooling in the faith for free and he soon had a group of over 400 children to teach. St. John’s enthusiasm and emphasis on teaching boys drew ridicule from some of his peers who did not see its value, but John saw the need to train the future of the Church and allow their youthful energy to be put to work for the greater glory of God. John’s catechism school grew into a full-fledged school where boys could receive an education, learn a trade, and love Jesus. As much ridicule that John received, he also received assistance in the form of money and he also began to attract followers to his ideals.
John’s perseverance in the face of all difficulties led many to the conclusion that he was insane, and an attempt was even made to confine him in an asylum. Complaints were lodged against him, declaring his community to be a nuisance, owing to the character of the boys he befriended. From the Rifugio the Oratory was moved to St. Martin’s, to St. Peter’s Churchyard, to three rooms in Via Cottolengo, where the night schools were resumed, to an open field, and finally to a rough shed upon the site of which grew up an nearby, where he was joined by his mother.
“Mama Margaret”, as Don Bosco’s mother came to be known, gave the last ten years of her life in devoted service to the little inmates of this first Salesian home. When she joined her son at the Oratory the outlook was not bright. But sacrificing what small means she had, even to parting with her home, its furnishings, and her jewelry, she brought all the solicitude and love of a mother to these children of the streets. The evening classes increased and gradually dormitories were provided for many who desired to live at the Oratory. Thus was founded the first Salesian Home which now houses about one thousand boys.
The municipal authorities by this time had come to recognize the importance of the work which Don Bosco was doing, and he began with much success a fund for the erection of technical schools and workshops. These were all completed without serious difficulty.
With the encouragement of Pope Pius IX, John gathered 17 men together into a community and founded the Society of St. Francis de Sales in 1859. This society is better known as the Salesians and concentrates on education and missionary work, especially aiming at the needs of the young.
In 1868 to meet the needs of the Valdocco quarter of Turin, Don Bosco resolved to build a church. Accordingly a plan was drawn in the form of a cross covering an area of 1,500 sq. yards. He experienced considerable difficulty in raising the necessary money, but the charity of some friends finally enabled him to complete the project. St. John Bosco died January 31, 1888, after spending his whole life working for youth and is the patron of editors. John
John Bosco educated the whole person. For Don Bosco, being a Christian was a full-time effort, not a once-a-week, Sunday experience. The Saint of Turin reached out to children whom no one cared for despite ridicule and insults. He was beatified in 1929 and canonized in 1934. Pope John Paul II declared him ‘Father and Teacher of Youth’ on the centenary of his death. May St. John Bosco help us to make a place in our educational institutions and parish communities for young people who are living on the peripheries of society.