Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
St. John Bosco
Feast day: January 31
Saint John Bosco accomplished what many people considered an
impossibility; he walked through the streets of Turin, Italy, looking
for the dirtiest, roughest urchins he could find, then made good men 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 the Piedmont 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 while
John 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 with religion. To amuse his
friends he learned how to juggle and walk a tightrope; but he would
entertain 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 education made this seem impossible. A kindly priest
recognized his intelligence, however, and gave him his first
encouragement, teaching him to read and write. By taking odd jobs in the
village, and through the help of his mother and some charitable
neighbors, John managed to get through school and find admittance to the
diocesan seminary of nearby Turin. As a seminarian he devoted his spare
time to looking after the ragamuffins who roamed the slums of the city.
Every Sunday he taught 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 with them.
After his ordination in 1841, he became assistant to the chaplain of an
orphanage at Valocco, on the outskirts of Turin. This position was
short-lived, for when he insisted that his Sunday-school boys be allowed
to play on the orphanage grounds, they were turned away, and he
resigned. He began looking for a permanent home for them, but no
“decent” neighborhood would accept the noisy crowd. At last, in a rather
tumbledown section of the city, where no one was likely to protest, the
first oratory was established and named for Saint Francis de Sales. At
first the boys attended school elsewhere, but as more teachers
volunteered their time, classes were held at the house. Enrollment
increased so rapidly that by 1849 there were three oratories in various
places in the city.
For a long time Don Bosco had considered founding an Order to carry on
his work, and this idea was supported by a notoriously anticlerical
cabinet minister named Rattazzi. Rattazzi had seen the results of his
work, and although an Italian law forbade the founding of religious
communities at that time, he promised government support. The
founder-priest went to Rome in 1858 and, at the suggestion of Pope Pius
IX, drew up a Rule for his community, the Society of Saint Francis de
Sales (Salesians). Four years later he founded an Order for women,
the Daughters of Mary, Help of 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 on January 31, 1888. He was canonized in 1934 by Pope
Pius XI. The work of John Bosco continues today in over a thousand
Salesian oratories throughout the world. No modern Saint has captured
the heart of the world more rapidly than this smiling peasant-priest
from Turin, who believed that to give complete trust and love is the
most effective way to nourish virtue in others.