John Bosco was born in the evening of 16 August 1815 in the hillside hamlet of Becchi, Italy. He was the youngest son of Francesco Bosco and Margherita Occhiena. He had two older brothers, Antonio and Giuseppe. John Bosco was born into a time of great shortage and famine in the Piedmonteses countryside, following the devastation wrought by the Napoleonic wars and a drought in 1817.
When he was little more than two years old his father Francesco died, leaving the support of three boys to his mother, Margherita. She played a strong role in Bosco’s formation and personality, and was an early supporter of her son’s ideals.
In 1825, when he was nine, Bosco had the first of a series of dreams which would play an influential role in his outlook and work. This first dream “left a profound impression on him for the rest of his life”, according to his own memoirs. Bosco In the dream, he was with a whole lot of children who were playing. The problem was that they were going hell for leather and were pushing and shoving each other and swearing and cursing at each other. John didn’t like this and tried to stop them by throwing himself into the game and swearing and cursing himself and trying to force them to stop what they were doing by being just as rough himself.
The man said to him: “You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness. So begin right now to show them that sin is ugly and virtue beautiful. Poverty prevented any serious attempt at schooling. John’s early years were spent as a shepherd, and he received his first instruction from a parish priest.
His childhood experiences are thought to have inspired him to become a priest. At the time, being a priest was generally seen as a profession for the privileged classes, rather than farmers, although it was not unknown. Some biographers portray his older brother Antonio as the main obstacle for Bosco’s ambition to study, as the brother protested that John was just “a farmer like us!”
Young Life towards Priesthood
On a cold morning of February 1827, John left his home and went to look for work as a farm-servant. At 12, he found life at home unbearable because of the continuous quarrels with Antonio. Having to face life by himself at such a young age may have developed his later sympathies to help abandoned boys.
After begging unsuccessfully for work, Bosco ended up at the wine farm of Louis Moglia. Although Bosco could pursue some studies by himself, he was not able to attend school for two more years. In 1830 he met Joseph Cafasso, a young priest who identified some natural talent and supported his first schooling. In 1835 Bosco entered the seminary at Chieri. In 1841, after six years of study, he was ordained priest on the eve of Trinity Sunday by Archbishop Franzoni of Turin.
John Bosco was first called as the chaplain of the Rifugio (“Refuge”), a girls’ boarding school founded in Turin by the Marchioness Giulia di Barolo. His other ministries included visiting prisoners, teaching catechism, and helping out at country parishes.
In visiting the prisons, Don Bosco was disturbed to see so many boys from 12 to 18 years of age. He was determined to find a means to prevent them ending up here. Because of population growth and migration to the city, Bosco found the traditional methods of parish ministry inefficient. He decided it was necessary to try another form of apostolate, and he began to meet the boys where they worked and gathered in shops and market places. They were pavers, stone-cutters, masons, plasterers who came from far away places, he recalled in his brief Memoires.
For Don Bosco, it became his permanent occupation. He looked for jobs for the unemployed. Some of the boys did not have sleeping quarters and slept under bridges or in bleak public dormitories. Twice he tried to provide lodgings in his house. The first time they stole the blankets; the second they emptied the hay-loft. He did not give up. In May 1847, he gave shelter to a young boy from Valencia, in one of the three rooms he was renting in the slums of Valdocco, where he was living with his mother. He and “Mamma Margherita” began taking in orphans. The boys sheltered by Don Bosco numbered 36 in 1852, 115 in 1854, 470 in 1860 and 600 in 1861, 800 being the maximum some time later.
Bosco and his oratory moved around town for a number of years; he was turned out of several places in succession. After only two months based in the church of St. Martin, the entire neighborhood expressed its annoyance with the noise coming from the boys at play. A formal complaint was lodged against them with the municipality. Rumors also circulated that the meetings conducted by the priest with his boys were dangerous; their recreation could be turned into a revolution against the government. The group was evicted.
Bosco’s capability to attract numerous boys and adult helpers was connected to his “Preventive System of Education”. He believed education to be a “matter of the heart” and said that the boys must not only be loved, but know that they are loved. He also pointed to three components of the Preventive System: reason, religion and kindness. Music and games also went into the mix. Bosco gained a reputation early on of being a holy man and miracle worker.
Opposition to Bosco and his work came from various quarters. Traditionalist clergy accused him of stealing from the young and old people away from their own parishes. Nationalist politicians (including some clergy) saw his several hundred young men as a recruiting ground for revolution. The Marquis de Cavour, chief of police in Turin, regarded the open-air catechisms as overtly political and a threat to the State, and was highly suspicious of Bosco’s support for the powers of the papacy. Bosco was interrogated on several occasions, but no charges made. Closure may have been prevented by orders from the king that Bosco was not to be disturbed.
Several attempts were also made on Bosco’s life, including a near-stabbing, bludgeoning and a shooting. Early biographers put this down to the growing influence of the Waldensians in opposition to Catholic clergy.
Foundation of the Salesians of Don Bosco
Some of the boys helped by Don Bosco decided to do what he was doing, that is, to work in the service of abandoned boys. And this was the origin of the Salesian Congregation. Among the first members were Michael Rua, John Cagliero (who later became a Cardinal), and John Baptist Francesia.
In 1859, Bosco selected the experienced priest Vittorio Alasonatti, 15 seminarians and one high school boy and formed them into the “Society of St. Francis de Sales.” This was the nucleus of the Salesians, the religious order that would carry on his work. When the group had their next meeting, they voted on the admission of Joseph Rossi as a lay member, the first Salesian brother. The Salesian Congregation was divided into priests, seminarians and “coadjutors” (the lay brothers).
Next, he worked with estarino, Mary Mazzarello and a group of girls in the hill town of Mornese. In 1871, he founded a group of religious sisters to do for girls what the Salesians were doing for boys. They were called the “Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.” In 1874, he founded yet another group, the “Salesian Cooperators.” These were mostly lay people who would work for young people like the Daughters and the Salesians, but would not join a religious order.
He was convinced that everyone could be holy and constantly challenged his boys to love God and to accept responsibility for their own development as Christians and as good members of society. His famous quotes: “It is enough for me that you are young for me to love you” and “You will find writers far more talented than me, but, you will never find anyone who loves you and wants your true happiness more than I do” make clear his commitment to nurturing the fragile spirits of young people. Everyone he met felt as if they were specially loved by him.
Exhausted finally by his tireless work, he fell seriously ill. As he lay dying, many of his boys offered their own life to God in exchange for his. He died on 31 January, 1888, at the age of 72. On Easter Sunday, 1 April 1934, Pope Pius XI, who had had the good fortune to know him personally, proclaimed him a Saint.
Many of his works are still found in 132 countries in the world today helping young folks, the destitute, the hopeless and street vagabonds who were given new hope. The organisation serves as a Non-profit organisation (Approved Charity) still doing the humanitarian work involved in the following activities; Education; Technical training; Child education and child care; Conflict area development; Counseling; HIV/AIDS; Housing/temporary shelter; Rehabilitation; kitchen gardening, appropriate technologies; Gender issues, Agriculture, Disaster Management-Relief-Peace Building; Integration- Resource
What will be recorded of you? Do you want to be the blessing your community so desire? The challenges before you are not enough to stop you, Don Bosco was faced with much of the challenges but he prevailed, you can as well prevail. Shalom!!!
References: The free wikipidia, http://donbosco.lk/don-bosco/