Don Bosco our founder
A Friend ofYouth
John Bosco was born on 16th August 1815 in the little hamlet of
Becchi some 20 km, from Turin, Italy. His father, Francis Bosco,
was a hard-working peasant who died when John was only two
years old. The grief-stricken words of his mother, telling him that he
was now fatherless remained deeply impressed in the child’s mind,
and perhaps helped to instill into his mind the intense pity for the
orphans and the homeless which became the dominant
note of his life.
The story of the exertions and sacrifices made by him and his mother cannot be told here in detail. Working as a servant, teaching, assisting a tailor, doing chores for a blacksmith and keeping score at a billiard table were some of the things he did in order to pay for his food, lodging and tuition while at school. But the worst was over when in October 1835, with an outfit provided by charitable neighbours, John Bosco entered the Ecclesiastical Seminary at Chieri.
On 5th June 1841, John Bosco was ordained a priest. Disregarding attractive offers of sacerdotal work, Don Bosco as he was from now on called, went on to pursue a postgraduate course in theology, together with some practical training in priestly duties.
Very soon Don Bosco became a frequent visitor to the poor quarters of the city. Owing to its rapid expansion labourers were crowding into Turin in great numbers. The young priest was distressed by the swarms of neglected children whom he encountered. In the miserable garrets and cellars which he visited, he found exemplified all the evils of overcrowding, all the terrible effects of herding the young and innocent with those already corrupt. In the prisons he met youth serving terms for every type of crime, while during the evening walks, he constantly met bands of young people fighting. He decided that the work of his life would be to redeem these miserable youths.
Don Bosco’s work for boys started with one boy, a mason’s apprentice. Soon this boy brought others and the number of “Don Bosco’s Friends” soon multiplied. Don Bosco gave them facilities of games and taught them their religion.In the meantime Don Bosco had finished his post graduate course of sacerdotal studies and was full-time employed in the work of the oratory (Youth Club). Soon he started offering shelter to destitute children who had nowhere to go. Thus in 1846 in his Sunday Oratory there were over 600 boys while some 20 youngsters lodged with him. Don Bosco’s Mother “Mamma Margaret”, as the boys would affectionately call her, offered to come to Turin and help him.
With rooms, no matter how small, at his disposal, the young priest’s ideal began to expand. He organized daily evening classes for arithmetic, drawing, geography and grammar. It was also at this time that this thorough-going teacher, finding it difficult to procure textbooks really suited to his boys commenced writing his own. The first was a History of the Church, the second The Metric Decimal System Simplified. They were followed by a History of Italy, a prayer-book for young people, and others many of which went through many editions and attained enormous circulations.
As the number of boys in the oratory increased, Don Bosco started buying up more and more land around the tiny original building all with donations from his numerous benefactors in Italy and abroad.
During 1847 a new oratory was founded by Don Bosco in another part of Turin. Two Years later it became necessary to open a third oratory to look after the swarm of boys who flocked to the two oratories.
Although enlarged and reconstructed more than once the first building became quite inadequate. In 1856 it was demolished, and an entirely new structure took its place. In 1853 two small workshops had been opened; one a shoemaker’s, the other a tailor’s for teaching the unemployed youngsters of the oratory a trade to provide them with the means of earning an honest livelihood. A workshop for teaching carpentry was soon followed by others for bookbinding and cabinet making. Lastly, a modest printing press was founded which has since developed into the great publishing house known all over the world by the name “Societa Editrice Internazionale.”
All this while, from his “old boys” Don Bosco had been building up a society of men who would help him to develop his work and would carry it on when he died. In December 1859 these young men were formed into a simple society for this purpose. In may 1862, 22 of them took their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience thus forming a true religious congregation. In 1869 this community was officially recognized by the Catholic Church and took the name of “Salesians” after St. Francis of Sales.
Don Bosco also founded a Congregation of religious nuns known as the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians to educate girls with the same methods as the Salesians used to educate the boys.
Now, what is the method which Don Bosco and his Salesians used in order to educate boys? Don Bosco called it the ‘Preventive System’ and based it on REASON, RELIGION and KINDNESS. The educator was to spend himself in the service of his pupils. He was to be reasonable in the demands he made on them, he was to teach them a deep love for truth and virtue and in all his dealings he was to be patient and kind with them. Don Bosco told his disciples that education was to be based on love and selfless service for the physical, mental, emotional, moral and spiritual growth of his pupils. His title book on The Preventive System in the Training of Youth forestalled by half-a-century the educational methods which were to be acclaimed as opening a new era when more fashionable educationalists “invented” them.
In 1875, he opened a branch in Patagonia, South America. By 1876 there were 10 branches of the society, one of them in Nice, the first in the French territory, which was followed by a college in Marseilles in 1878. Soon the French foundation numbered a score and spread to Belgium. Together with the spread of Salesian Schools came also an increase in the number of Salesians. In 1880 they numbered over 900.
Praises and triumphs greeted Don Bosco in the last years of his life. The government of Italy recognized him as an outstanding public benefactor, educationists sought his advice and profited from the system practised in his school. Church authorities including popes, regarded his work as providential, rightly fitted to the needs of the times. A third branch of Don Bosco’s work grew under the name of the Salesian Cooperators. These were ordinary people in the world who helped Don Bosco’s work by means of prayer and Co-operation.
He lived to be 73. Not a great age: no, but his work was done. So indefatigably had he worked that it was firmly established that he could no longer stand; his right hand was paralyzed. “Do you know where I could buy a new pair of bellows” he asked pointing to his lungs “for these won’t work much longer.” Hundreds of people, not counting his own spiritual family, were anxiously waiting for news from the sick room of the Oratory when he died. It was quarter to five in the morning of 31st January 1888. Don Bosco was declared a Saint of the Catholic Church on 1st April 1934.
Let us sum up the work of the farm-boy of Becchi. The society he founded now numbers nearly 19000 members working in 128 countries through 2,000 institutions. In India alone, there are 2000 Salesians serving the educational needs throughout the country. The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians have a membership of 19,000 and they work in 100 countries through 1,500 institutions. The children educated by the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians are a legion. Countless young men and women, well established in society living useful to themselves and to their fellow beings offer ceaseless thanks to Don Bosco for having saved them from lives of crime and misery.
That is all; but then, that is all he wanted: to guide the young along the path of virtue and goodness.
DON BOSCO’S TIPS TO SCHOOL CHILDREN
HINTS FOR STUDENTS IN DON BOSCO SCHOOL
(Given by Don Bosco)
ATTITUDE TO GOD
These evils draw God’s anger upon us. But if we keep these evils far away from us, God will never fail us with His blessings.