Educator & Friend of Youth
John Bosco was born in the little village of Becchi some 20 km from the city of Turin in Northern Italy. His father, Francis Bosco was a hard working farmer who died when John was only two years old. The words of his grief stricken mother telling him he was fatherless, remained deeply impressed in John’s mind, and perhaps helped to him an intense compassion for the orphans and the homeless which became the dominant of his life.
NOT WITH BLOWS
At the age of nine John had a dream. He saw himself in a vast field, surrounded by youngsters, laughing, singing and playing. Before long the boys began to shout and curse and a fighting broke out. John tried to restore order by swinging his fists around and shouting at the trouble makers. A mysterious person stopped him, saying, Not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness you shall win them over. John recognised in this dream his future mission. This experience deepened his desire to become a priest and dedicate his life for the welfare of young people. John’s path, however, was full of hurdles. His mother, though poor, was prepared to make any sacrifice to educate him. But his elder step-brother opposed tooth and nail his going to school. He had to do his share of work on the family farm and study during his spare time. To earn the little extra money needed for his books, he had often to work as a labourer, shepherd, tailor, shoemaker, barber and cook skills which he later taught his orphans. As a teenager, John used to gather together boys of his age and entertain them with magic, jugglery, and acrobatics. His performance, however, always ended with a good story and a brief exhortation to live a good and honest life. In due course John entered the seminary and was ordained a priest on June 5th 1841.
PIONEER AND FOUNDER
On 5th June 1841, John Bosco was ordained a priest. It was time when owing to rapid industrialisation young 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 witnessed 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 on his evening walks he constantly met bands of youngsters fighting. He decided that his life’s work would be to redeem those miserable youths. Don Bosco’s work for boys started with just one boy, a masons apprentice. This boy brought others and the number of Don Bosco’s Friends soon multiplied. He gave them facilities for games and taught them their religion. Soon he started offering shelter to destitute youth who had nowhere to go. In 1846 there were over 600 boys in his Sunday Oratory while another 20 youngsters lodged with him. Don Bosco’s Mother, affectionately called Mamma Margaret by the boys, came to Turin to help him. 1847 found him opening a new Oratory in another part of the city of Turin. Two years later it became necessary to open a third Oratory to look after the swarms of boys who flocked to him. Although enlarged and rebuilt several times, the first Oratory became quite inadequate. In 1856 it was demolished to make room for an entirely new structure. Workshops were set up to provide training in shoemaking, tailoring, carpentry, printing and book binding. The modest printing press developed into the great publishing house known all over the world today as the Societa Editrice Internazionale. All this while Don Bosco had been building up from his old boys a society of men who would help him to develop his work and carry it on after his death. In December 1859 these young men formed themselves into a simple society for this purpose. In May 1862, twenty two of them took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience thus forming themselves into a religious congregation which he named Salesians, after his favourite saint, Francis de sales. Today they are known as Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB). In 1872, with St. Mary Mazzarello, Don Bosco founded a congregation of nuns whom he called Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, also known as Don Bosco Sisters, to look after the girls. In 1876, he founded a third group called Salesian Cooperators. They are men and women who, without beaming priests or nuns, work for youth in the spirit of Don Bosco. His works were marked by an extraordinary number of spiritual gifts and miracles earning him the name, Wonder worker of Turin. He had an ardent devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who proved herself a powerful advocate and support in his every need.
REASON. RELIGION, LOVE
Behind the immense success of his work with youth was a pedagogy of the young, a system of education, that he developed. He called it the preventive system and summarised it in three simple words: REASON, RELIGION and LOVING KINDNESS.
The educator has to spend himself in the service of his pupils. He has to be reasonable in the demands he makes on them. He has to be reasonable in the demands he makes on them. He has to teach them a deep love for truth and virtue and in all his dealing, he has to be patient and kind with them. Don Bosco told his disciples that education has to be based on love and selfless service for the mental, emotional, moral and spiritual growth of the pupils. His educational method the preventing system preceded at least by half a century the era of modern educationalists with similar strategies.
Praises and triumphs greeted Don Bosco in the last years of his life. The government of Italy recognized him as an outstanding public benefactor; educationalists sought his advice and profited from the system of education practised in his schools. Church authorities including Popes, regarded his work as providential and well suited to the needs of the times.
Don Bosco died on 31st JANUARY 1888 at the age of 73, worn out by his indefatigable labours for the welfare and uplift of poor and abandoned youth. He was declared a saint of the Catholic Church on April 1st 1934.
Today the Salesians of Don Bosco number over 18,400 and work in 126 countries in 3,000 institutions. They are engaged in a wide variety of works, always directed to the welfare of the young academic. Agricultural and technical schools, youth centres, orphanages and hostels, parishes and missions, catechetics and mass media and social communication, youth counselling and rehabilitation centres and a host of special services for delinquents and marginalised youth. Countless young men and women, well established in society, living lives useful to themselves and to their fellow-beings offer ceaseless thanks to Don Bosco.
That is all. But then, that is what he wanted: to guide the young along the path of virtue and goodness.