John Bosco: Wikis


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John Bosco
Confessor; Father and Teacher of Youth
Born August 16, 1815(1815-08-16),
Castelnuovo, Piedmont, Italy
Died January 31, 1888 (aged 72)
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church,
Anglican Communion
Beatified June 2, 1929, Rome by Pope Pius XI
Canonized April 1, 1934, Rome by Pope Pius XI
Major shrine The Tomb of St John Bosco, Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians, Turin, Italy
Feast January 31
Patronage Christian apprentices, editors, publishers, schoolchildren, young people[magicians]

Saint John Bosco (16 August 1815 – 31 January 1888), born Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco, also called Don Bosco, was an Italian Catholic priest and educator, who put into practice the convictions of his religion, dedicating his life to the upliftment and education of poor youngsters, and employing teaching methods based on love rather than punishment. He placed his works under the protection of Francis de Sales; the chief organization he founded was therefore known as the Society of St. Francis de Sales, or, popularly, as the Salesian Society or the Salesians of Don Bosco. He also founded, together with Maria Domenica Mazzarello, the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, a religious congregation of nuns dedicated to the care and education of poor girls, and popularly known as Salesian Sisters.

Don Bosco succeeded in establishing a network of organizations and centres to carry on his work. In recognition of his work with disadvantaged youth, he was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934.


Early life

John Bosco was born in Becchi, Piedmont. His father died two years later and Giovanni, together with his two brothers Antonio and Giuseppe, was brought up by his mother. She was to support him in his work until her death in 1856.

When he was younger, he would put on shows of his skills as a juggler, magician and acrobat.[1] The price of admission to these shows was a prayer that was never enforced, but always asked.[2]

Early in his childhood he had a vision or dream in which he learned what his life would be dedicated to and in the dream he heard a voice which said, "Not with blows, but with charity and gentleness must you draw these friends to the path of virtue."[3] It was this statement which was instilled in oratory and preventive system he was yet to found.[4]

Don Bosco began as the chaplain of the Rifugio ("Refuge"), a girls' boarding school founded in Turin by the Marchioness Giulia di Barolo, but he had many ministries on the side such as visiting prisoners, teaching catechism and helping out at country parishes.

A growing group of boys would come to the Rifugio on Sundays and feast days to play and learn their catechism. They were too old to join the younger children in regular catechism classes in the parishes, which mostly chased them away. This was the beginning of the "Oratory of St. Francis de Sales." Don Bosco and his oratory wandered around town for a few years and were turned out of several places in succession. Finally, he was able to rent a shed from a Mr. Pinardi. His mother moved in with him. The oratory had a home, then, in 1846, in the new Valdocco neighborhood on the north end of town. The next year, he and "Mamma Margherita" began taking in orphans.

Even before this, however, Don Bosco had the help of several friends at the oratory. There were zealous priests like Don Cafasso and Don Borel, some older boys like Giuseppe Buzzetti, Michael Rua, Giovanni Cagliero and Carlo Gastini as well as Don Bosco’s own mother.[citation needed]

One friend was Justice Minister Urbano Rattazzi, who despite being anticlerical, nevertheless recognized the value of Don Bosco’s work.[5][6] While Rattazzi was pushing a bill through the Sardinian legislature to suppress religious orders, he advised Don Bosco on how to get around the law and found a religious order to keep the oratory going after its founder’s death.[7] Bosco had been thinking about that problem, too, and had been slowly organizing his helpers into a loose "Congregation of St. Francis de Sales." He was also training select older boys for the priesthood on the side. Another supporter of the religious order's idea was the reigning Pope, Blessed Pius IX.[8]

In 1854, when the Kingdom of Sardinia was about to pass a law suppressing monastic orders and confiscating ecclesiastical properties, Bosco reported a series of dreams about "great funerals at court," referring to members of the Savoy court or of politicians.[9] In November 1854, he sent a letter to King Victor Emmanuel II, admonishing him to oppose the confiscation of church property and suppression of the orders, but the King did nothing.[10] His activity, which had been described by Italian historian Erberto Petoia as having "manifest blackmailing intentions",[11] ended only after the intervention of Prime Minister Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour. Despite such criticisms, the King's family suffered a surprising number of deaths in a short period. From January to May 1855, the King's mother (age 55), wife (33), newborn son and his only brother (33) all died.[9][10]

In 1859, Bosco selected the experienced priest Don 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 Don Pestarino, 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.[12]

The story of the departure of the first Salesians for America in 1875 is based on the missionary ideal of Don Bosco. After his ordination, he would have become a missionary had not his director, Joseph Cafasso, opposed the idea. He eagerly read the Italian edition of the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith and used this magazine to illustrate his Cattolico provveduto (1853) and his Month of May booklets (1858).

When John Bosco founded the Salesian Society, the thought of the missions still obsessed him, though he completely lacked the financial means at that time. One night, he dreamt again. Being on a vast plain, inhabited by primitive peoples, who spent their time hunting or fighting among themselves or against soldiers in European uniforms. Along came a band of missionaries, but they were all horribly massacred. A second group appeared, which Don Bosco at once recognized as Salesians. Astonished, he witnessed an unexpected change when the fierce savages laid down their arms and listened to the missionaries. The dream made a great impression on Don Bosco, because he tried hard to identify the men and the country of the dream.

For three years, Bosco searched among documents, trying to get information about different countries, thus identifying the country from his dream. One day, a request came from Argentina, which turned him towards the Indians of Patagonia. To his surprise, a study of the people there convinced him that the country and its inhabitants were the ones he had seen in his dream.

He regarded it as a sign of providence and started preparing a missionary there. Adopting a way of evangelization that would not expose his missionaries suddenly to wild, uncivilized tribes, he proposed to set up bases in safe locations where their missionary efforts were to be launched.

The above request from Argentina came about as follows: Towards the end of 1874, John Bosco received letters from that country requesting that he accept an Italian parish in Buenos Aires and a school for boys at San Nicolas de los Arroyos. Gazzolo, the Argentine Consul at Savona, had sent the request, for he had taken a great interest in the Salesian work in Liguria and hoped to obtain the Salesians' help for the benefit of his country. Negotiations started after Archbishop Aneiros of Buenos Aires had indicated that he would be glad to receive the Salesians. They were successful mainly because of the good offices of the priest of San Nicolas, Pedro Ceccarelli, a friend of Gazzolo, who was in touch with and had the confidence of Don Bosco. In a ceremony held on January 29, 1875, Don Bosco was able to convey the great news to the oratory in the presence of Gazzolo. On February 5, he announced the fact in a circular letter to all Salesians asking volunteers to apply in writing. He proposed that the first missionary departure start in October. Practically all the Salesians volunteered for the missions.

By this time Italy was united under Piedmontese leadership. The poorly-governed Papal States were merged into the new kingdom. It was generally thought that Don Bosco supported the Pope.

Don Bosco.

The Preventive System

Don 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.

Don Bosco gained a reputation early on of being a saint and miracle worker. For this reason, Rua, Buzzetti, Cagliero and several others began to keep chronicles of his sayings and doings. Preserved in the Salesian archives, these remain resources for studying his life. Later on, the Salesian Don Lemoyne collected and combined them into 77 scrapbooks with oral testimonies and Don Bosco’s own Memoirs of the Oratory. His aim was to write a detailed biography. This project eventually became a nineteen-volume affair, carried out by him and two other authors. These are the Biographical Memoirs. It is clearly not the work of professional historians, but a somewhat uneven compilation of those chronicles that preserve the memories of teenage boys and young men under the spell of a remarkable and beloved father figure.

Basilica Don Bosco in Castelnuovo Don Bosco, Asti.

Death and canonization

Don Bosco died on January 31, 1888. His funeral was attended by thousands and very soon after there were popular demands to have him canonized. Accordingly, the Archdiocese of Turin began to investigate and witnesses were called to determine if his holiness were worthy of a declared Saint. As expected, the Salesians, Daughters and Cooperators gave fulsome testimonies. But many remembered Don Bosco’s controversies in the 1870s with Archbishop Gastaldi and some others high in the Church hierarchy thought him a loose cannon and a wheeler-dealer. In the canonization process, testimony was heard about how he went around Gastaldi to get some of his men ordained and about their lack of academic preparation and ecclesiastical decorum. Political cartoons from the 1860s and later showed him shaking money from the pockets of old ladies or going off to America for the same purpose. These cartoons were not forgotten. Opponents of Don Bosco, including some cardinals, were in a position to block his canonization and many Salesians feared around 1925 that they would succeed.

However, Pope Pius XI had known Don Bosco and pushed the cause forward. Bosco was declared Blessed in 1929 and canonized on Easter Sunday of 1934, when he was given the title of "Father and Teacher of Youth."[13]

While Bosco had been popularly known as the patron saint of illusionists, on January 30, 2002, Fr. Silvio Mantelli, SDB, petitioned Pope John Paul II to formally acclaim St John Bosco the Patron of Stage Magicians.[14] Catholic stage magicians who practice Gospel Magic venerate Don Bosco by offering free magic shows to underprivileged children on his feast day.

Don Bosco's work was carried on by his early pupil and constant companion, Don Michael Rua, who was appointed Rector Major of the Salesian Society by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. Salesians of Don Bosco have started many schools and colleges around the world.


Perhaps inevitably given his work with boys and young men, Bosco has been the subject of speculation about whether or not he had sublimated pederastic tendencies. Those who put forward this theory, such as Giovanni Dall'orto, point to his tenderness towards boys, in contrast to the harshness of most schools of the time, and interpret a number of statements by Bosco and others in support of this theory[15].

In a comment made shortly before his death, Don Bosco himself seems to be aware that his actions may be seen in an erotic light [referring to himself in the third person]: "I will reveal to you now a fear . . . I fear that one of ours may come to misinterpret the affection that Don Bosco had for the young, and from the way that I received their confession - really, really close - and may let himself get carried away with too much sensuality towards them, and then pretend to justify himself by saying that Don Bosco did the same, be it when he spoke to them in secret, be it when he received their confession. I know that one can be conquered by way of the heart, and I fear dangers, and spiritual harm[16][17].

Further reading


  1. ^ Willey, David, Magician priest wants patron saint of magic BBC News 2June 2002
  2. ^
  3. ^ St. Giovanni Melchior Bosco Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 2., New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907, accessed June 9, 2009
  4. ^ St. Giovanni Melchior Bosco Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 2., New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907, accessed June 9, 2009
  5. ^ Craughwell, Thomas J. [http://This Saint's for You!, pp. 156-157, Quirk Books, 2007
  6. ^ Jestice, Phyllis G., Holy People of the World, p. 138, ABC-CLIO, 2004
  7. ^ Craughwell, Thomas J. [http://This Saint's for You!, pp. 156-157, Quirk Books, 2007
  8. ^ Villefranche, Jacques-Melchior, The Life of Don Bosco: Founder of the Salesian Society, pp. 15-16, Burns & Oates, 18??
  9. ^ a b Mendl, Michael The Dreams of St. John BoscoJournal of Salesian Studies 12 (2004), no. 2, pp. 321-348.
  10. ^ a b Memoirs of the Oratory of Saint Francis de Sales 1815 - 1855: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SAINT JOHN BOSCO Translated by Daniel Lyons, SDB, with notes and commentary by Eugene Ceria SDB, Lawrence Castelvecchi SDB, and Michael Mendl SDB, Ch. 55, fn. 802
  11. ^ Petoia, Erberto (June 2007). "I sinistri presagi di Don Giovanni Bosco". Medioevo: p. 70. 
  12. ^ "Patron Saints Index". Retrieved 2007-10-18. 
  13. ^ "Catholic Online". Retrieved 2007-10-18. 
  14. ^ Magicians Want Don Bosco Declared Their Patron 2002-01-29 Zenit News Agency
  15. ^ Giovanni Dall'orto, in Who's who in gay and lesbian history, (ed. Robert Aldrich e Garry Wotherspoon), vol. 1
  16. ^ ."Paul Pennings, "Don Bosco breathes his last. The scenario of Catholic social clubs in the Fifties and Sixties". In Among men, among women, Amsterdam 1983, pp. 166-175 & 598-599
  17. ^ Stephan Sanders,A phenomenon's bankrupcy; Don Bosco and the question of coeducation. Ibidem, pp. 159-165 e 602-603

Sources and Studies

  • Bosco, Giovanni (1989). Memoirs of the Oratory. Don Bosco Publications. 
  • Amadei, Angelo; Giovanni Battista Lemoyne, Eugenio Ceria. Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco. Don Bosco Publications. . These volumes translate id.. Memorie Biografiche di San Giovanni Bosco, 19 vol.. SEI. 
  • Desramaut, François (1996). Don Bosco et son Temps. SEI. 
  • Lenti, Arthur J. (2007-). Don Bosco: History and Spirit. LAS.  A projected 7-volume series, 4 published to date.
  • Stella, Pietro (1996). Don Bosco: Religious Outlook and Spirituality. Salesiana Publishers. 
  • Wirth, Morand (1982). Don Bosco and the Salesians. New Rochelle, New Jersey. Don Bosco Publications.  Translation of id. (1969). Don Bosco e i Salesiani: Centocinquant'anni di storia. SEI. 

External links

See also



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