St. John Bosco (1815-1888)

Fri, 31 Jan 2014 19:28:20 +0000


St. John Bosco

Today, January 31st, the universal Church celebrates an absolutely dynamic and kind man, St. John Bosco, the Founder of the Salesians.

He was born in 1815, the youngest son of a farmer.  Sadly, John’s father died when he was two years of age; hence, his devout and holy mother raised the family.  She worked very hard for her family and was truly saintly; a splendid example of love for John.

John had a dream when he was nine years old that disclosed to him his upcoming vocation.  In this dream, he was surrounded by a crowd of fighting and blaspheming children whom he strove to make peaceful, at first by attempting to reason with them, and secondly, with his fists.  Right away then, a lady appeared to him and said, “Softly, softly if you wish to win them!  Take your shepherd’s staff and lead them to pasture.”  Whilst she spoke, these children were transformed into wild beasts and then into lambs.  John then immediately  knew that his duty was to help poor boys, beginning with the boys who lived in his own village, and that he should teach them the catechism and bring them to Church.  To entice these boys to go to Mass, he would perform for them doing acrobatic tricks and such.  In fact, a professional juggler and gymnast was detaining the young boys from attending Mass with his performance.  Little John then challenged this performer to a competition and beat him, as John was very talented and proficient.  So, the poor boys then followed John to church to attend Mass.

He entered the seminary when he was 16 years old.  He was so poor that his maintenance money and his very clothes were provided by charity:  the mayor contributed his hat, the parish priest his cloak, a parishioner his cassock and another parishioner, his shoes.  After John was ordained a deacon, he passed to the theological college of Turin.  During this time, he did not give up his vocation, as he continued to gather the poor boys and waifs of Turin.  Joseph Cafasso, rector of a parish church and the annexed sacredotal institute in Turin, advised John: “Go and unpack that trunk you’ve got ready, and carry on with your work for the boys.  That, and nothing else, is God’s will for you.”

John’s first appointment consisted of serving as the assistant chaplain at a refuge for girls.  In this capacity, he was left free on Sundays, and this was the day he devoted to the poor boys, devising a combined Sunday-school and recreation center that he called, a “festive oratory.”  The benefactor of the refuge for girls noticed John’s devotion to the poor boys, and gave him an ultimatum:  that he either had to devote himself entirely to the girls, or give up his post as chaplain.  Consequently, John left his post as chaplain, being fully aware of God’s plans for him.

Whilst all this happened, he became very ill with pneumonia developing complications, wherein he nearly died.  Even though he was still weak and suffering, he went to live in some miserable rooms adjoining his new oratory.  But his great blessing was his mother, who came to help him in his endeavors.  He started a night school, and this was so successful, that he began two more centers in other parts of Turin.  At this time, he started to take in some destitute children, who lived with John and “Mamma Margaret” going out daily to work.  He found that the children were so influenced negatively in the outside world, that he decided to train these children at home.  Accordingly, in 1853, he opened two workshops for shoemakers and tailors.

He built a church under the patronage of his favorite saint, Francis de Sales, and after this accomplishment, he began to build a home for his children, whose numbers increased.  In fact, by 1856, there were 150 resident boys with workshops, including a printing-press, four Latin classes, with ten young priests, besides the oratories with their 500 children.

John’s main problem were keeping his priests, because the poor boys were ruffians and so difficult to manage; they lacked the skills and abilities of John to mentor such people.  But, in December of 1859, with twenty-two companions, he proceeded with a religious Order named after St. Francis, called the “Salesians”.  Pope Pius IX approved the rules of this new congregation.  However, it took fifteen years for the constitutions to receive their final approbation.  In 1863. there were 39 Salesians and today they are numbered in the thousands all over the world.  John lived to see 26 houses started in the New World and 38 houses started in the Old.

After the Salesians started, in 1872, he founded an order of women to help poor girls.  Twenty-seven young women were given the clothing of their order, which John named, the “Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians.”  And this community increased almost as fast as the Salesians, with elementary schools in Italy, Brazil and Argentina.

It is also amazing that he continued to build churches, with the help of benefactors and so many people, the church of St. John the Evangelist and a church devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in France.  All during this time, he was told by his doctors that he had worn himself out, and that he needed complete bed rest.  But John knew that he could not rest.  He continued to work until he could work no more: his strength gave way and he died on January 31, 1888.  Forty thousand people visited his body as it lay in the church, as the people from Turin turned out to give him their thanks and to honor him.

St. John was canonized in 1934.  A review of St. John Bosco’s life shows that he had a will of steel when it came to showing his love for God through his vocation, to help his dear poor boys and poor girls.  He sacrificed himself for love of them, and did so with brilliance, social understanding and grace, making life interesting and joyous for them, showing them how to love themselves, God and their neighbor.  He started with absolutely nothing.  His incredible accomplishments speak volumes that this saint followed God’s will for him with absolute fervor, devotion and a love that constantly motivated him.  We must remember his resolve, his joy for life and always the most important, his incredible love.  Dear St. John Bosco, assist us with our vocations and to do God’s will for us in our daily lives.

With respect and love,


Sources:  Butler’s Lives of the Saints, edited by Michael Walsh

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