Saint John Bosco studied at the seminary of Chieri from 1835 to1841. In 1838 he learnt a lesson regarding preaching. During summer holidays, John was invited to preached at Alfiano on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. After preaching, John asked the parish priest for his opinion. He told John that his sermon was well drawn up, but only a few people would actually understand. He said, “It’s all very well to weave a sermon based on sacred history and the history of the church, but the people don’t understand.” Finally he advised: “Drop the classical style, use the dialect, or even Italian if you choose, but keep to the level of the common folk. Instead of arguments, use examples and comparisons, and keep them simple and practical. Remember that people follow little, and that the fruits of the faith have to be explained in the simplest possible way.”
This is one of the most precious advices John received in his life. He always remembered it while preaching, teaching catechism and writing books.
For John Bosco, the year 1839 was dominated by the death of his best friend, Louis Comollo. In the last month of the holidays in 1838, while looking upon a row of vines from a hill, Louis told John that he hoped to drink a better wine the following year. He explained: “For some time now, I feel such a strong desire for heaven, that I feel it will be impossible to live longer on earth.”
Early in the school year, John and Louis were reading the life of a saint. John said, “How nice it would be if the first among us to die were to bring some news of the beyond to the other.” Louis responded saying, “Let’s make a pact. God willing, the first among us to die will come to tell the other whether he is in paradise. Agreed?” They agreed and shook their hands.
In the morning of March 25, while on the way to the chapel, Louis stopped John and said, “It is over for me. I am feeling very unwell, and I know I will soon die.” John said, ” Oh, come on! You will be fine. Just yesterday we walked together for an hour. Stop getting ideas.” However, Louis collapsed in the chapel and was taken to the infirmary.
On March 31 Easter Sunday Louis made confession and received viaticum. When he was alone with John, he said, “The moment has come when we have to leave each other, John. We were thinking that we would become priests together and continue helping and advising each other. But God has other plans. Promise you will pray for me!” Louis died on April 2 at around 2 a.m. at the age of 22.
Within 48 hours a strange event took place in the seminary. John Bosco wrote, “On the night between 3 and 4 April I was in my bed in the dormitory containing about 20 seminarians. At about 11:30 p.m. a rumbling sound came from the corridor, as if a heavy carriage drawn by many horses was pulling up to the door of our dormitory. The seminarians all woke up but no one said a word. I was petrified by terror. The noise came closer. The door flew open violently. I clearly heard the voice of Comollo saying three times: ‘Bosco, I am saved!’ Then the noise ceased. My companions had jumped out of their beds, and some were clustered around the perfect of the dormitory, Fr. Joseph Fiorito of Rivoli. That, I remember, was the first time in my life that I experienced fear. I was so terrified that I preferred to die. I became so sick that I almost died.”