Don Bosco knew the needs of poor boys in Turin. He desired to start a shelter for them. He set up a makeshift dormitory in a hayloft with straw, sheets, blankets and sacks.
One day in April of 1847, Don Bosco was returning home late after a sick call when he saw a group of some twenty young men. They started to insult the priesthood when they saw Don Bosco. Pretending he had not heard their remarks, Don Bosco greeted them. The young men demanded that Don Bosco bought them a bottle of wine or they would not let him go. Don Bosco agreed and promised to buy them two bottles of wine. It was quite an unusual sight to see a priest with a retinue of young toughs in a tavern!
When the young men became more receptive, Don Bosco asked them to do him a favor by not blaspheming the name of God and of Our Lord. They promised to amend, and Don Bosco asked them to go home. Some young men said that they had no home and Don Bosco invited them to stay at his place. He brought them to the hayloft and handed out sheets and blankets. Don Bosco thought that these young men could be the beginning of the shelter he had wanted to start. But the next morning, when Don Bosco went to the hayloft he found the young men had stolen away, taking the sheets and blankets with them to sell.
One rainy evening in May, a boy of about fifteen came to the door. He asked for food and lodging for the night. Mamma Margaret made him sit by the fire at the kitchen and served him bread and hot soup. The boy told Don Bosco, “My parents are dead and I came from Valsesia only a short while ago looking for work. I’m an apprentice bricklayer. I had three lire with me, but I spent it all before I could earn any money. Now I’ve nothing left and I don’t know anybody.” He told Don Bosco that he had neither received first Communion nor received Confirmation. When his mother was still living, he went to Confession from time to time. Don Bosco asked, “What are your plans now?” The boy answered, “I don’t know…. Can I stay here tonight? Any corner would do.” He then broke into tears. Both Mamma Margaret and Don Bosco were deeply moved. They decided to let the boy stay. After making his bed, Mamma Margaret gave a little talk on the necessity of work, honesty, and the practice of religion. Unwittingly, she started a custom which is still observed by the Salesians, namely that of addressing a few encouraging words to the boys before the night’s rest. The practice is known as “the Salesian Good Night”.
Shortly after, a second boy was given shelter. In early June, Don Bosco saw a boy weeping dejectedly. His father was deceased and his mother had just died the day before. Due to unpaid rent, the landlord took away the furniture at home and locked the room as soon as the body was taken away. The boy lamented: “What am I to do now? I’m all alone. I’m hungry and I need a place to sleep, and I don’t know what will happen to me.” Don Bosco brought the boy home and presented him to Mamma Margaret, saying, “God has sent us another boy. Please look after him and prepare him a bed.”
Several other boys came to the shelter after the first two. Each morning, while Don Bosco was celebrating Mass, the boys recited their prayers and five decades of the rosary. Don Bosco prepared food for the boys and attended to their spiritual and material needs.