Category Archives: St. John Bosco

20151019 Don Bosco opens a shelter

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.

20151012 Mamma Margaret makes sacrifices

St. John Bosco had a serious sickness in July 1846 which nearly brought him to the grave. He needed a good convalescence and in the second week of August he went to his family in Becchi. While he was away Father Borel took charge of the oratory. But soon, Father Borel needed help from other priests. To replace one Don Bosco, five to six priests were needed. And soon the priests realized that it was not easy to look after more than four hundred boys. The boys, however, deeply missed Don Bosco. They travelled to visit him and sent him affectionate letters, begging him to return.

After a few months of rest, Don Bosco really wanted to return to Turin, but his friends kept telling him that he needed to stay away from the oratory for at least a year or so to avoid a relapse. However, the separation from the boys was too painful for Don Bosco and eventually he was allowed to return with the condition that, for a time, he would limit himself only to be present among the boys to direct and advise them. Don Bosco promised, but soon he was at work as just before.

When talking about this one day, he said, “At first, I really intended to obey and keep my promise. But when I saw the Father Borel and his assistants could not possibly cope with everything, and that, occasionally, on Sunday and holy days, many of the boys were unable to go to confession or receive religious instruction, I felt I couldn’t stand by idly any longer. So I took up my accustomed activities, and now it is twenty-five years and more since I have not had any need of doctors or medicine. This makes me believe that well regulated work does not harm a person’s health.”

Don Bosco was no longer the chaplain of the hospital founded by Marchioness Barolo and he had to settle in the house near the oratory. In that neighbourhood were some disreputable tenants and in order to protect himself from suspicion, Don Bosco needed someone to stay with him. After some hesitations, Don Bosco asked his mother, “Mamma, why don’t you come and stay with me for some time? I have rented three rooms at Valdocco, and soon I may give shelter to some abandoned boys. You once told me that if ever I became rich you would never enter my house. Look at me now: I am a poor man and full of debts, and it is risky for a priest to live alone in that place.” Margaret spent a  few minutes in thought and said, “If you think that is God’s will, I will come.”

On Tuesday, November 3, 1846 Don Bosco and his mother came to Turin. At their new home, mother and son sang together. A boy heard their singing and the news of Don Bosco’s arrival spread like wild fire.

In order to keep up with the expenses of the oratory, Mamma Margaret and Don Bosco sold some pieces of land and vineyards which they still owned in their native village. Margaret also sent for her bridal trousseau. She sold part of it and used the rest to make vestments for the chapel. Margaret said, “When I looked at those things in my hands for the last time and was about to sell them or covert them to something else, I felt a little perturbed, but as soon as I became aware of it, I told myself: ‘Come now, what better use could they possibly have than providing food and clothing for poor boys, and honoring the heavenly Bridegroom in church?’ Afterwards, I felt so happy that if I had had a hundred other trousseaus, I would have given them all up without any regrets.”

20151005 Bosco experienced healing

St. John Bosco’s unique method of running an oratory for boys caused many of his priest friends to keep a distance from him. Being left alone, Don Bosco singlehandedly carried the burden of caring for more than 400 boys.

One day, the owners of the meadow came to the oratory to examined the place. They sent Don Bosco a note: “Your boys are continually trampling down our meadow; even the grass roots will be killed. We are willing to waive the rent you already owe us, on condition that you evacuate the meadow within fifteen days, as we are unable to grant you further extension.”

The last day of the oratory in the meadow was Palm Sunday, April 5, 1846. That Sunday had been one of the unhappiest days of Don Bosco. Rumors had cast doubts on the sanity of Don Bosco and had stirred up public opinion against him to such an extent that every suitable place was denied of him.

After hearing confessions for the boys, Don Bosco announced that they would make a pilgrimage to ask Our Lady for a new place. In the afternoon, while the boys were playing, Don Bosco was alone in a corner, thoughtful and sad. Some boys came up to him to keep him company, but he said, “No, go and play, boys, I need to be alone.”

Don Bosco went to plead with the owners, but they would not change their mind. Don Bosco thought to myself: all his helpers had turned away, he was exhausted and he had only two hours to get out of the meadow. Would all his work come to nothing? Don Bosco could bear it no longer, he broke down and wept. He looked up to heaven prayed, “Oh my God, my God, why don’t you show me where I can gather these boys? Please let me know or tell me what to do.” Suddenly a gentleman named Pancrazio Soave came and asked: “Is it true you are trying to find a place for a workshop?” Don Bosco said, “Not for a workshop, but for an oratory.” Soave replied, “I can’t tell the difference, but I know a place that might do. Come and see it.” After seeing the place, Don Bosco announced to the boys that they had a new place for the following Sunday.

On Easter Sunday, April 12 the boys filled up the little new church, the strip of land around, and the surrounding meadows. They attended the blessing of the church and the Mass. After Mass they ate their breakfast with joy.

The work of the oratory was too much for Don Bosco. On July 5, after an exhausted day at the oratory, Don Bosco fainted. In a few days he was close to death and for eight days he was struggling between life and death. During those eight days, the boys prayed and did penance in order to obtain the grace of healing. Some boys fasted by not drinking water, some prayed in shifts at the shrine of Our Lady of Consolation day and night, some promised Our Lady to recite the whole rosary every day of their lives, and some others vowed to fast on bread and water for a whole year. On Saturday,  Don Bosco was in critical condition. Father Borel begged Don Bosco to pray for himself by saying, “Lord, if it pleases you, let me be cured.” Shortly after the prayer, Don Bosco fell asleep and when he awoke he was out of danger, as if reborn to life.

At the end July, Don Bosco met the young people. They prayed, sang, and wept together. Don Bosco said, “I owe my life to you. But be sure of this: from now on, I will spend it entirely for you.”

20150928 Don Bosco suffered misunderstanding

Saint John Bosco faced numerous difficulties and oppositions in his work for the boys. The Marquis Michele di Cavour, vicar of the city and chief of police, demanded Don Bosco to close the oratory. He said, “Don’t you know that it is forbidden to hold meetings without proper authorization?” Don Bosco replied, “My meetings have no political significance but only a religious one. I am only teaching poor boys their catechism with the approval and permission of the archbishop.”

Don Bosco went to inform the archbishop of his interview with Marquis Cavour. The good prelate supported Don Bosco and would not stop his work. The marquis then tried to impose certain conditions which Don Bosco found unacceptable. He wanted to limit the number of boys, to eliminate the older boys, and to prohibit outings and walks in a compact group through the city. Since Don Bosco would not compromise, the marquis sent police to keep a watch on him. Don Bosco treated the police with courtesy and respect. When the boys got familiar with the police, they invited them to play with them. The police were good men. They even helped Don Bosco to look after the boys, listened to his sermons, and knelt with the boys to wait for confession. One after another, the police gave good reports regarding the oratory to the marquis. Eventually the marquis stopped opposing Don Bosco.

In order to keep up the morale of his wandering oratory, Don Bosco shared with the boys his prophetic dreams regarding the future. He spoke of a spacious oratory, of churches, houses, schools, workshops, thousands of boys, and priests. Don Bosco talked that way because he knew that future events would prove how true his words and aspirations were. He had told his dreams to St. Joseph Cafasso and sought his advice. Cafasso said, “Go ahead. You may quite safely give special significance to these dreams. I am convinced they are for God’s greater glory and the welfare of souls.” The boys talked about his dreams at home and at work, but other people began to believe that Don Bosco had gone mad.

One day Don Bosco’s close friend  and helper, Fahter Borel, suggested him to reduce the size of the oratory. Don Bosco refused and insisted he would gather them in an oratory. When Father Borel asked about the location of the oratory, Don Bosco said, “For me this is no problem! I see a church, a building, and a playground. It is real and I can see it.” Father Borel then asked, “Where are all these things?” Don Bosco replied, “I can’t tell you exactly now, but they certainly do exist. I can see them and they will be ours.” Father Borel sighed, “Poor Don Boco! Truly his mind is gone.”  Later on, Don Bosco dispelled Father Borel’s anxiety by confiding to him how more than once God and the Blessed Virgin had shown him in vision that the Valdocco area would be the birthplace of the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales and of the religious congregation which he intended to found.

The rumors were so bad, that two priest friends of Don Bosco decided to bring him to a mental hospital. They invited Don Bosco for a ride. They opened the door of a carriage and invited Don Bosco to get in. But Don Bosco knew their intention and insisted that they went in first. After they got in the carriage, Don Bosco banged the door shut and ordered the coachmen: “To the mental hospital, quick! They are waiting for them.”

The nurses at the mental hospital were expecting one priest. They found two priests and confined them. The chaplain of the hospital had to intervene before the two poor priests could be set free!

20150921 Don Bosco found Oratory

St. John Bosco finished his three years studies at the Convitto in 1844. With the recommendation of St. Cafasso, he accepted the position to serve the spiritual needs of girls at an institute established by Marchioness Julie Frances de Colbert. Marchioness gave Don Bosco a place to gather young people on Sundays. There was a strip of land for the boys to play and to run about, and the boys would also come up to the rooms of Don Bosco and Don Borel for confessions. Don Bosco wrote, “Rooms, corridors and stairways were choked with boys. There were two of us hearing confessions and two hundred who wanted to confess.”

“One wanted to light the fire and another would put it out. One would stack the firewood, while another spilt the water. Buckets, tongs, shovel, jugs, basins, chairs, shoes, books, everything was turned upside down, because everyone wanted to put them in order.”

On December 8, 1844 Don Bosco called his centre for boys the “Oratory of St, Francis de Sales”. He said, “The Marchioness had placed a painting of the Saint at the entrance to the place. Our ministry also called for great calmness and kindness. And so we placed ourselves under the protection of St. Francis de Sales, that he might obtain for us the grace of his extraordinary meekness.”

In order to purchase books, clothes and other materials for the boys, Don Bosco made the sacrifice by going to people to ask for donation.

With the recommendation of the Archbishop of Turin, the municipality granted Don Bosco the permission in July 1845 to make use of the chapel of the City Mills for the purpose of catechizing the boys from noon to 3 p.m.. However, after a few Sundays, the Mill Office sent a strong complain letter to the municipality against the Oratory. Hence the municipality decided that the permission would not be renew for the following year.

Since then, Don Bosco only use the chapel of the City Mills as a rallying point. He would bring to boys to other places and churches. He wrote, “In those churches, I would celebrate Mass and explain the gospel. In the afternoon I would teach a little catechism, tell stories and sing hymns. Then we would go for walks until it was time for the boys to return home. It looked as if this arrangement would mark the end of the Oratory, but instead the number of boys simply increased.”

For winter activities, Don Bosco rented three rooms in a house belonging to Don Moretta. To keep the boys happy, Don Bosco had to resort to his sleight–of-hand and conjuring tricks. With the help of Don Carpano, Don Bosco also began regular evening classes. During the day, Don Bosco would often visit the boys at their work sites.

The Oratory of Don Bosco did not belong to any parish. It was an institution that went beyond the parish. Some parish priests in Turin were perplexed about the Oratory. They complained that boys were detaching themselves from their parishes and they did not know their parish priest. Two pastors were sent to talk to Don Bosco. He explained to them that nearly all of the boys were from out of town. They had come to Turin for work and were not under parental supervision. The various dialects, the instability of their domicile for reasons of work, and the example of their non-churchgoing friends were insurmountable obstacles that prevented the boys from coming to know and attend their parish church. Don Bosco attracted the boys to catechism class and church services through games and outings. Without these attractions, they probably would not go to any church at all. Eventually the pastors encouraged Don Bosco to continue his works.

20150914 Don Bosco instructed the young

St. John Bosco spent three years studying at the Convitto Ecclesiastico, where 45 young priests were trained to become “priests of the time and of the society in which they would have to live and work”. The young priests attended morning and evening conferences, and exercised ministry during the day in different places such as hospitals, prisons and charitable institutions.

The rector of the Convitto was Father Louis Guala, a theologian. He was assisted by St. Joseph Cafasso, who became the confessor and spiritual director of St. John Bosco. Don Cafasso often said: “Become saints! The priesthood! What exalted dignity in this world, but also how great the obligations it imposes and the virtues it demands. A priest may be considered as holy by men, and yet not by God. A third of the virtues necessary for a priest can make him appear holy in the sight of men, but not before God, who knows the secrets of men’s hearts. One who is truly a priest will easily go to heaven after death; but if he is not fully a priest, it is far more likely that he will go to hell, than to purgatory.”

Don Cafasso encouraged Don Bosco to go and to look around Turin. Don Bosco saw poor and abandoned youth on the streets. Don Cafasso also took Don Bosco to visit prisons, where he saw a great number of boys. Don Bosco said, “Who knows, if these boys were to find a friend outside who had taken loving care of them by helping them and by teaching them religion on holy days, perhaps they would have kept away from wrong doing and disaster, and thus would have avoided coming and returning to these prisons. Certainly, the number of these young prisoners would be diminished. Would it not be highly beneficial both for religion and civil society to undertake such an experiment for the future advantage of countless other youngsters?”

Don Bosco desired to establish a centre where abandoned youth could find a friend and ex-prisoners could find help and support. The project of Don Bsoco began on December 8, 1841.  It was the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Don Bosco was vesting for Mass in the sacristy. The sacristan asked a young boy, Bartholomew Garelli, to serve Mass. Bartholomew replied that he didn’t know how to serve Mass. The sacristan got angry and began to beat Bartholomew. Don Bosco rebuked the sacristan and commanded him to bring Bartholomew to himself. Don Bosco kindly invited Bartholomew to stay for Mass, and after Mass Don Bosco asked the boy a few questions. He found out that Bartholomew was a sixteen years old orphan who didn’t know how to read and write. Bartholomew had not received first Communion yet and he was ashamed to attend catechism class with smaller boys. Don Bosco offered to teach Bartholomew catechism privately and they started the first lesson immediately. Don Bosco knelt down and prayed a Hail Mary. Rising Don Bosco made the Sign of the Cross but Bartholomew did not know how to make it. Hence, the first lesson was about the Sign of the Cross. At the end of the lesson, Don Bosco invited Bartholomew to return the following Sunday and to bring some of his companions.

The following Sunday, six boys led by Bartholomew and two boys introduced by Don Cafasso came to Don Bosco for catechism class. Other boys soon joined and the group was getting bigger each week. Don Bosco always invited them to bring as many friends as they could. Don Bosco emphasized the importance of Sunday Mass, morning and night prayers. He also diligently prepared the boys for making good confession.

20150907 A priest forever

Saint John Bosco was ordained a priest on June 5, 1841 in the chapel of the archbishop’s residence in Turin. He wrote, “The priest does not go to heaven or hell alone. If he is worthy, he will go to heaven together with the souls saved by the good example he set; if he is unworthy, if he provokes a scandal, he will go to hell together with the souls lost by his bed example.”

On June 10, Don Bosco celebrated Mass and led Eucharistic procession at his native village. He wrote, “As I approached my home, the place where I had had my dream when I was nine years old, I couldn’t hold back my tears when I thought of how wonderful were the ways of divine Providence. God has picked a poor boy from the earth to place him with the princes of his people.”

When his mother, Margaret, was  alone with Don Bosco she said, “You are a priest, you celebrate Mass and therefore you are closer to Jesus Christ. Remember, though, that celebrating Mass is the beginning of suffering. Although you may not realize it now, you will gradually come to understand that I was right. I am sure that you will pray for me daily, whether I am alive or dead, and this is all I want. From now on, think only of the salvation of souls, and do not worry about me.”

In the first five months of his priestly life, Don Bosco assisted the pastor of Castelnuovo. He preached every Sunday, visited the sick, conducted funeral services and baptized infants. Don Bosco’s favorite saint was Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, the patron of purity. The baptismal records during those months show that almost all the male children were given the name “Aloysius” as their first or second name.

At twenty-six, the newly ordained Don Bosco had three offers of assignments. The first was that of tutor in a wealthy family with a salary of 1,000 lire a year. Relatives and friends wanted Don Bosco to accept this assignment, but Mamma Margaret said, “My son in the house of a rich gentleman? What would these 1,000 lire profit him, or me, or his brother Joseph, if John were to lose his soul?”

The second offer was a chaplaincy in his native Morialdo. In those days, there were chapels built by wealthy people, where Mass is celebrated daily. Very often the chaplain also act as school teacher. The villagers were willing to double the salary in order to have Don Bosco teaching their children.

The third offer was that of curate or assistant pastor at Castelnuovo, where Don Bosco was very much loved by the parish priest and the people.

Don Bosco went to Turin to seek advice from Saint Joseph Cafasso, who told him: “Do not accept any of these offers. Come here to the Convitto Ecclesiastico and finished your priestly formation.” The Convitto was an institute for newly ordained priests to take post-ordination courses in pastoral theology before assuming the duties of their sacred ministry. Don Bosco accepted the advice of Don Cafasso and spent three years at the Convitto in Turin.

The rules of the Convitto were characterized by moderation, so that priests could continue to observe them even outside the Convitto when they were on their own. The daily spiritual exercises at the Convitto included: Holy Mass, morning and evening prayers in common, a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, five decades of the rosary, a half an hour meditation and fifteen minutes spiritual reading. Other practices included weekly confession, acts of mortification on Fridays, silence at certain specified times and the monthly Exercise for a Happy Death. When Don Bosco later founded the Salesians Order, he would included these practices for the community.