St John Bosco


Enjoy yourself as much as you like – if only you keep from sin – St John Bosco


Saint John Bosco loved young boys and young boys loved him. He loved them because he knew they were God’s children and capable of great things, and they loved him because he loved, encouraged, taught and disciplined them and believed that they were capable of great things.

In the mid 1800s many boys had no families, or had nowhere to live. Often they stole to eat, and people would chase them away or beat them because they were dirty thieves. But John Bosco saw that even the worse of these boys, the filthiest, the most hardened thief was still God’s child and had something of worth in him, even if it was really hard to see.

So, John Bosco decided to help these poor neglected boys. He began to talk to them and teach them about God, using stories and examples that the boys understood. He started boarding schools where they could live and learn a trade (a skill to make a living.) Many people thought he was crazy to spend time on a bunch of noisy dirty boys. Some of his friends tried to drag him away to a doctor.

But Saint John Bosco persisted. More and more boys came. They learned to print, or build, or lay brick, and they got hired for jobs! Not only that, and far more important than that, they began to live good moral lives. Many of ‘John Bosco’s boys’ have also become saints. Eventually, Saint John Bosco founded the Society of Saint Francis de Sales (S.S.F.S.) Sometime later the name of his society was changed to the Salesians of Don Bosco, or the Salesians for short. These priests still work with and educate boys, under the protection of Our Lady Help of Christians, and Saint Francis de Sales.

When poor uncared for girls began to come to his homes, with the help of a friend named Saint Mary Mazzarello, he founded the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA) to care for them in the same way that he cared for and taught boys.

Practiced Families

Saint John Bosco was born on a poor farm in Italy. At a very young age, he began to work on the farm, mainly tending sheep out in the hills. Even though the family was poor, and needed his help, when John announced at the age of nine that he wanted to become a priest, he was allowed to go. He walked four miles a day to get to school, he could only go for half of the year (Fall and Winter) but John finally was ready to enter the seminary.

His early life was an indication of how he would eventually fulfill his vocation in the priesthood. As a young man, John Bosco would present one-boy shows of tricks learned from circus performers; after his performance, while he still had an audience of boys, he would repeat the homily he had heard earlier in church. This combination of play and teaching would serve him well in later years.

He worked as a tailor, baker, shoemaker, and carpenter while attending college and the seminary. When he was about the enter the seminary, his mother told him that seeing him dressed in his clerical dress filled her heart with joy. She urged him to remain faithful to his vocation, and if he ever doubted it to leave at once rather than stay to become an indifferent or neglectful priest. It was a charge that Saint John Bosco honoured and followed for the rest of his life. The words of motto of the order he founded attest to this: “Give me only souls and keep the rest.”

As a priest, the plight of the many ‘street boys’ caught his attention. He worked with these youths, and learned their needs. He found places where these neglected boys, whose lives had forced them to abandon their childhoods could meet, play and pray. He understood that playing was as important as praying and that playing could be a way of teaching the boys about Who they were praying to.

He wrote short treatises aimed at explaining the faith to children in ways they could understand, and then taught children how to print them. He bought a run down farm and taught the boys to restore the buildings and learn to garden and raise produce. Slowly but surely, the boys grew and developed in this atmosphere of love,help and acceptance. They began to work, to pray and to learn.

How many times have we turned away from someone who was noisy, unruly, or dirty? How many times have we dismissed the poor or the indigent as being worthless or beneath our notice? Or how many times have we, like Saint John Bosco, seen past the exterior and loved the interior child of God?

Saint John Bosco founded the Society of Saint Francis de Sales (S.S.F.S.), later known as the Salesians of Don Bosco, priests who still work with and educate boys, under the protection of Our Lady Help of Christians, and Saint Francis de Sales. With the help of a friend named Saint Mary Mazzarello, he also founded the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA) when the demand for a girls school arose. Finally, he founded a lay movement called the Salesian Cooperators, who bind themselves to the Salesian way of life by promise rather than vow.

Saint John Bosco died at the age of seventy-two in 1888 and was canonized in 1934.

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