St John Bosco
John Bosco (Italian: Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco; 16 August 1815 – 31 January 1888), known as Don Bosco, was an Italian Roman Catholic priest, educator and writer of the 19th century, who put into practice the convictions of his religion, dedicating his life to the betterment and education of street children, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youth and employing teaching methods based on love rather than punishment, a method known as the Salesian Preventive System. A follower of the spirituality and philosophy of Francis de Sales, Bosco dedicated his works to him when he founded the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Together with Maria Domenica Mazzarello, he founded the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, a religious congregation of nuns dedicated to the care and education of poor girls. In 1876 Bosco founded a movement of laity, the Association of Salesian Cooperators, with the same educational mission to the poor.In 1875 he published the Salesian Bulletin. The Bulletin has remained in continuous publication, and is currently published in 50 different editions and 30 languages.
Bosco established a network of organizations and centres to carry on his work. Following his beatification in 1929, he was canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI in 1934.
Bosco was born in the evening of 16 August 1815 in I Becchi, Italy. He was the youngest son of Francesco Bosco (1784–1817) and Margherita Occhiena. He had two elder brothers, Antonio and Giuseppe (1813–1862). The Boscos of Becchi were farmhands of the Moglia Family. John Bosco was born into a time of great shortage and famine in the Piedmontese countryside, following the devastation wrought by the Napoleonic wars and a drought in 1817.
Margherita, his mother, played a strong role in Bosco's formation and personality, and was an early supporter of her son's ideals. When he was young, he would put on shows of his skills as a juggler, magician and acrobat with prayers before and after the performance.
In 1825, when he was nine, Bosco had the first of a series of dreams which would play an influential role in his outlook and work. This first dream "left a profound impression on him for the rest of his life", according to his own memoirs. Bosco apparently saw a man, who "appeared, nobly attired, with a manly and imposing bearing". The man said to him:
You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness. So begin right now to show them that sin is ugly and virtue beautiful.
Poverty prevented any serious attempt at schooling. Nevertheless it is suggested that the idea to become a priest came from his childhood experiences. At the time, being a priest was generally seen as a profession for the privileged classes, rather than farmers, although it was not unknown. Some biographers portray his brother Antonio as the main obstacle for Bosco's ambition to study, protesting that John was just "a farmer like us!" Nevertheless, Margaret gave her support to John and he finally left home in February 1828 at the age of twelve. Having to face life by himself at such a young age may have developed his later sympathies to help abandoned boys. After begging unsuccessfully for work, Bosco ended up at the wine farm of Louis Moglia. However, although Bosco could pursue some studies by himself, he was unavailable to attend school for two more years. In 1830 he met Joseph Cafasso, an elderly priest who identified some natural talent and supported his first schooling.
Priesthood and first apostolates Don Bosco
John Bosco began as the chaplain of the Rifugio ("Refuge"), a girls' boarding school founded in Turin by the Marchioness Giulia di Barolo, but he had many ministries on the side such as visiting prisoners, teaching catechism and helping out at country parishes.
A growing group of boys would come to the Rifugio on Sundays and feast days to play and learn their catechism. They were too old to join the younger children in regular catechism classes in the parishes. This was the beginning of the "Oratory of St. Francis de Sales". Bosco and his oratory moved around town for a number of years and were turned out of several places in succession. After only two months based in the church of St. Martin, the entire neighborhood expressed its annoyance with the noise coming from the boys at play. A formal complaint was lodged against them with the municipality. Rumors also circulated that the meetings conducted by the priest with his boys were dangerous; their recreation could be turned into a revolution against the government. The group was evicted.
In 1846, Bosco rented a shed in the new Valdocco neighborhood on the north end of town from Mr. Pinardi. This served as the oratory's new home. His mother moved in with him and in 1844, he and "Mamma Margherita" began taking in orphans.
Even before this, Bosco had the help of several friends at the oratory. These included priests like Joseph Cafasso and Borel, some older boys like Giuseppe Buzzetti, Michael Rua, Giovanni Cagliero and Carlo Gastini.
One influential friend was the Piedmontese Justice Minister Urbano Rattazzi, who despite being anticlerical, nevertheless saw some value in Bosco’s work. While Rattazzi was pushing a bill through the Sardinian legislature to suppress religious orders, he advised Bosco on how to get around the law and found a religious order to keep the oratory going after its founder’s death. Bosco had been thinking about that problem, too, and had been slowly organizing his helpers into a loose "Congregation of St. Francis de Sales". He was also training select older boys for the priesthood. Another supporter of the religious order's idea was the reigning pope, Blessed Pius IX.