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Mumbai Province INB

- Journeying with the young

 


Don Bosco

St. John Bosco 1815 - 1888

Founder of the Salesian Society. Born of poor parents in a little cabin at Becchi, a hill-side hamlet near Castelnuovo, Piedmont, Italy, 16 August, 1815; died 31 January 1888; declared Venerable by Pius X, 21 July, 1907. [Note: Pope Pius XI beatified him in 1929 and canonized him in 1934.]

When he was little more than two years old his father died, leaving the support of three boys to the mother, Margaret Bosco. John's early years were spent as a shepherd and he received his first instruction at the hands of the parish priest. He possessed a ready wit, a retentive memory, and as years passed his appetite for study grew stronger. Owing to the poverty of the home, however, he was often obliged to turn from his books to the field, but the desire of what he had to give up never left him. In 1835 he entered the seminary at Chieri and after six years of study was ordained priest on the eve of Trinity Sunday by Archbishop Franzoni of Turin.

Leaving the seminary, Don Bosco went to Turin where he entered zealously upon his priestly labours. It was here that an incident occurred which opened up to him the real field of effort of his afterlife. One of his duties was to accompany Don Cafasso upon his visits to the prisons of the city, and the condition of the children confined in these places, abandoned to the most evil influences, and with little before them but the gallows, made such a indelible impression upon his mind that he resolved to devote his life to the rescue of these unfortunate outcasts. On the eighth of December, 1841, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, while Don Bosco was vesting for Mass, the sacristan drove from the Church a ragged urchin because he refused to serve Mass. Don Bosco heard his cries and recalled him, and in the friendship which sprang up between the priest and Bartolomeo Garelli was sown the first seed of the "Oratory", so called, no doubt, after the example of St. Philip Neri and because prayer was its prominent feature. Don Bosco entered eagerly upon the task of instructing this first pupil of the streets; companions soon joined Bartolomeo, all drawn by a kindness they had never known, and in February, 1842, the Oratory numbered twenty boys, in March of the same year, thirty, and in March, 1846, four hundred.

As the number of boys increased, the question of a suitable meeting-place presented itself. In good weather walks were taken on Sundays and holidays to spots in the country about Turin where lunch was eaten, and realizing the charm which music held for the untamed spirits of his disciples Don Bosco organized a band for which some old brass instruments were procured. In the autumn of 1844 he was appointed assistant chaplain to the Rifugio, where Don Borel entered enthusiastically into his work. With the approval of Archbishop Franzoni, two rooms were secured adjoining the Rifugio and converted into a chapel, which was dedicated to St. Francis de Sales. The members of the Oratory now gathered at the Rifugio, and numbers of boys from the surrounding district applied for admission. It was about this time (1845) that Don Bosco began his night schools and with the closing of the factories the boys flocked to his rooms where he and Don Borel instructed them in rudimentary branches.

The success of the Oratory at the Rifugio was not of long duration. To his great distress Don Bosco was obliged to give up his rooms and from this on he was subjected to petty annoyances and obstacles which, at times, seemed to spell the ruin of his undertaking. His perseverance in the face of all difficulties led many to the conclusion that he was insane, and an attempt was even made to confine him in an asylum. Complaints were lodged against him, declaring his community to be a nuisance, owing to the character of the boys he befriended. From the Rifugio the Oratory was moved to St. Martin's, to St. Peter's Churchyard, to three rooms in Via Cottolengo, where the night schools were resumed, to an open field, and finally to a rough shed upon the site of which grew up an Oratory that counted seven hundred members. Don Bosco took lodgings nearby, where he was joined by his mother. "Mama Margaret", as Don Bosco's mother came to be known, gave the last ten years of her life in devoted service to the little inmates of this first Salesian home. When she joined her son at the Oratory the outlook was not bright. But sacrificing what small means she had, even to parting with her home, its furnishings, and her jewelry, she brought all the solicitude and love of a mother to these children of the streets. The evening classes increased and gradually dormitories were provided for many who desired to live at the Oratory. Thus was founded the first Salesian Home which now houses about one thousand boys.

 

 

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