Life of Don Bosco

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John Bosco was born on August 16, 1815, in the small hamlet of Castelnuovo D'Asti, in Piedmont, popularly called "The Becchi".

While he was still a child, his father's death made him experience the pain of so many poor orphans for whom he would become a loving father. However, in his mother Margaret, he found an example of a Christian life that left a deep impression on him as a young boy.

He had a prophetic dream when he was nine years old: he was in the midst of a swarm of children intent on playing, some of whom were swearing. Immediately, young John jumped amongst them, using his words and fists to silence them; but then a dignified man appeared and said to him: "You will have to win these friends of yours not by blows but by gentleness and love... I will give you a teacher. Under her guidance, you can become wise. Without her, all wisdom is foolishness." This dignified man was Jesus, and the teacher was Mother Mary, to whose guidance he gave himself throughout his life and whom he honoured with the title of "Help of Christians".

Thus, young John sought to learn how to be an acrobat, a magician, a singer, and a juggler in order to attract his companions to himself and keep them away from sin. "If they stay with me," he told his mother, "they don't speak badly."

Wanting to become a priest and devote himself entirely to the service of young people, he worked during the day and spent his nights with his books until he was able to enter the seminary (at the age of twenty) in Chieri and was ordained a priest in Turin in 1841, at the age of twenty-six.

In those times, Turin was filled with poor, orphaned, or abandoned boys looking for work, exposed to the many dangers and hazards of industrialization. Don Bosco began to gather them on Sundays, sometimes in a church, sometimes in a meadow, or in a square, to let them play and also instruct them in the Catechism. After almost five years of enormous difficulties, he managed to settle on the outskirts of Turin at Valdocco and open his first Oratory. In the Oratory, the boys found food and lodging and studied or learned a trade, but above all they learned to be good human beings and honest citizens.

Don Bosco was very much loved by his "rascals" (as he called them). To those who asked him the secret of his ascendancy over them, he replied, "With kindness and love, I try to win these friends of mine over to the Lord." Don Bosco loved them in such a way that each one felt he was especially loved. He would tell his boys, "You will find writers far more virtuous and more learned than I, but you can hardly find anyone who loves you more than I do in Jesus Christ or who desires your true happiness more than I do."

His often quoted words to his boys were, "My dear boys, I love you with all my heart, and it is enough for you to be young for me to love you very much."

For them, he sacrificed all the little money he possessed, his time, his ingenuity, and his health. With them, he became a saint. For them, he founded the Salesian Congregation, made up of priests and lay people who want to continue his work.

His successors, the Salesians, have spread throughout the world and are at the service of the young, the poor, and the suffering. The Salesian schools, technical and professional institutes, hospitals, dispensaries, oratories, and parishes in more than 134 countries are homes to the young and the needy.

Exhausted by his tireless work, he fell seriously ill early on and died on January 31, 1888, in his poor room at Valdocco, at the age of 72. On April 1, 1934, Pius XI, who had the good fortune to know him personally, proclaimed him a Saint.