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The Life Story of Saint John Bosco
August 16
Birth of Don Bosco
In the early XIX century, political unrest was rife all over Europe and more so in Italy where people were incensed by the revolutionary ideas being disseminated. John Bosco, whose name in Italian was Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco was born on August 16, 1815 in Becchi, the youngest son of Francis Bosco and Margaret Occhiena. They lived in a little hamlet in the province of Piedmont and the entire family consisted generally of farm labourers who supported themselves with the poor yield from their lands.
Death of Francis Bosco Death of Francis Bosco
Death of Francis Bosco
John's father, Francis, a poor farmer, succumbed suddenly to a severe bout of pneumonia in 1817. This meant that his mother Margaret had to take over the running of the farm. Little John thus began working already at the age of four. He would remain in Becchi till he was eleven. Margaret was tender yet firm and under her gaze John learned to live the Christian life in action. Despite their poverty, the Bosco home was always open to the poor and the needy.
Death of Francis Bosco Death of Francis Bosco
The Dream at the age of nine
At the age of nine, John said he had a dream. He saw himself in the midst of a group of ruffians who were playing and swearing. He tried to stop them by fisting them but he was stopped by a majestic personage. This person pointed to his mother – the Blessed Virgin – who told him that he was not to use blows to stop them. From then on, in fulfillment of that dream, his work in life was to turn those wild creatures into meek lambs with single minded purpose.
Dream Dream
The First Ten Years of Hardship
Margaret, John’s mother inherited a son, Anthony, from the first marriage of her husband. There were constant quarrels in the poor Becchi house and so she had to make the difficult decision to send John off as a farmhand to a nearby farmstead. The young lad would grow up, strong and independent but he would also nurture a fervent desire to become a priest. Times were difficult and money was scarce. Who would pay for his studies?
First ten years First ten years
At Chieri – His Student Days
Little John grew into a strapping young teenager who arrived in Chieri, Turin in November 1831 for his years of middle school. Thanks to the influence of his mother, he found lodging but he had to pay for it. Though his tuition was free John earned his keep to help him cover expenses for books and clothes. It was at Chieri that he learned to tend tables, to tailor, to smithy and to use his skills at carpentry -all of which would stand him in good stead.
At Chieri At Chieri
John joins the Seminary at Chieri
On completing his studies and after spending considerable time in discernment, John felt called to join the seminary at Chieri where he met Louis Comollo. The two struck up an extraordinarily fond relationship. Louis was struck by the physical strength and mental acumen of John while John was drawn to Louis’ fervour and sense of restraint. However John was deeply grieved at the sudden death of Louis on April 2, 1839.
Join the seminary Join the seminary
At the Seminary
John had to surmount several difficulties and doubts about his vocation but he found a good friend and spiritual director in Fr. Joseph Cafasso who was regarded highly as a spiritual director. It was he who said: “Go to the seminary, Providence will take care of you.” Quite a few well-wishers from Chieri rallied to assist John while Fr. Guala (another friend) paid his seminary fees for the first year; Fr. Cafasso looked after the rest.
At the seminary At the seminary
June 5
Ordained a Priest
Throughout his four years in the seminary, John was a model student. He was ordained deacon on March 27, 1841 and a priest on June 5 that same year, by Bishop Louis Fransoni. He celebrated his first Mass the following day on the feast of Corpus Christi. He was assisted by his friend and spiritual director Fr. Joseph Cafasso. He would celebrate another Mass in his own village of Castelnuovo where a large number of village folk attended. He had reached his goal after many struggles and problems and now his life’s work was about to begin.
Ordained priest Ordained a Priest
December 8
Beginning of his "Oratory Work"
It was the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Don Bosco was preparing to celebrate mass in the church of St. Francis of Assisi where he had encountered a young country lad from Asti by the name of Bartholomew Garelli. After Mass, Don Bosco and Bartholomew prayed a “Hail Mary” and so began their first Catechism class. The youngster would subsequently return with his friends and that was the beginning of the ‘Oratory.’
Oratory work Oratory work
April 12
The Oratory transfers to "Pinardi Shed" on Easter Sunday
After wandering around the playgrounds and alleyways of Turin for a place for the young, his prayers were finally answered when Mr. Soave came to him and said: “I believe you’re looking for a place…”
Francesco Pinardi who owned a place leased to Mr. Soave, included a rundown shack. Mr. Pinardi was contacted and although the deed was signed on April 5 in 1846, Don Bosco was able to purchase it only on February 19, 1851.
Oratary transfer Oratory transfer
November 3
The boys of the Oratory knew Don Bosco as their father but now, Mamma Margaret, Don Bosco’s own mother would enter Valdocco and remain there with him, to mother his boys for the next ten years till she died on November 25, 1856.
November 3 November 3
January 26
His First Followers
Don Bosco needed collaborators and he found them from among his boys. He would get together four of his boys who had lived with him to form his first band of helpers and on January 26, 1854 he gave them the name ‘Salesians.’
First followers First followers
His ‘Salesian’ Spirit
His prime source of inspiration came from his great love for Jesus in the Eucharist, Mary Help of Christians and the Pope and this triple love came to be fragranced by the charity and sweetness of St. Francis of Sales. His great devotion to this gentle bishop of Geneva nourished the spirituality that would be the inspiration for his congregation.
Salesian spirit Salesian spirit
The Educator
The youngsters that Don Bosco gathered and guided at his school had been kept together by an ingenious system of Education called the Preventive System. His was a very practical system founded on three pillars: Reason, Religion and Loving-Kindness. This system would demand a profound love for young people inspired by a deep love for God.
Educator Educator
October 29
Don Bosco first met Dominic Savio in 1854. The boy was twelve years old and Don Bosco was then thirty-nine. The young priest already saw in that lad the wondrous workings of grace. The boy came to the Oratory for just three years where he lived with Don Bosco and absorbed his spirit. He died on March 9, 1857. Don Bosco wrote a short biography of Savio and proposed him as a model for all youngsters.
Oct 29
October 20
The society was gradually expanding and Don Bosco opened the first Salesian house outside the city of Turin at Mirabello Monferrato and placed Michael Rua there, as its first rector.
Oct 20 Oct 20
June 9
Consecration of the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin
Having been inspired by a dream, Don Bosco felt compelled to build the great Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians in Turin which would be the mother church of the congregation. The construction began in 1863 and Don Bosco said: “Every brick is a grace of our Blessed Mother.”
Consecration of the basilica
March 1
The Salesian Congregation is approved
After several tiring journeys to Rome and meeting several bishops and the Pope, the Holy See finally approved the Salesians as a Pious Society on March 1, 18.
Salesian congrecation Salesian congrecation
August 5
Foundation of the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians
Being instructed in a dream again, Don Bosco was asked by the Blessed Virgin Mary to “do for girls what he had done for boys.” That became the inspiration for the birth of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. Mary Domenica Mazzarello was its first superior. She was a capable teacher of the spiritual life and a prudent guide of the girls. She would go to her eternal reward on May 14, 1881.
May 9
Foundation of the Salesian Cooperators
The spirituality that Don Bosco conceived for his Salesians was a spirituality that could be practiced by people in all walks of life. Don Bosco started what he called the ‘Salesian Cooperators’ a third arm of the Salesian Family. Their task is “to help the Church, the bishops and priests in doing good according to the spirit of the Salesian Society.”
Salesian coop Salesian coop
January 31
Don Bosco dies at Valdocco, Turin
Early on the morning of January 31, 1888 breathing a gentle sigh, Don Bosco (aged 72) expired at 4.30 as the Angelus bell rang out from the nearby church. He left behind 773 Salesians and 393 Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.
Don Bosco dies Don Bosco Dies
July 24
Declared 'Venerable' by Pope Pius X The cause for canonization of Don Bosco was opened in Turin and Pius X declared him Venerable on July 24, 1907.
Venerable venerable
June 2
Declared 'Blessed' by Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI who had visited Don Bosco when the latter was a young priest had the honour of raising him to the altar by declaring him Blessed. He exclaimed: “God gave him a largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore.”
Blessed Blessed
April 1
Canonized 'Saint' in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI
It was on Easter Sunday at the conclusion of the Jubilee Year of Redemption that Pius XI declared Don Bosco a Saint of the Church.
Canonized saint Canonized saint
March 25
Declared Patron of Catholic Publishers/Editors
Don Bosco the writer and publisher - As the world witnessed two world wars and civilization began to settle down, Don Bosco was declared the patron of Catholic editors. His writings were prolific and of his manifold work, of note was the History of the Church, the History of Italy, popular renditions of the Greek and Latin classics for youngsters besides which 150 books and pamphlets were published for the edification of the laity.
Patron Patron
January 17
Everything that he learned as a young student stood him in good stead when he began to train his boys in shoe-making, tailoring, bookbinding, carpentry and printing. In 1958 Pope Pius XII declared Don Bosco patron saint of apprentices.
Jan 17 Jan 17
January 24
At the conclusion of his death centenary Pope Saint John Paul II declared Don Bosco “The Father and Teacher of Youth.”
Jan 24 Jan 24

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