Bosco, John, St.

views updated


Founder of the salesians and the salesian sisters and commonly referred to as Don Bosco; b. Becchi, near Turin, Italy, August 16, 1815; d. Turin, January 31, 1888. John's father died in 1817, and John was reared in poverty by his pious, hard-working mother, Margaret (Occhiena) Bosco. St. Joseph cafasso encouraged the boy's ambition to become a priest and to work with youths and directed him to enter the major seminary in Turin (1835), where John was ordained (1841). On December 8, 1841, his main work began when he met, in the sacristy of Cafasso's Institute of St. Francis, a poor orphan, Bartolomeo Garelli, and decided to prepare him for his first Communion. Soon he gathered a group of young apprentices to teach them the catechism. Through Cafasso he was introduced to the Marchesa di Barola and became chaplain at her hospice of St. Philomena for working girls. In order to devote himself completely to working with boys, he opened, in the Valdocco section of Turin, his own hospice, which grew into the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales. His mother served as housekeeper there until her death. Don Bosco gained powerful patrons, such as Abp. Franzoni of Turin and Count Camillo cavour. By 1850 two workshops for shoemaking and tailoring were added to the hospice, and by 1856 there were 150 boys in residence. Later Don Bosco obtained a printing press, and he wrote and printed catechetical and pious pamphlets for youths. His reputation as a preacher became widespread, and miracles were attributed to his intercession. So successful was his work among homeless youth that even the bitterly anticlerical politician Urbano Rattazzi encouraged him.

Don Bosco experienced so much difficulty in retaining the services of young priests that from 1850 he began training his own helpers. By 1854 a group of these bound themselves together informally under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales. With Pious IX's encouragement, Don Bosco gathered 17 of them and founded (1859) a religious congregation that received papal approval in 1868. The Salesians spread quickly throughout Italy. When the founder died, there were 1,039 members and 57 houses in Italy, Spain, France, England, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. The apostolate came to include work on the missions as well as the education of boys. Together with St. Maria mazzarello, Don Bosco founded (1872) the Salesian Sisters for a similar apostolate among girls. In 1964 there were more than 40,000 Salesian priests, lay brothers, and sisters in all parts of the world. Don Bosco also established a kind of third order, the Salesian Cooperators, to assist in this work.

Don Bosco was preeminently an educator whose characteristic approach is known as the Salesian preventive system of education. It rejected corporal punishment and strove to place youths in surroundings that removed them from the likelihood of committing sin. Frequent confession and Communion, thorough catechetical training, and fatherly guidance were the pillars of this system of spiritual formation that also sought to unite the spiritual

life of youths with their study, work, and play. Don Bosco's insistence that boys be taught trades made him a pioneer in modern vocational training.

Don Bosco had special devotion to Mary Help of Christians and was responsible for the construction of a basilica in Turin with that title (1868). He also began the erection of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Rome and traveled to France in 1883 to raise funds for it. pius xi, who as a young priest had known Don Bosco, beatified him June 2, 1929, and canonized him April 1, 1934. He has been named patron saint of Catholic publishers and of young apprentices.

Feast: January 31.

Bibliography: Works. Don Bosco educatore: scritti e testimonianze, ed. p. braido, a. da silva ferreira, f. motto, and j. m. prellezo (3d. ed. Rome 1997). Il sistema preventivo nella educazione della gioventù, ed. p. braido (Rome 1985). Memoirs of the Oratory of Saint Francis de Sales from 1815 to 1855: The autobiography of Saint John Bosco, tr. d. lyons, ed. e. ceria, l. castelvecchi, and m. mendl (New Rochelle, N.Y. 1989). St. Dominic Savio, tr. p. aronica (2d ed. New Rochelle, N.Y. 1979). Scritti pedagogici, ed. a. l'arco (Naples 1967). Scritti spirituali, ed. j. aubry (Rome 1976), Eng. tr. as The Spiritual Writings of Saint John Bosco, tr. j. caselli (New Rochelle, N.Y. 1984). Literature. p. stella, Don Bosco Life and Work, trans. j. drury (2d rev ed New Rochelle, N.Y. 1985). a. auffray, Bl. John Bosco, tr. w. h. mitchell (London 1930). h. gheon, "The Secret of Don Bosco," The Secrets of the Saints, tr. f. j. sheed and d. attwater (New York 1944). n. boyton, The Bl. Friend of Youth, St. John Bosco (2d ed. New York 1943). f. a. m. forbes, St. John Bosco (Tampa, Fla. 1941). l. c. sheppard, Don Bosco (Westminster, Md. 1957). e. b. phelan, Don Bosco, A Spiritual Portrait (Garden City, N.Y.1963).

[e. f. fardellone]

About this article

Bosco, John, St.

Updated About content Print Article