January 30, 2017

Saint John Bosco, Priest and Founder

January 31st, is the memorial of Saint John Bosco (1815 – 1888), popularly known as Don Bosco, the 19th century Italian priest, founder, educator and writer, who, as the “Apostle of Youth”, reached out to the marginalized young in establishing religious orders, such as the Salesian Congregation. The Salesians are a community of consecrated brothers and priests that evangelize and educate youth, especially those who are poor and at risk. Don Bosco’s instructional methods departed from the standard of his day in stressing love, kindness, persuasion and authentic religiosity, not strictness and corporal punishments.

From an early age, John Bosco knew he was called to the priesthood. When he was 9 years old, he received a series of dreams in which he was told, "You will win friends with kindness and gentleness. You must show people that sin is ugly and goodness beautiful." He once dreamt about stopping a fight between two boys. When separating them didn't work, he used his fists. Jesus appeared and told him to win the boys over with kindness and love. The Blessed Virgin Mary then instructed him to take his shepherd's staff and guide the wayward gently. The two boys turned into wild animals and then into sheep. These dreams would profoundly influence the future saint's choice of vocation and eventual ministry.

Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco was born in the village of Castelnuovo d'Astiinto near Turin, Italy into a poor, but devout Catholic family of peasant farmers. His father Francesco, died suddenly when Bosco was only 2, leaving his wife to care for their three sons alone. Bosco’s mother, Margherita, provided him with a firm education in the Faith and the practice of virtue. Bosco left home at age 12. and struggled to survive until 1830, when providentially, he met a young priest named Father Joseph Cafasso. Fr. Cafasso saw something special in the young man and supported his schooling. In 1835, Bosco entered the seminary. Finally, after six years of study, he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Franzoni of Turin.

Upon leaving the seminary, his dreams started to become reality. His first duties included visiting prisons where he witnessed young inmates living in horrible conditions. Fr. Bosco devoted his life to the rescue of these unfortunate souls. He founded an oratory which taught them how to pray and through kindness and patience they became reputable citizens. Many opposed what he was doing because of the type of youth he was assisting. An attempt was made to commit Bosco to an institution for the mentally insane until the authorities realized the importance of his work. In 1859, he formed the Society of St. Francis de Sales which later became the Salesian Congregation. Together with Sr. Maria Domenca Mazzarello, in 1871, he founded the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, known as the Salesian Sisters. Three years later, he started the Salesian Co-operators a group of lay men and women to help work with, teach and catechize the young.

Saint John Bosco died peacefully on January 31st, 1888. His friend Pope Pious XI vigorously supported his cause for sainthood. Don Bosco was declared blessed in 1929 by Pope Pius XI, and canonized by the same on Easter Sunday of 1934 when he was named the "Father and Teacher of Youth". He is the patron saint of magicians because he often performed tricks to entertain the youth he ministered to. He is also the patron of young people, apprentices, Catholic publishers and editors. O God, who raised up the Priest Saint John Bosco as a father and teacher of the young, grant we pray, that, aflame with the same fire of love, we may seek out the lost, the forgotten, the destitute, and the unloved in serving you alone.

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