Saint of the Day: St. John Bosco – January 31
St. Giovanni M. Bosco (1815-1888) is commonly known in English as St. John Bosco or as Don Bosco. The English honorific title of Don for a professor is well suited to a man who changed the teaching method from one of violence to one of encouragement and respect.
St. John Bosco was born in a cabin and grew up in poverty after the death of his father when Giovanni was still very small. He worked in the fields and as a shepherd and went to school as he could. From an early age, St. John Bosco had dreams about working with boys and bringing them to a better moral and social condition. As a young priest, he acted on this calling and started working with boys who had been imprisoned due to abandonment, neglect, abuse, and delinquency. Conditions in the mid-1800s in Italy were not unlike those chronicled by Dickens during the same period in England.
Although the bishop approved of his work, St. John Bosco met resistance and harassment from the public. He was forced to move his small chapel and school several times. The public saw these boys as a threat and as basically worthless. Finally, St. John Bosco was able to establish a school and workshop to give the boys training in printing and other trades of the early industrial revolution. The boys gravitated to him and his instruction because he showed that he cared about them and their physical well being. After grinding 12 hour days in the factories, the boys came to night classes to get the fundamentals of education and the faith. The patron of his schools, and later of the order he founded, was St. Francis de Sales – another visionary educator who focused on the love of God.
It is important to remember that Italy was going through immense turmoil at the time and the Church was losing political control of the Papal States in the center of the peninsula. Anti-clericalism was very strong as Italy made its way to political unification under a secular government. The work of St. John Bosco and his order, the Salesian Society, started a ministry based on social and economic development through technical and vocational education. Those boys and young men who had been considered disposable had their dignity restored and became productive members of society with a moral and religious foundation.
St. John Bosco’s work continues today among the lowest ranks of society all around the world in the schools and workshops of the Salesians of St. John Bosco.