ST. GIOVANNI MELCHIOR BOSCO
(or St. John Bosco; Don Bosco)
Founder of the Salesian Society. Born of poor parents in a little cabin at Becchi, a hill-side hamlet near Castelnuovo, Piedmont, Italy, 16 August, 1815; died 31 January 1888; declared Venerable by Pius X, 21 July, 1907.
When he was a little more than two years old, his father died, leaving the support of three boys to the mother, Margaret Bosco. John’s early years were spent as a shepherd and he received his first instruction at the hands of the parish priest. He possessed a ready wit, a retentive memory, and as years passed his appetite for study grew stronger. Owing to the poverty of the home; however, he was often obliged to turn from his books to the field, but the desire of what he had to give up never left him. In 1835 he entered the seminary at Chieri and after six years of study, was ordained priest on the eve of Trinity Sunday by Archbishop Franzoni of Turin.
Character and Growth of the Oratory
Any attempt to explain the popularity of the oratory among the classes to which Don Bosco devoted his life would fail without an appreciation of his spirit which was its life. For his earliest intercourse with poor boys he had never failed to see under the dirt, the rags, and the uncouthness the spark which a little kindness and encouragement would fan into a flame.
In his vision or dream which he is said to have had in his early boyhood, wherein it was disclosed to him what his life work would be, a voice said to him: “Not with blows, but with charity and gentleness must you draw these friends to the path of virtue.” And whether this be accounted as nothing more than a dream that was in reality the spirit with which he animated his Oratory.
In the earlier days when the number of his disciples was slender, he drew them about him by means of small presents and attractions, and by pleasant walks to favorite spots in the environs of Turin. These excursions occurring on Sunday, Don Bosco would say Mass in the village church and give a short instruction on the Gospel; breakfast would then be eaten, followed by games; and in the afternoon, Vespers would be chanted, a lesson in Catechism given, and the Rosary recited. It was a familiar sight to see him in the field surrounded by kneeling boys preparing for confession.
Don Bosco’s method of study knew nothing of punishment. Observance of rules was obtained by instilling a true sense of duty, by removing assiduously all occasions for disobedience, and by allowing no effort towards virtue, how trivial so ever it might be, to pass unappreciated. He held that the teacher should be father, adviser and friend, and he was the first to adopt the preventive system method.
Don Bosco was an indefatigable confessor, devoting days to the work among his children. He recognized that gentleness and persuasion alone were not enough to bring to the task of education. He thoroughly believed in play as a means of arousing childish curiosity – more than this, his first recommendations, and for the rest he adopted St. Philip Neri’s words: “Do as you wish, I do not care so long as you do not sin.” (“Run, jump, make noise, But do not sin…”-St. John Bosco)