Born: Aug. 16th, 1815
Died: Jan. 31st, 1888
FEast: Jan. 31st
magicians, juvenile delinquents, apprentices and interns, editors and publishers
St. John Bosco
John was born into an Italian family of farmhands who did not have much money. His father died when he was only 2 years old, and there was already a terrible food shortage due to wars and a drought. The Industrial Revolution was also beginning, and there was much work to do. His mother raised him a devout Christian, and taught him how having a job was a privilege and how having joy about it could make the work lighter.
When he was 9 years old, he had a dream of a man and woman standing in a field with other farming boys and telling John that he would have to win these boys over not with punishment but with kindness. When he tried to do this in his waking life, however, he would come home with bruises and tears in his clothes, but an unbroken spirit. He would tell his mother that the boys weren't really bad, but just did not have mothers as encouraging and faithful as his or a faith education as good as his.
He soon discovered a new way to reach them. John Bosco learned tricks from performers who came to town, and soon was putting on his own shows of juggling, acrobatics, and magic! He would often begin his shows with prayers or end with a homily he had heard at Mass that day.
Beginning to dive deeper into his faith this way and desiring to become a priest, John began to try to study. His family's poverty had kept him from a regular school, though a kind farmer had taught him a few things when he was younger. His older brother, however, jealously would yell at and hurt John, reminding him he could only ever be a farmer like he was. So John left home and worked two more years until he found a priest who could teach him; he walked three miles each day to get there. Finally, in 1835, his mother had worked and saved enough to pay for some of his education at seminary. John was looked down upon by his classmates and teachers as a "country boy", but did very well with his studies and even completed the courses in nearly half the time required. He also had to work constantly while doing so to support himself, and had many jobs ranging from a waiter, to a tailor, to a blacksmith's assistant, to a bowling lane assistant.
After his ordination, John Bosco's first ministries were to visit prisoners, teach, and aid parishes. However, he was soon assigned to the town of Turin, which had been completely industrialized and most families lived in poor conditions in slums. He witnessed firsthand the child labor that occurred in the sweatshops, the unlivable wages, and the dangerous machines. He was so disheartened by the number of young, teenage boys in the prisons, and knew it was only because of these conditions they had grown up in. He made it his mission to keep that from happening.
Beginning with asking one orphan boy who had been scolded during Mass to bring his friends next week, the group grew and grew until he held meetings for sometimes 200 working boys at a time. To best reach them, he combined simple, honest discussions of faith with games and activities for them to participate in. The group was soon too large to accommodate, and he began visiting them in their places of work instead, to be more accessible.
John Bosco began then to aid the boys in other ways - he would look for jobs for those of them who had become unemployed, he helped them write contracts to protect them from abuse and manipulation by their employers, and he would house the ones forced to sleep under bridges and in alleys. He and his mother used their own property to do this, even after some of the boys robbed them in the process. Looking for more ways to house even more of them, eventually, he and his mother housed 800 at a time. He had managed to acquire an empty lot on which he built a property, despite the surrounding properties being somewhat violent. He had barely any money in the first place, and desired only for the working boys to learn and gain what they needed.
Here, in what was barely a shed, he also began an orphanage after a boy came to the door hungry one night. Bosco's mother was concerned about having enough space for him to stay, but John replied only that it was a better place than the prison in which he was likely to end up without their help.
John Bosco bought the shed next door to accommodate more orphans, and added more space as well to make a trade school on the property. Bosco himself and two other men were teachers. As word spread about him and his mission, several other priests from around Italy came to aid him, and a few wealthy donors provided the means to establish a workshop for shoemaking and tailoring.
Bosco called his method "The Preventative System" - preventing children from ending up in jails by having meaningful and individual conversations between students and adults daily, providing an honest and sincere education in the faith, and allowing each student to understand their individual value and worth.
He did not believe in punishment for wrongdoing since children grow and change so quickly and are still learning, and instead used errors as examples for a path on which to build to continue in a better direction.
The neighborhood, however, was not on board. They complained of the noise, and whispered that the meetings were antigovernmental and could give birth to a revolution. Italian citizens from all over criticized his work as often as others praised it. Priests from neighboring areas accused him of "stealing" from their congregation, and several times, there were even attempts to murder Bosco.
Some of Bosco's boys he had helped were grown and had also become priests by then - and with their help, Bosco began his own religious order now called the Salesians after "The Society of St. Francis DeSales" (who was a role model for him). He also worked with St. Mary Mazzarello to start a group that would provided for abandoned girls in the same way.
John Bosco rarely refused anything asked of him or any work he saw that needed to be done. He worked on retreats, made plans to build basilicas, spoke for groups, and wrote many essays, books, and articles. He was so busy that he slept usually 5 hours a night, and it was a common sight to see him dozing even in public. Because of this overwork, as he aged, he lost most of his sight, had severely swollen legs, and a curved back. If he had rested more often and taken care of himself as well as he had taken care of everyone else, we can only imagine how much more he could have given. But after much suffering through his last years, John Bosco died in 1888.
Pope Pius, who had met him, pushed for a quick canonization.
His advice for becoming a saint?
He told them that doing the best you can in the life you are given is the simplest way to be a saint - weathering through everyday sorrows, physical pains, unfairness, disappointments, and more are enough.
there is not ever only one path to faith, one way to grow, or one way to think, and you showed us all of those things. Inspire us to use interesting, new ways to share our faith. Allow us the important gift of believing in and giving all children a chance. We must listen to their ideas and dreams to develop their creativity and knowledge.
Accompanied by his guardian dog, I wanted Don Bosco to be as open, comfortable, approachable, and honest as he seems he was. A hard worker, performer, and kind soul, I hoped his casual posture would portray all of those qualities. I wanted him to look like someone to be trusted and someone who listens.