The month of January is very important for the Salesian Family. January 24th is the feast of St. Francis de Sales and the 31st is the feast of St. John Bosco. Over the next few weeks our reflections will center on Don Bosco and Salesian spirituality. We begin by taking a brief look at Don Bosco’s life and the legacy he has left behind in the form of the Salesian Family.
St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was born near the city of Turino, Italy, in a small farming community. His father, Francis died when John was only two years old, and left his mother Margaret alone to raise him, his brother Joseph and step brother Anthony. It was there, at the family farm in the village of Becci, that young John learned the value of prayer and hard work. He also grew in the knowledge of God’s call to the priesthood, and pursued the education he needed. It was not easy. His older step brother Anthony, the “man” of the house, thought that study was not real work, and tried to stop him from spending time reading and learning. Things were so tense that John had to leave the house to live with relatives in a neighboring village. While still a teenager he left home for good and lived in the city of Chieri where he went to school during the day and worked at night to pay for school (there was no free public education then).
John was ordained to the priesthood in 1841. He worked tirelessly for the salvation of the young. Don Bosco’s first permanent work was called the Oratory, where he worked with poor and abandoned boys. He eventually founded the Salesian Society to continue this work into the future. All the time he remembered the lessons he learned at his home, at the feet of his mother Margaret; the need to make Jesus the center of his life, to be kind to all, and to be present in the lives of the young whom he served. Don Bosco wanted the schools, youth centers and parishes that his Salesians worked at to be homes where all felt welcome, Churches that evangelized to the faith, schools that prepared for life and a playground where lasting friendships were formed. We call this today the “Oratorian Criteria,” that all Salesian works aspire to follow.