St. John (Don) Bosco

January 26, 2018

The Pastor's Page

John Bosco was born in 1815 near Castelnuovo in the diocese of Turin in northern Italy. His family was extremely poor. His father died when he was only two, and he was raised by his mother and his two older brothers.

When John Bosco was ten he attended a traveling circus. He was nimble with his hands, learned magic tricks, and later conducted magic shows for his neighbors. He would conclude his performances with a prayer or a reflection on the gospel. In addition to making a small amount for his living and school expenses, it was the beginning of his journey to priesthood. He entered the seminary in 1835 at the age of twenty, and was ordained on June 5, 1841.

John Bosco’s first assignment was in Turin, and one of his ministries was to visit the local prison. He was horrified by the conditions and wanted to do everything possible to prevent young people from ending up there. With great zeal he reached out to boys and young men who were poor, neglected, homeless, uneducated, orphans, or roaming the streets. He used his magic tricks to grab their attention, and then would teach them about Jesus and the gospel. Through the generosity of wealthy local patrons, he was able to provide needy youth with food and shelter.

As the ministry grew, other priests joined the effort, and by 1852 over six hundred youth were in their care. Seven years later, in 1859, John Bosco founded the Society of St. Francis de Sales, commonly known as the Salesian Order, a religious community of men dedicated to the instruction of youth. It was the time of the industrial revolution. Youth were taught trades and manual skills such as bookbinding, printing, shoemaking, ironworking, and tailoring, and John Bosco became a pioneer of vocational education. These schools also taught arts, sciences, liberal arts, and religion for those preparing for higher studies or exploring a vocation to the priesthood.

There were many girls and young ladies who were also poor and neglected, so in collaboration with Sister Mary Dominic Mazzarello, in 1872 they founded a similar community for women, the Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians, commonly known as the Salesian Sisters.

A wave of emigration to Latin America began in 1875 which prompted a Salesian missionary apostolate. John Bosco traveled throughout Europe to solicit funds to support the missions to the needy, which caused some to refer to him as the new St. Vincent de Paul.

John Bosco also wrote a number of catechetical pamphlets that both explained and defended the Christian life. They were widely distributed throughout Europe and proved very popular. He also published the Salesian Bulletin, and he is the first saint ever to submit to a press interview.

John Bosco died on January 31, 1888, in Turin, Italy. His body was laid in state, and before his funeral forty thousand people filed by to pay their respects, and large crowds lined the streets for the procession. John Bosco was canonized on Easter Sunday, 1934, by Pope Pius XI. The next day a national holiday was proclaimed throughout Italy, the first time that a civic holiday had ever been declared to honor a canonized saint. Pope John Paul II gave him the title, “Teacher and father to the young.” He is the patron saint of Catholic publishers, editors, schoolchildren, apprentices, and laborers.


About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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