St. John Bosco


On January 31, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Saint John Bosco, also known as Saint Don Bosco, founder of the Salesian Society.

Early Life of St. Don Bosco

John Bosco was born to humble beginnings, as Giovanni Melchior Bosco, to poor parents in a little cabin at Becchi, a hill-side hamlet near Piedmont, Italy in 1815. He was barely over two years old when his father died, leaving him and his brothers in the care of his mother, Margaret. The early years of John’s life were spent as a shepherd, but from an early age he craved studying and had a true desire to live the religious life. He’d received his first instruction at the hands of the parish priest and displayed a quick wit and retentive memory. Though he often had to turn away from his books to work in the field, John did not ignore his vocation.

Ministry of St. John Bosco

Finally, in 1835, John was able to enter the seminary at Chieri, and after six years was ordained on the eve of Trinity Sunday. From here, he went to Turin and began his priestly labors with zeal. An incident soon occurred which truly opened John to the full effort of his mission.

One of John’s duties was to visit the prisons throughout the city. These visits brought to John’s attention the children throughout the city, exposed each day to dangers of both physical and spiritual nature. These poor children were abandoned to the evil influences surrounding them, with little more to look forward to than a life that would lead them to the gallows. John made up his mind to dedicate his life to the rescue and care of the unfortunate outcasts.

John Bosco began first by gathering the children together on Sundays, to teach them the catechism. The group of boys became established as the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales; as it grew and spread around the world, it became known as the Salesian Society. John in time also began to teach classes in the evening, and children who worked in factories by day would come to study as the factories closed for the day. The future St. Dominic Savio was among the students.

John also founded the Salesian Congregation, which was composed of both priests and lay people who wished to continue the work he had begun. He also wanted to expand his apostolate to young girls. John, along with the woman who would become St. Maria Domenica Mazzarello, founded the FMA, the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

Education, above all education about loving the Lord, was a primary focus of John’s life work. He spent his free time, including time he should have been sleeping, to writing and popularizing booklets of Catholic teaching for ordinary people.

Of John Bosco’s education style, the Catholic Encyclopedia writes:

John 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 method.

Of punishment he said: 'As far as possible avoid punishing . . . try to gain love before inspiring fear.' And in 1887 he wrote: 'I do not remember to have used formal punishment; and with God's grace I have always obtained, and from apparently hopeless children, not alone what duty exacted, but what my wish simply expressed.' "

By the time of John’s death in 1888 there were 250 houses of the Salesian Society in all parts of the world, housing and educating 130,000 children. John Bosco was declared venerable in 1907 and was canonized in 1934.


This article was adapted from the Catholic Encyclopedia and the Salesians of Don Bosco website.


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