St. John Bosco, or, as he is commonly called, “Don Bosco” (the Italian word “Don” meaning Father), was born at Becchi, a town in the foothills of the Italian Alps, on August 16, 1815. His father died when he was two and his childhood and first years of study were filled with difficulties which include supporting himself while attending school. He overcame this problem by working at various trades, all of which he later taught his students. Don Bosco entered the Chieri Seminary and was ordained in 1841. He was stationed inTurin, an industrial center which attracted young people from neighboring towns. There he opened an “oratory” or boys club for them.
Although he did not hesitate to extend his priestly services to prisons and reformatories, he gradually came to realize that his mission was to prevent youngsters from falling into crime rather then rehabilitate delinquents. Because of this insight, he opened his oratory (youth centre) to all boys. Soon, as many as 1,000 boys flocked to his oratory (which was just an open field and a chapel shed) every Sunday for religious instruction, Holy Mass, sacraments and a full day of fun and games. Kindness, understanding and endless patience brought these boys close to their faith.
Realizing that many young people needed continuous help, he enlarged the youth centre into a boy’s home. There, youngsters could live and either work or attend classes in the city. To prepare boys for skilled labor, Don Bosco turned his mother’s kitchen into a makeshift cobbler and carpenter shop. This was the first Catholic trade school inItaly(1835).
Leading educators soon came to admire DB’s educative style, which he explained as a happy blend of reason, religion and loving kindness. He strove to establish a family atmosphere characterized by a sense of understanding between teacher and pupil and an acknowledgment of life’s spiritual aspects. Thus, he not only prevented delinquency but also produced leaders for industry and labour – god-loving men and honest citizens. In 1859, at the insistence of Pope Pius IX, Don Bosco founded a religious congregation of priests and brothers, which he named Salesians, after St. Francis de Sales. This order was officially approved in 1874, and is known as Salesians of Don Bosco. A tireless worker, Don Bosco died on January 31, 1888, inTurin,Italy, at the age of 72. He was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. Don Bosco’s birth bi-centenary is in 2015.