As we celebrated National Catholic Schools Week (CSW) from January 30 through February 5, the Universal Church also celebrated a pioneer in the education of poor children, St. John Bosco, whose feast day falls on January 31st each year.
John Bosco, also known as Don Bosco, was born in 1815 in Becchi, Italy. When he was nine years old, he had a prophetic dream. He saw many young boys violently fighting one another, and uttering all kinds of bad words. John Bosco tried to stop them by having recourse to force. But that did not help. He then saw in his dream a man and a woman. The man told him: “It is not with blows, but with gentleness and charity that you will make them friends. Begin immediately to instruct them on the ugliness of sin and the reward of virtue.” And the woman showed John another vision in which a multitude of wild beasts had taken the place of the violent children. Then the woman said to John Bosco: “This is your work. What you will see happening to these wild animals is what you must do for my children.” Suddenly, the wild beasts were transformed into gentle lambs. The man and woman in John Bosco’s dream were none other than Jesus and Mary.
John Bosco decided to become a priest and devote his life to children. He was ordained a priest in 1841. His first youth ministry was in Turin’s juvenile jails. Noticing the huge numbers of youngsters who ended up in jail, John Bosco developed a preventive educational system to try to keep the boys out of trouble by busying them with good things: education, prayer, leisure, etc. John Bosco cared for the boys’ souls, not just their physical well-being. He knew well the intrinsic unity between the body and soul. Since the human person is an intrinsic unity of body and soul, what seems to satisfy the body alone, cannot fulfill the human person. As a being endowed with a physical body, the human person needs physical activities, material foods, etc. As a spiritual being, the human person also needs the worship of the Divine, leisure, etc.
To carry out his ministry, Don Bosco founded the Salesian Order, a group of priests that helped boys; and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, a group of nuns that helped girls. Don Bosco taught the children how to work and how to love God. He became a father to each one of them. He provided food, lodging, a safe environment, and an education to everyone. Don Bosco introduced them to a life of prayer and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession. He helped children to lead virtuous lives and become saints. One of his students, St. Dominic Savio, was canonized a saint at age 15.
Don Bosco died on January 31, 1888, and was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI.
St. John Bosco lived in constant prayer and union with God, with a strong and tender devotion to our Lady, whom he invoked as the Immaculate Virgin and the Help of Christians. The memory of St. John Bosco is well alive in the Church. Pope Francis says that by working for the moral, civil, and cultural education of youth, Don Bosco worked for the good of people and civil society. He adds that Don Bosco is “remembered in the Church as a holy educator and pastor of the young who…offered a method of education that is at the same time a spirituality, and received from the Holy Spirit a charism for modern times.” (Pope Francis, “Letter to the Salesians in Celebration of the Bicentennial of Don Bosco’s Birth.”)
St. John Bosco valued education, and education that includes the religious dimension, and that affects the whole human person, soul and body. He saw such an education as a way to holiness and of lifting others out of poverty and giving them a greater opportunity to achieve great things in their life. May we, too, use our talents and treasures to help promote and support Catholic education for all God’s children, especially those
who cannot afford it.
Yours in Christ,