Saint John Bosco (1815-1888)

Saint John Bosco (1815-1888)

In his childhood, John Bosco learned from his mother (a widow) to love and pray to the Virgin Mary, and he turned to her often. When he was 9 years old, Mary showed him the path he should follow. He had a vision in the form of a "dream," something which happened several times in his life.

"I am the one your mother taught you to pray three times a day."

John told the story in his own words: "I found myself among children who were swearing, fighting and insulting each other. Right away, I tried to stop them by using my fists. Then, I saw a beautiful lady coming toward me who said: “Brute force will get you nowhere. Try using gentleness.” Suddenly, the children turned into a bunch of wild animals of all kinds. When they saw the Lady, they all turned into docile sheep. Then, I asked her who she was and she answered: “I am the one that your mother taught you to pray three times a day.” She pointed to her Son and told me he would help me.” This dream, called “the dream of the nine-year-old,” helped John Bosco understand his mission more clearly, over the years. It is clear that Mary had a paramount place. John’s mission was to care for the young, poor and abandoned.

On December 8, 1841...

Don Bosco was about to celebrate Mass in a church in Turin. It was cold. The door of the sacristy was open. A young man about fifteen years old came in to get warm. The sacristan, learning he didn’t know how to serve Mass, chased him out of the church with a duster. Don Bosco went to him and said: "Call him back, he’s my friend." They talked briefly. Don Bosco found out that the young man was an orphan and had come from the countryside to find a job. He could neither read nor write, and knew next to nothing about religion. So Don Bosco asked him: "Do you know how to whistle at least? Play?" The ice was broken. "And what if I taught you the catechism, would you agree?" His response was yes, of course…

Don Bosco celebrated Mass with the boy present. Then the latter received his first catechism lesson. Don Bosco, aware that something important was taking place, recited the “Hail Mary” with all his heart. It was December 8th, the Feast of Mary Immaculate, and Don Bosco later said he had never before prayed the “Hail Mary” with such fervor.

"Now you will be their mother."

The following week the young man returned to the church. As he had promised Don Bosco, he brought a few dozen other boys with him, in the same situation as he was. After a while, the few dozen became several hundred. Don Bosco ran into difficulties and setbacks, but he was finally able to rent a shed, that the youngster fixed up themselves. As most of the young people were apprentice construction workers, they were able to convert the building into the first “boarding house.” Don Bosco asked his mother to come from the countryside in Piedmont to do the laundry, cooking, and gardening. After looking around the house, she told her son: "Everything is lacking here." Her son replied, showing a picture of Mary hung on the wall: "But she is here, isn’t she?" Later, Mama Margaret died. Don Bosco turned to Mary and said: "Now you will be the mother of these youngsters and watch over them.”

Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia...

After establishing some charities outside Italy (France, Spain, Belgium), Don Bosco considered sending some Salesian priests on a mission to pagan territories. One night in a dream, the Virgin showed Don Bosco some lands where the Christian faith had not yet penetrated: Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, on the southernmost tip of South America. Don Bosco saw these countries with such precision that, a few years later, en route to Lyons, while giving a talk on these areas to members of an academy of geography, he amazed them by his accuracy… because he had never been there! The Salesians were therefore the first to Christianize that part of the world.

The Navarre

In another dream, the Blessed Virgin played a major part. One night in 1878, she showed Don Bosco a small boarding school consisting of two small buildings where a few dozen orphans worked, learning the trades of grapevine growing and farming. This charity was more or less managed by a priest of the diocese of Frejus-Toulon. Don Bosco saw an increasing number of youngsters coming to the boarding house, and some of them even became Salesians… (It must be mentioned that for more than 30 years from 1929 to 1959, the Navarre served as a novitiate for the province of Lyons)… Less than 3 days later, the bishop of Frejus-Toulon wrote to Don Bosco asking him to come and take over the home… Obviously, he accepted without hesitating.

"The Virgin Mary has done everything!"

These are just a few of the stories about Saint John Bosco’s busy life, but there are many others! They show Don Bosco’s confidence in Mary: how he was guided by her, how she inspired him… and how he managed to instil in his young people (students and religious) a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin, invoking her under the title of "Auxiliatrix of Christians" or "Help of Christians." His experiences enabled him to say at the end of his life, when people were surprised by all of his works: "The Virgin Mary has done everything!"

He claimed that the many miracles occurring by his intercession were always obtained through Mary. He was the founder of the Society of Saint Francis de Sales (Salesians), approved in 1869, and the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesians). His feast is celebrated on January 31th.