Thursday, January 30, 2014

St. John Bosco

January 31 is the feast of St. John Bosco (1815-1888), priest and patron of youth.

John was born in Piedmont, Italy of a peasant family, and was brought up by his widowed mother. At age nine, he had a dream that predicted his vocation. In the dream, he was surrounded by a crowd of swearing and fighting children he attempted to pacify, first by reasoning with them verbally, then by hitting them. Then, suddenly a mysterious woman appeared who instructed him, “Softly, softly…if you wish to win them! Take your shepherds staff if you wish to lead them to pasture.” As she spoke the children transformed first into wild beasts, then into lambs.

From this time on, John believed that it was his duty to lead and to help other boys. He began teaching the children of his village catechism, first amusing them with acrobatics and magic tricks, at which he became quite skilled. One Sunday morning, when John saw a traveling gymnast and juggler entertaining the children, he challenged him to a match and beat him at his own tricks. Then he marched off to church, followed by an audience of admirers.

John had a very informal education. When he was staying with an aunt who worked for a priest, the priest taught him to read and write. At sixteen, he entered the seminary to begin his studies for the priesthood and was so poor that his clothing had to be donated by charity. He studied theology in Turin and continued to volunteer to help abandoned and neglected homeless boys.

His first assignment as a priest was as an assistant chaplain at a home for girls, which allowed him to help his boys in his spare time. With help from the founder of the girls’ home, Marchesa Barolo, a wealthy philanthropist, he was able to set up a combination Sunday school / recreation center for the boys on the grounds owned by the Marchesa. The boys were rowdy, unruly and sometimes even picked flowers from the garden, so the Marchesa quickly changed her mind.

For more than a year the group was regarded as a nuisance by the property owners of the town and no suitable meeting place could be found. Finally, he found an old shed to use as a meeting place. The Marchesa now gave him an ultimatum – to give up his work with the boys or to resign his post at the orphanage for girls. He immediately resigned and chose to serve the boys – who now numbered several hundred.

As a result of all this stress, John Bosco developed a severe case of pneumonia and nearly died. When he recovered, he went to live in some rundown rooms near the meeting place, where his mother served as his housekeeper and assistant. He opened a night school and two more youth centers in Turin, and began to build housing for destitute boys.

Next, he built a church, which he named St. Frances de Sales, followed by the construction of another home for his growing family.The boys he enrolled as boarders were of two different types: young apprentices and craftsmen, and other youths whom St. John Bosco perceived to be future helpers, with possible future vocations to the priesthood. He managed them all and taught them well without the need for punishment.

St. John Bosco was a popular preacher and was always in demand. He spent his remaining time writing appealing, high – interest level books for boys, which were virtually non-existent at that time. He worked late into the night, writing historical books and faith – based books, but was forced to give up writing due to his failing eyesight.

On January 26, 1854, a group of men met to form a new apostolate based upon practical works of charity. The group took the name of Salesian after the great bishop of Geneva, St. Frances de Sales. In 1858, John went to Rome, taking the rules of the Order with him and received preliminary approval from Pope Pius IX.
Sixteen years later, he received full approval.

His next great accomplishment was the founding of an order of women to care for girls and to provide for their needs. In 1862, he organized a group of twenty-seven young women whom he named the Daughters of St. Mary Auxiliatrix, the Helper.

As John grew older, his health weakened and on the morning of January 31, 1888, he died in Turin. St. John Bosco was canonized in 1934.

Patron: Apprentices; boys; editors; Mexican young people; laborers; schoolchildren; students; young people.

Collect: Lord, you called John Bosco to be a teacher and father to the young. Fill us with love like his: may we give ourselves completely to your service and to the salvation of mankind. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from St. John Bosco:

"Do you want Our Lord to give you many graces? Visit Him often. Do you want Him to give you few graces? Visit him seldom. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament are powerful and indispensable means of overcoming the attacks of the devil. Make frequent visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the devil will be powerless against you.”

“This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so He bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.”

“Your reward in heaven will make up completely for all your pain and suffering.”

"All for God and for His Glory. In whatever you do, think of the Glory of God as your main goal."

"Everything and everyone is is won by the sweetness of our words and works."

"Every virtue in your soul is a precious ornament which makes you dear to God and to man. But holy purity, the queen of virtues, the angelic virtue, is a jewel so precious that those who possess it become like the angels of God in Heaven, even though clothed in mortal flesh."

Discerning a vocation to the Salesians? Go here.

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