St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was born to poor parents in Recchi, Italy, the Piedmont area of northern Italy. When John was two, his father died prematurely. As a boy, John lived on a farm with his family doing the only thing they knew how, farming. Poverty and a lack of formal education in the home did not stop the growth of John Bosco as a person. His mother was for real, realizing the importance of God in life.
This friendship with God became powerful and slowly John prepared for the priesthood. In 1841 at the age of 26, John was ordained priest at Turin, and immediately gave himself to that work, finding shelter for neglected youth and instructing them in religion. He was now ready to make his contribution toward the poor and homeless. He rented an old barn in a field which he called "The Oratory." This was the first of many oratories John Bosco founded for helping poor boys who needed a home. He believed that prayer and Holy Mass and Communion and confession are the best ways for children to attain a sense of personal responsibility.
In a short time, other priests joined him in his work and by 1852 they were caring for over 600 boys. John dealt with them by using a minimum of restraint and discipline, lots of love, keeping careful watch over their development and encouraging them personally and through religion.
John"s preaching and writing, as well as the charitable support of wealthy and powerful patrons allowed for expansion of his work. The need for dependable assistants led to the founding of the society of St. Francis de Sales in 1859, and it continues to work today.
To provide similar care for the poor and neglected girls, John Bosco founded, in 1872, the Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians.
The life of St. John Bosco was full and his zeal contagious. He never got tired of talking and writing about his work for the young and their care. On this feast day the Church has chosen for the Office of Readings an excerpt from one of his letters. It expresses his concern and is applicable for our time when children suffer from neglect in broken homes and in less than ideal welfare situations.
John wrote: "If we wish to appear concerned about the true happiness of our foster children and if we would move them to fulfill their duties, you must never forget that you are taking the place of the parents of these beloved young people. I have always labored lovingly for them, and carried out my priestly duties with zeal. And the whole Salesian Society has done this with me.
Juggler, magician, acrobat, tailor, teacher and writer, John Bosco became all of these in his efforts to lead boys and girls to God. A prayer was the price of admission to his shows; a friendly contest to match skill or strength was his answer to the hoodlums who laughed at him. As a priest he was known as Don Bosco and built churches and schools.
John Bosco would be pleased with the concern that the Church has today for education. This concern is expressed in the II Vatican Council"s Decree on Christian Education.
John Bosco died on January 31, 1888 and was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. His work was continued by a group of dedicated people called the Salesians. His feast day is celebrated on January 31. St. John Bosco is honored by us as an outstanding teacher and father to the young, and we ask that we be filled with love like his.