Saint John Bosco
Francis died only two years after John birth, leaving Margaret to raise three boys by herself, little John 2 years old, his brother Joseph 4 years old, and their stepbrother Anthony, 10 years old. Margaret raised them with great difficulties but with great love. She taught them that they each needed to carry his weight and help with the keep of their home and farm. Margaret taught them that work was a privilege and that joy would make the work lighter.
Both he and his mother understood the real meaning of that dream and so Margaret would later bear many sacrifices so that John’s dream of becoming a priest would be fulfilled. But the priesthood meant studies, and there was no money on the Bosco farm. Even school was almost impossible. Due to the goodness of a farmer who taught him, John learned to read and write at the age of eight. His first schooling came the next year, when he hiked some three miles every morning to the country school of a priest. But the increasing hostility of his stepbrother, not pacified by John's attempts to put in extra hours on the farm, made life at home unbearable. And so, for the sake of domestic peace, Margaret Bosco divided the paltry estate left by her husband and allowed her youngest son to go to Castelnuovo to attend public school and board with a good family she knew. Alone in the town, John soon learned the hardships of an orphan's life. He worked after school to support himself. Though he was only 15, he labored in a blacksmith shop, then as a tailor, a waiter, a shoemaker, anything to get a few pennies and ease his mother's burden.
At school he did exceptionally well. By 1835, when John was 20, he was ready for the seminary, taking with him an enviable record for excellence in studies, a reputation for solid piety, and the friendship of countless people in many walks of life. Prominent among them was a young priest, Father Cafasso, now St. Joseph Cafasso, John's confessor, who best understood him and helped him to interpret God's plan.
On June 5, 1841, John was ordained to the priesthood in Turin. With ordination came the release of a powerful spiritual energy, which, joined to his rare human gifts, was calculated to exert a lasting influence on modern youth.
In the 1840s the slums of Turin were overrun by the poverty that resulted inevitably from sweatshop factories with their hazardous machinery, child labor, and starvation wages. Walking through these slums, Don Bosco came face to face with his mission. As he visited the prisons with Father Cafasso, the conviction of his vocation seemed to shout within him: "These boys are not bad. Take care of them before they fall into crime-that is your task!" With his heart full of trust in his Lady and his pockets empty, Don Bosco courageously took up the work. From then on it was only "Give me souls, the souls of youngsters."
In 1846 the first ray of hope broke through the clouds. Don Bosco bought an empty lot and a dilapidated shed in an underdeveloped section of Turin called Valdocco. Many orphans stayed with him. They went to work or to school in Turin each day, returning ‘home” for meals. Don Bosco soon realized that he had to have a school of his own. In the autumn of 1853 he took a corner of Mama Margaret's kitchen and converted it into a workshop. Don Bosco himself and two hired men were the teachers. So the Don Bosco Trade School was born. Today the congregation of Don Bosco operates trade schools throughout the world, both in highly technological nations like the United States and in many underdeveloped nations.
On the night of December 18, 1859, surrounded by 17 of his most devoted boys, the Congregation of St. Francis de Sales was born. His own boys were the best material: little Michael Rua, tough Johnny Cagliero, hardworking Johnny Francesia, self-willed Paul Albera, and several others, they would be the pioneers in this experiment of a new religious congregation. In 1869 the Congregation was approved by the Vatican, and five years later, so were his Constitutions.
Today Salesian priests and brothers, bound by one rule, inspired by the same spirit of their Founder, are all dedicated to the double task of self-sanctification and the care of youth. Today the Salesians number over 17,000 Brothers and priests.
In 1875, with Mary Mazzarello 25 years old, as co-foundress a new religious congregation for women was born. He called them "Daughters of Mary Help of Christians." As far as he was concerned, they were the feminine counterpart of his Salesians and a living monument of gratitude to his heavenly Helper. Today there are more than 16,000 Salesian Sisters.
In November 1875, at the request of Argentina and the Holy See, Don Bosco sent ten missionaries to Buenos Aires to care for Italian immigrants. Today Salesian Missions are established in more than 120 countries, providing religious and civic education to the youths.
Don Bosco died at dawn on January 31, 1888.