St. John Bosco, or, as he is commonly called, “Don Bosco” (‘don’ means father), was born at Becchi, Italy, on August 16, 1815. His father died when he was two and his childhood and first years of study were filled with difficulties that include supporting himself while attending school. He overcame these obstacles by working at various trades, all of which he later taught his students. Don Bosco entered the Chieri Seminary and was ordained in 1841. He was stationed in Turin, an industrial center that attracted young people from neighboring towns. There he opened an “oratory” or boys club for them.
Although he extended his priestly services to prisons and reformatories, he gradually came to realize that his mission was to prevent youngsters from falling into crime rather than rehabilitate delinquents. Soon, as many as 1,000 boys flocked to his oratory (which was just an open field and chapel) every Sunday for religious instruction, Mass, sacraments and a full day of fun and games. Kindness, understanding and endless patience brought these boys close to their faith.
Realizing that many of them needed continuous help, he enlarged the oratory into a boy’s home. There, youngsters could live and either work or attend classes in the city. To prepare boys for skilled labor, Don Bosco turned his mother’s kitchen into a makeshift cobbler and carpenter shop. This was Italy’s first Catholic trade school.
Leading educators came to admire his educative style, which he explained as a blend of reason and religion. He strove to establish an atmosphere characterized by a sense of understanding between teacher and pupil and an acknowledgment of life’s spiritual aspects. Thus, he not only prevented delinquency but also produced leaders for industry and labor, well-grounded in their faith.
In 1859, at the insistence of Pope Pius IX, Don Bosco founded a religious congregation of priest and brothers, which he named Salesians, after St. Francis de Sales. This order was officially approved in 1874.
A tireless worker, Don Bosco died on January 31, 1888, in Turin, Italy, at the age of 72. He was canonized in 1934 by his personal friend Pope Pius XI. His feast day is January 31. To learn more about the life of St. John Bosco, please read “A Man Sent by God”, by William Branham.