Run, jump, shout, but do not sin.
-Saint John Bosco
Saint John Bosco was born on August 16th, 1814 in Becchi Italy and was the youngest son of Francesco Bosco, a farmhand of the Moglian family. His father tragically passed away when Saint Bosco was only two, leaving his mother to support the family and raise the three boys alone. Even in such trying times, his mother was able to pass down a strong personality and resolute devotion to Christ. When he was 9, Saint Bosco had a series of dreams that would forever change his life. The first dream had several poor young boys playing together and blaspheming, with a man who said to Saint Bosco:
"You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness. So begin right now to show them that sin is ugly and virtue beautiful."
At school he would referee the fights between boys and would often visit local plays and circuses where he would watch the jugglers and try to recreate their tricks at home. He began receiving some education and instruction from a parish priest but the family's poverty was an obstacle to any real, formal education. His brother would often bully him for his aspirations of education, remarking that Saint Bosco was a simple farmer just as he was. At 12, he left home and found work as a farm-servant, though that proved to be a very strenuous and difficult work. He eventually found work at the wine farm of Louis Moglia. In 1830, Saint Bosco met Father Joseph Cafasso, a young priest who helped support his education. His mother, in total support of her son's aspirations, raised enough money to send him to seminary. He entered the seminary at Chieri in 1835 and was ordained a priest in 1841 on the eve of Trinity Sunday.
After his ordination, Saint Bosco was first assigned to be the chaplain of the Rifugio, a boarding school in Turin. It was there in Turin that Saint Bosco became disturbed seeing how many young boys living in the city (having travelled from the country side in search of a better life) and seeing how the traditional outreaches of the parish were failing to reach them. He began forming a new type of apostolate, one that would meet the young boys where they were. This became a total transformation of his life. All day he would help the unemployed boys find jobs, provide lodgings for them and dedicated the majority of his time to their well being. He and his mother, whom was called Mamma Margherita began taking in more and more orphans. By 1861, there were over 470 boys sheltered.
Saint Bosco also helped reform the apprenticeship process in Turin. Often young boys serving in an apprenticeship were completely taken advantage off, often beaten and used as servants rather as students learning a trade. Saint Bosco made people signing contracts with the boys under his care agree to correct them only verbally, watch their health and give them feast days. His help to the young men caught the attention even of anti-clerical public officials at the time. When the Jusice Minister Urbano Rattazzi passed a bill to suppress religious orders, he personally helped Saint Bosco find ways around it. Some though, viewed his work not as a great benefit to humanity but rather as a threat to their existing power. Some traditionalist clergy accused him of stealing the young and old from their parishes and politicians saw the teaching and caring for the young men as a recruiting ground of revolution. Several times Saint Bosco was arrested and interrogated, and a few times attempts were made on his life (he was nearly stabbed once, beat another time and had shots fired at him from a pistol).
As the boys grew older, they began to join in with Saint Bosco and the work he was doing. Michael Rua, John Cagliero (who would later be a Cardinal) and John Baptist Francesia helped found the Salesian Congregation. This organization, founded in 1859 as the Society of Saint Francis de Sales began the nucleus of the Salesians and was divided into priests, seminarians and coadjutors. Saint Bosco then worked with Mary Mazzarello to found a group of religious sisters to do the same work that was being done for the boys and named it the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.
In another dream, Saint Bosco had a vision of primitive peoples hunting and fighting against European soldiers. A group of missionaries came to them but were all slaughtered. A second group then came and the men put down their weapons to listen to this second group. Saint Bosco realized the second group were Salesians. When he awoke from the dream, he began gathering information on different countries and settled on the Indians of Patagonia. In 1874 he proposed setting up bases to launch missionary efforts and on January 29th, 1875, announced that negotiations with the Archbishop of Buenos Aires had been successful in founding this idea.
Saint Bosco was also a prolific writer. In addition to the many writings he completed within his order, he also wrote several historical books, including the famous 1881 A Compendium of Italian History from the Fall of the Roman Empire and his biography of Joseph Cafasso.
Saint Bosco died on January 31st, 1888. Thousands attended his funeral and there was a significant push for his canonization almost immediately. Pope Pius XI, having met with Saint Bosco several times, personally advanced the cause forward. He was beatified by Pope Pius XI on June 2, 1929 and canonized on Easter Sunday of 1934. Pope Pius XI also gave him the title "Father and Teacher of Youth". Today is feast day is celebrated on January 31st and he is known affectionally throughout the world as Don Bosco.