Cloud of Witnesses

St. John Bosco: Teacher and Father

Everybody should know about this great saint. I’m not just saying that because my father studied with the Salesian order, which St. John Bosco founded, but because I think he is very relevant for us today.

When Giovanni Bosco was 9 he had a strange dream that would affect his life forever:

He saw himself playing in a field with the neighborhood boys who suddenly began to fight and curse. This angered him. John told them to stop but they wouldn’t listen…so he went in with both fists. At that moment a noble looking stranger appeared telling him to use kindness, not force. John asked the man’s name. “Ask my mother what my name is”. A beautiful woman appeared and said “Look”. In place of the children, there were now wild animals. “This is the field of your work”. John looked around–the animals had transformed into lambs! They all ran toward the woman and her son. She put her hand on John’s head said, “in time you will understand!”

Fr. John Bosco or Don Bosco, as he was familiarly called, dedicated his priestly life to helping the lower class at-risk youth and the unruly kids running the streets, those who society looked down on. The industrial revolution had swept through Turin, Italy…child labor was common, so were things like stealing and gangs. To teach these young people, Don Bosco employed a method of “reason, religion and kindness”. And how effective it was! He reached hundreds of young men.

More father than teacher, Don Bosco drew from the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales who believed that “a spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.” He founded the Society of St. Francis de Sales–the Salesians–a men’s religious oder to continue this good work. He also founded with St. Mary Mazzarello an order of religious sisters–Daughters of Mary Help of Christians–to do for girls what the Salesians were doing for boys. Both orders do so much for the welfare of youth to this day.

There’s so much more that can be said about St. John Bosco! I’ll leave you with this quote:

My sons, in my long experience very often I had to be convinced of this great truth. It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them.

See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or willfulness. It is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out our anger.

Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better.

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.

from a letter by Saint John Bosco

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