St. John Bosco is my favorite saint. Why, you may ask? Because of his love for children, I aspire to be like him every day.
St. John Bosco, also known as Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco and Don Bosco, was born on August 16, 1815, in Becchi, Italy. At the age of two, John’s father passed away, leaving him with his two brothers and his mother. Being raised primarily by his mother, John attended church frequently and was very devout in his faith. At the age of nine, John had the first of many vivid dreams that would eventually change his life. In one of his dreams, he encountered multiple boys, and among them a majestic man and woman. In the dream, the man told him that in meekness and charity he would “conquer these your friends.” The woman said, “Be strong, humble, and robust. When the time comes, you will understand everything.” This dream would go on to influence John for the rest of his life.
Shortly after his dream, he witnessed a traveling circus group. He decided that he should learn their tricks and use them to attract people and hold their attention. One Sunday he decided to use these tricks and staged a show for the kids he played with. At the end of the performance, he recited a homily that he had heard previously that day and got a group of his neighbors to join him in prayer. He began regularly doing the performances, and this is when he discerned the call to become a priest. To become a priest he needed an education, but because he had grown up in poverty, he had never been formally educated. However, he found a priest who was willing to provide a few books and who was willing to teach him. John’s brother, however, was not happy and wanted John to be a farmer like the rest of his family.
John listened to his brother and continued working as a farmer. He had difficulty finding work at first but eventually found some work at a vineyard. He labored for about two years before finding Joseph Cafasso, a priest willing to help him. In 1835, John entered the seminary, and six years later in 1841, he was ordained into the priesthood.
His first assignment was located in the city of Turin. This city was in widespread poverty, and it was in those neighborhoods that John, now known as Fr. Bosco, began working with the children of the poor. Fr. Bosco also visited prisons with large numbers of boys from the ages of 12 to 18 years old. This inspired him to do what he could to keep other boys in that age range out of prison. In the 1860s at times when he was not preaching, he and his mother, known as “Mamma Margherita,” worked to find jobs for boys and young men who needed it, as well as helping them all find shelter. John and his mother were responsible for finding shelter for 800 boys. He also made a contract that forbade the employers of boys who had apprenticeships from abusing their workers.
Fr. Bosco also was able to identify boys that he thought would make great priests and provide help for them, as well as providing guidance toward a better education. Although he was helping these boys, there was some controversy: he was accused by some parish priests of stealing boys from their home parishes. In 1859, he established the Society of St. Francis de Sales by organizing fifteen seminarians and one teenage boy to carry on Fr. Bosco’s charity and to help other boys in their faith. This organization still continues to help others, especially children, around the world today.
On January 31, 1888, Fr. Bosco died, and the call for his canonization followed immediately. Pope Pius XI knew Fr. Bosco personally and declared him Blessed in 1929. On Easter Sunday in 1934, St. John Bosco was canonized and given the title “Father and Teacher of Youth.” In 2002, Pope John Paul II was petitioned to declare him the Patron of Stage Magicians because he had pioneered the art of “Gospel Magic.”
Today, St. John Bosco is the patron saint of apprentices, editors and publishers, schoolchildren, magicians, and juvenile delinquents. CYO Camp Rancho Framasa, a camp that is my home away from home, also takes St. John Bosco as a role model because of his love for children. St. John Bosco’s feast day is on January 31st.
O glorious Saint John Bosco, who in order to lead young people to the feet of the divine Master and to mould them in the light of faith and Christian morality didst heroically sacrifice thyself to the very end of thy life and didst set up a proper religious Institute destined to endure and to bring to the farthest boundaries of the earth thy glorious work, obtain also for us from Our Lord a holy love for young people who are exposed to so many seductions in order that we may generously spend ourselves in supporting them against the snares of the devil, in keeping them safe from the dangers of the world, and in guiding them, pure and holy, in the path that leads to God. Amen.Prayer to St. John Bosco