This site houses my creative summary on the second of the 19-volume Biographical Memoirs.

Biographical Memoirs is the biography of St. John Bosco.

Thanks for dropping by.

-Novice Donnie

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

First Christmas at Valdocco

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Don Bosco had taught his choir members among the Oratory boys several hymns which he himself had composed in honor of the Child Jesus.

To make the atmosphere of Christmas felt, he decorated the small chapel as best as he could and even invited several hundred people.

After a few hours of sleep, he was back in the church, waiting for the larger crowd of boys that failed to attend the midnight Mass.

The Christmas season was celebrated this way for many years until Don Bosco had other priests to help him.

The Mulberry Tree

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A huge mulberry tree stood in front of the entrance of the Pinardi property. It stood exactly on the place where the apse of the Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians now stands.

He used to call this tree "a tree of life," because of an incident in the past which could be read below.

There was a boy who used t attend the Oratory of Don Bosco. However, his exacting father disliked the idea of his son going to the church. He forbade him. However, the boy defied the order of his father because the Oratory became his refuge. He could play there, he could see his friends there and the Oratory taught him valuable catechism lessons.

One night, the boy was supposed to go to Don Bosco's house. His parents followed him. And since the doors of the Oratory were closed, the boy seeing his parents behind, thought of climbing the mulberry tree to get rid of them.

His parents knocked at the Oratory and demanded to surrender to them their son. Don Bosco gently but firmly told them that their kid was not there.

When they left, Don Bosco immediately climbed up the tree and found the boy shivering because of the freezing weather.

Enriching Mind and Heart

Don Bosco himself taught catechism in various schools in town on weekdays. Soon, he had an idea to tap older boys to teach catechism on Sundays and holy days.
Don Bosco started to organize classes whose progress so far had been hampered by the nomadic life of the oratory. And his own long illness. Because of lack of space, one class was taught in the kitchen and another in Don Bosco's own room. Another was held in the sacristy while still another met behind the main altar and several in the chapel itself.
When space became more suitable (Pancrazio Soave vacated some of the rooms at the ground floor as per their agreement) Don Bosco grouped the students according to their intellectual ability.
The Sunday classes were helpful to all, but insufficient, because during the week, many slow learners forgot what they had learned the past Sunday. To avoid this, Don Bosco encouraged them to attend the weekday evening class.

A Noble Gesture

Since ordination, Don Bosco had helped to introduce into several religious institutions in Turin the practice of reciting certain prayers in honor of God's mercy.

As before, Don Bosco published a booklet on Divine Mercy. This was to supplement the devotion being propagated by Marchioness Barolo on God's mercy.

He did shoulder the cost without even asking the marchioness for reimbursement. This was despite the insistence of Barolo to not ask for Don Bosco's help due to her insistence that he should let go of his ministry to his boys and concentrate only on her orphanage.

Out of respect to the sensibilities of the marchioness, Don Bosco did not put his name on it. She read and praised the book, but never did she permit anyone to say in her presence that it had been written by Don Bosco.

The Pinardi House

What follows is the topographical description of the Oratory of St. Francis of Sales in its early days.

The front of the house faced south and was the only side to have doors or windows. The living quarters comprised an are on the second floor, which had a very low ceiling. The total height of the house was slightly over twenty feet.

In the front, approximately in the center, where the stairway was located, there was a narrow entrance and to its right, if one were facing the building, a pump which provided plenty of pure ice cold water.

Behind this building, forming one with it of the same length and breadth, on the spot where the superiors' dining room now stands, was the shed which had been converted into a chapel.

Behind the single altar adorned with a picture of the Blessed Mother, was a fair-sized room which did duty at first as sacristy.

To complete our picture, we must add that the greater part of the property was located in front of the house. Don Bosco had the whole area from the building, where the pump was, to the west wall cleared and leveled to provide a playground for the boys.

Stark Poverty and Unbounded Trust

Don Bosco and Mama Margaret left Becchi on foot since they did not have the money for transportation. Along the way, they met Fr. John Vola, also a kind priest from Turin.

Fr. Vola was obviously glad because of his quick recovery. He remarked that the two looked tired and both covered with dust. Don Bosco told him that they did not have money.

Fr. Vola’s compassion was awaken upon hearing this. He got something from his pocket and found a wrist watch which he gave to Don Bosco. He told them to sell it and buy whatever they need.

Don Bosco thanked him and turned to his mother “What better proof could we have that Divine Providence is looking after us! So, let us confidently continue our way.”

An Immeasurable Sacrifice

The prolonged rest and the affection of his loved ones had completely restored his health.

Don Bosco realized the need of getting somebody to do the housekeeping. And because of the nearby tavern, the Albereo Della Giardiniera, the housekeeper may be exposed to some moral dangers. This thought perplexed him. But it did not take long before he found the right person: Margaret Bosco, his very own mother.

Mamma Margaret was an excellent housewife, skilled in running a household, she was strong enough to assume the domestic responsibilities for which don Bosco did not have time.

She was rather surprised when her son offered her the post. But she remarked "My dear son, you have no idea how sorry I am to leave this house, your brother, and everyone else whom I hold so dear, but if you think that this would please the Lord, then I am ready to go."

Convalescence at Becchi

The illness which nearly brought Don Bosco to his grave took place at beginning of July. His doctor had not permitted him to leave his room until the end of the month, Don Bosco decided to go to Becchi to spend some time for a respite.

The Oratory was not left without a director, however, for as soon as Don Bosco first became ill. Fr. Borel took charge.

A Serious Illness

One Sunday afternoon, after his very tiring activities at the Oratory, he returned to his room at the Refuge and suffered a fainting spell which forced him into bed.

Soon, this sickness developed into bronchitis with a vigorous cough. A week after, Don Bosco was critical. Fr. Borel went to the Oratory to administer the victims to Don Bosco. The boys were in grief:

Don Bosco wrote the following comment on his illness.

"I think I was fully prepared to die at that moment. I was sorry to leave my boys, but I was glad to end my days knowing that the Oratory now had a permanent base."

The display of affection of the boys went beyond words. They stormed the heavens with their prayers. They also offered promises and sacrifices for Don Bosco's recovery.

The morning after, two of Don Bosco's doctors came to see him. They're expecting him to be gone, but when they felt his pulse, they told him "Don Bosco, you have a good reason to go to La Consolata and thank the Madonna."

No pen could describe the joy which filled everyone's heart when it became known that Don Bosco's condition had improved.

A Timely Booklet

On September 11, 1845, a royal edict abolished all the old weights and measures throughout the land in favor of the metric system. Those days, every province had its own weights and measures.

To prepare the people for the changeover, the government distributed well in advance comparative tables of the new weights and measures to all the different municipalities and published pamphlets explaining the new system in simple language.

But even before the government took these measures, as soon as the law appeared, Don Bosco went to work and expertly wrote a book entitled:

The Metric System Simplified,
Preceded by the Four Basic Operations of Arithmetic,
for Artisans and Farmers.

By Fr. John Bosco

It is noticeable that Don Bosco always used the title "Father" before his name in all his books, because he esteemed this title above any other human honor.

A New Pope

In the midst of various political activities in Italy, the mournful tolling of bells soon confirmed that Pope Gregory XVI had died in Rome at the age of 80.

Don Bosco, speaking to his boys, praised the fervor of the deceased Pontiff and emphasized the grave loss to the Church. After a fervent exhortation, he invited the boys to join him in reciting five decades of the rosary for the repose of the Pope's soul.

On June 16, 1846, Cardinal John Mastai Ferretti, Bishop of Imola, was elected Pope and took the name Pius IX. Shortly after the news was received, even in the humble little chapel of St. Francis de Sales, a hymn of thanksgiving rose to God for having given the Church another father of all the faithful, one who would turn out to be also a great benefactor of the Oratory.


A Decisive Choice

The benefactor of Don Bosco, Marchioness Barolo, returned to Turin after gaining the desired result from the Sacred Congregation of Bishops (This is the branch of the Church hierarchy that approves new religious congregations). The constitutions of he Institute were amended and approved!

She was updated about the opposition of the city hall to his Oratory, and the various rumors circulating about Don Bosco. She immediately went to her sisters and begged them to storm the heavens with their prayers to Don Bosco.

Because of the tiring and burdensome activities of Don Bosco, the marchioness decided to lighten his load and even offered her 5,000 lire for a medical treatment she thought he deserved.

But she did not stop there. She made Don Bosco choose between her Refuge and the boys.

Don Bosco responded with gentleness and all humility:

"I have already thought it over, and I can give you my answer now: You have money and means, and you will have no trouble in finding all the priests you want to direct your institutes. But poor boys have nothing, and that is why I cannot and must not forsake them. If I were to give them up now, the work of several years would be lost… I am giving up this post to devote myself more fully to the care of these boys."

Unusual Boyish Devotions

A group of boys that was having a spiritual retreat came to Don Bosco for confession. The place where the retreat was being held was rather far, this surprised Don Bosco. The boys insisted for Don Bosco. However, their number was rather big that not even a dozen priests would have been enough and all of them waited to confess to only one priest! They were persuaded that this was not possible. They agreed to just come the following day.

This event in the life of Don Bosco manifests how young people appreciated Don Bosco.

Harassment from the City Hall

Marquis Cavor, the vicar of the city insisted that the gathering of the boys was dangerous for it might lead to a revolt. That time, the political atmosphere was fragile. And groupings of any individuals were highly suspected.

The marquis couldn't pressure Fransoni to close the Oratory. Hence, he planned to shut down the Oratory down by a formal decree of the comptroller's office. He called the council for an extraordinary session.

The majority sided with the marquis, the gathering of the boys was forbidden. The Oratory would have to be closed down.

However, King Charles Albert, a supporter of the Oratory, intervened. The marquis was shocked and the council all bowed their heads in silence.

Nevertheless, the marquis would send policemen too the Oratory every Sunday with orders to watch and report on everything done in and outside the church.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Place At Last!

Mr Pinardi had promised Don Bosco to have the shed ready by the following Sunday. He kept his word. When Easter Sunday dawned on April 12, 1846, everything was ready. The long shed had been converted into a chapel. A relatively spacious playground was available for his boys.

As soon as the boys arrived, Don Bosco asked them to carry the church articles from the Refuge.

The chapel was about 45 feet long and 20 feet wide. Behind the altar, there were other rooms used as a sacristy and storeroom. The floor was made of wood. The ceiling was matting covered with plaster.

Don Bosco wrote in his memoirs "From this time on, the boys came regularly and were better looked after. It was amazing how so many boys, for the most part quite unknown to me just a short time before, now willingly followed my orders. But I must admit that, despite their appalling ignorance, they always displayed profound respect for church services and for the clergy, as well as a great eagerness to learn more about the doctrines and practices of their religion."

A Day of Anguish

April 5, 1846 was a Palm Sunday. It was a day of bitter affection on top of the other problems he needed to confront. He had to tell the boys where to meet the following Sunday. But despite all his inquiries, his efforts were in vain.

Every suitable place was denied to him.

That very morning, the boys who came were invited to Don Bosco to have a pilgrimage to Mary—to appeal to her. Despite the merrymaking, the dancing and the cheers, the boys noticed how Don Bosco was aloof to them for the very fist time. Some of them came to him to accompany him. But his reply was: "No boys, go and play, I need to be alone."

Several of the boys, who were near him saw him lift his tearful eyes to heaven and heard him cry.

"My God, why don't you show me where I can gather these boys? Please let me know."

Don Bosco hasn't finished speaking when a certain Pancrazio Soave showed up in the field. He approached Don Bosco and told him about a place where he could gather his boys. The unexpected offer was like a glow of light amid dark clouds.

Don Bosco immediately followed Pancrazio to see the place of a certain Francis Pinardi. He left the boys to the company of a priest.

Don Bosco examined the place. It was a little two-story house with a worm-eaten staircase and balcony.

Francis Pinardi was delighted with the fact that one of the rooms in his will be transformed into a church. The contract for lease per year was a done deal at 320 lire.

Disturbing Rumors

Don Bosco immersed himself with his boys. And even those friends dear to him persuaded him to give up the project. Several who had attended the seminary and the Convitto with him discouraged him. "You are compromising the good name of priesthood."

And then, the unexpected happened. Because of his obsession to work with his boys, nasty rumors circulated questioning his sanity.

Several good priests all came to him to convince him to reconsider his apostolate and shift to more productive ones. However, it must be noted that not all his fellow priests abandoned him in those most trying days. Fransoni never abandoned him. Fr. Fransoni continued his support to the Oratory.

Alarm at the City Hall

Thoughtless people seeing Don Bosco as he travel here and there with a crowd of boys began to level criticism against him. They grumbled that he was making the boys irresponsible and disobedient to their parents by merely roaming around from one place to another. On the contrary, the boys of Don Bosco readily observed Don Bosco's orders. They're always disciplined.

The unfair observation of the people reached the city hall because of these.

Below is the exchange between the marquis and Don Bosco:

Marquis: I am told that the meetings of your boys are a danger to the public order and peace, so I can no longer permit them.

Don Bosco: My sole purpose is to improve the lot of these poor young. I ask for no money. I teach them religion and proper behavior, and by this means I hope to cut down on the number of juvenile delinquents.

Marquis: You're quite mistaken, my good father. You're only wasting your time. We receive a lot of complains about you. I can't allow further meetings.

Don Bosco: The results I have obtained so far assure me that my efforts are not in vain. I've helped many to learn a skill or a trade under some good craftsman, not only for their god but also for the advantage of their families and society in general.

Marquis: Please now, Don Bosco. Obey me at once and promise to disband the group.

Don Bosco: please do me this favor, marquis, not only for myself but for the sake of so many poor boys who, without the Oratory, would probably come to a bad end.

Marquis: That's enough. The matter is closed.

That same day, Don Bosco went to the archbishop to tell him of his interview with Marquis Cavor—the vicar of the city. The good prelate urged him to be patient.

In the meantime, the marquis had heard from Archbishop Fransoni himself that truly it was with his consent that Don Bosco had begun the Oratory.

Don Bosco’s Bible History

When going to the COnvitto Ecclesiastico to study or to write, he handwritten sheets of Historia Sacra to the porter and read; on his return, he would ask whether he had understood what it is about. If not, Don Bosco would rewrite those pages to make them even simpler and easier to understand.

This work, some 200 pages, published by Speirani and Ferrero, presented the most important events of the Bible in correct, simple, clear language which made it easy for youngsters to grasp its meaning and remember they had read.

The book of Don Bosco can be summarized into three points:

1. The Messiah had certainly come, because all the prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

2. The Messiah had founded a Church, the sole hope of all salvation for all men, infallible in its teachings and in its interpretation of the Bible, indefectible to the end of time because of the unfailing assistance of its founder.

3. This Church is the Roman Catholic Church, which alone through the centuries has preserved the truth taught and confirmed by Jesus Christ.

Its objectives included the following:

  1. Refute the allegation of Protestants without the publicity and controversy.
  2. Protect the boys from dangerous errors.

Memorable Outings

Hike to Superga was the first of a long series of similar excursions to various other places in the years that followed. Don Bosco generally announced them in advance and offered them as a type of reward for coming to the Oratory regularly, learning the catechism well, behaving oneself at work, and not being averse to approaching the sacraments from time to time.

Although no constraint was used to enforce discipline, there was never the least disorder. There were no fights, no complaints, no attempts at stealing fruit or anything else.

On the contrary, people who would see the boys as they lined up for the long walk were amazed at their discipline and politeness.

Without a Roof

The other tenants of Fr. Moretta's house complained against the boys of Don Bosco. According to them, they were noisy and their movements annoyed them.

The priest informed Don Bosco about this and gently told him to look for a new place for he didn't have any choice.

Unwilling to turn away the boys Don Bosco approached the Filippi brothers and rented a nearby field from there. So this field, the Oratory moved.

Don Bosco had no place to shelter the boys from rain, wind and sun. In those days, the boys numbered to about 400.

A Harrowing Experience

Don Bosco offered himself to the prison apostolate with love and compassion. It was difficult for him to see convicted individuals being executed. He treated them as his friends, and not as mere prisoners.

Once he was obliged to subject himself to such an experience beyond his strength, Don Bosco had become fond of a convicted 21 year old young man. When the final judgment was handed, the young man was guilty. This meant he would be executed.

Don Bosco went to see the young man before he be executed. The young man wanted Don Bosco to accompany him in his last moment. They were to go to another town where the execution would take place.

Don Bosco spent the whole night with the man—comforting and encouraging him with the hope of a glorious and joyful immortal life.

A Welcome Endorsement

In 1845, Don Bosco's health weakened because of much hard work.

Upon hearing this, the marchioness sent 100 lire from Rome. For a while, Don Bosco had to take a much needed rest.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Fransoni had foreseen that the Oratory would encounter difficulties encountered by any endeavors which were not under the parish control. Added to this was the fact that Don Bosco did not receive any written approval from the kind Archbishop. He got only verbal permissions and approvals.

On 1846, priests met at Turin. The meeting had to do with the spiritual welfare of the people. One of the priests present took the occasion to complain about Don Bosco's festive Oratory.

He grumbled that the boy had been taken away from their parishes. The parish priests were not even informed about the activities of the boys.

They decided to present the situation to Don Bosco.

Don Bosco reasoned out that nearly all of his boys are from out of town. They have come to Turin for work they are not under any parental supervision. Their various dialects, the instability of their residence for livelihood and the influence of their friends were big hindrances that prevent them from attending their parish church.

He suggested that catechism may be taught at the parishes by providing ample ground for recreational activities. This is the usual set up practiced in his Oratory. But the parish priests responded that this is not possible because they did not have either space or personnel.

In the end, the priests gave permission to Don Bosco to carry out his apostolate with the boys.

A Temporary Haven

It was now late fall. The weather was freezing, and long hikes with the boys of the oratory was no longer possible.

Don Bosco had to find some place in the city for a suitable meeting place where he can gather them. With the kind assistance of Fr. Borel, Don Bosco rented three rooms of Fr. Moretta. This private house of the kind priest was near the Refuge. Hence, it is a good place for a meeting place and to host the usual activities (e.g. catechism, recreation, etc.) of the Oratory.

Don Bosco and his boys stayed here for about three months. Availability of a bigger space was still necessary for the growing number of his boys, but they were able to make do with what they have.

These activities went on despite the winter season.

The place of Fr. Moretta, despite the limited space, became a temporary refuge. It became a veritable place for their catechism lessons, confessions and recreations. Churches nearby responded for their other liturgical needs.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Wandering Oratory

Within a month, Don Bosco and his 300 boys would be homeless, as it were, without a roof to shield them from rain, snow or bitter winds. He didn't allow his boys to play at St. Martin's Church because of the restriction of the municipality.

The oratory would have to be a wandering oratory. He would meet his boys at the St. Martin's Church and from there they would depart to their destination.

To offer his boys a vast space that will serve as a playground, Don Bosco and his boys would go out of town to spots such as Sassi, Madonna del Pilone, Madonanna di Campagna, Monte di Cappuccin, Pozzo di Strada and Crocetta.

As they would walk from one place to another, Don Bosco's boys' behavior never failed to edify people, even the monks.

On December 22, 1845, they bid goodbye to St. Martin's Church. The things used for the oratory were deposited in his room at the hospital at St. Philomena.

It is remarkable that in all these wandering of the oratory, the departure point, the destination and temporary quarters were always in the area known as Valdocco.

Don Bosco’s Church History

In 1845, Don Bosco completed writing his "Storia Ecclesiastica," a 200-page book on the history of the Church.
It is interesting to take a glimpse of it by seeing the preface of the book Don Bosco himself wrote.
After some years' experience in teaching boys, anxious to bring within their reach as much knowledge as possible, I began looking about for a brief outline of church history adapted to their mental level. I found some excellent works, but they did not serve my purpose either because they were too voluminous or because they digressed unnecessarily into secular history…But what aroused my indignation was the way certain authors seemed to be embarrassed in treating of the Roman Pontiffs and of the more glorious events of the Church.
Therefore in order to have a book suiting my own requirements, and to accede to the request of prominent people, I decided to publish this compendium of church history.
May the Lord bless this humble effort for his greater glory and for a better understanding of a history second only to that of the Bible.
Don Bosco dedicated this book to the provincial of the Christian Brothers in Turin, Br. Erve dela Croix.

Forced Rest

Don Bosco was obliged to take some rest at Castelnuovo in the hope of restoring his health and getting over his disappointment in not continuing his work at the oratory due to his continued search of the space for his boys.

He entrusted the work to Fr. Borel and left Turin on the first week of October. He selected few of his better boys to accompany him. He advised hi brother Joseph that he would be staying coming with some party. Mamma Margaret provided the other necessary things for their guests.

He wrote this letter to Fr. Borel:

My present occupation involved eating, singing, dancing and running around…I was depressed because I missed my usual recreation at the oratory with the boys.

Don Bosco's heart was always in Turin (where his oratory was located). He longed to return to his beloved little rascals and help Fr. Borel of the many tasks involved in looking after the oratory and in taking the boys to various churches for Mass.

Further Opposition

Two peaceful months passed by in the oratory of Don Bosco. However, the oratory would still experience further opposition which caused Don Bosco to worry.

Practically the entire neighborhood was annoyed with the noise coming from the boys of Don Bosco when the latter would play. The neighbors of the oratory were not contented in shouting at them through their respective windows, they also lodged a formal complaint against them with the City Hall.

And to make the case against the boys stronger, they concocted rumors that will put the boys and Don Bosco in bad light. They believed that the meetings conducted by the priest with his boys were dangerous; their recreation could be turned into a revolution against the government. The boys were also accused of destroying the plants of the church.

"Imagine me being accused of promoting revolutions!" Don Bosco would exclaim with a smile.

On the Move Again

Don Bosco asked Archbishop Fransoni to use St. Martin's Church. The archbishop readily agreed.

On July 13, 1845, Don Bosco celebrated Mass for the last time in their first chapel at St. Francis de Sales with his boys. Afterwards, Don Bosco broke the news to them that they would be moving on to a different place.

His boys had grown comfortable in their place and they did not wanted to move to another place.

They were distressed receiving this piece of information from Don Bosco. However, Don Bosco comforted them with these words "cabbages grow bigger and better when they are transplanted, and so it is with our oratory. It has moved from place to place, but wherever it has gone, it has thrived and our numbers have rapidly increased."

The boys became anxious to see the new place. The boys picked up benches, kneelers, chairs, framed pictures, candlesticks, altar crucifix, and other liturgical materials. The more athletic ones carried bocce, stilts and other games.

The sight of the noisy boys, in mass exodus, caught the attention of the neighborhood.

That every evening, upon reaching their destination, they did not merely have their usual practices of piety, Don Bosco wrote a mini skit as an added attraction to the delight of the boys.

A Comforting Dream

"I seemed to be in a vast meadow with a huge crowd of boys who were fighting, swearing, stealing, and doing other horrible things…They were all abandoned boys, devoid of moral principles. I was about to turn away when I saw a Lady beside me. 'Go among these boys,' She said, 'and work.'

I approached them, but what could I do? I had no place to gather them, but I wanted to help them. I kept turning to some people who were watching from a distance…but no one paid attention or gave me assistance.

'Here is a place,' she said, and pointed to a meadow. 'That's only a meadow,' I said.

She replied: 'My Son and His Apostles did not even have a place to lay their heads.'

I began to work in that meadow, counseling, preaching, hearing confessions, but I saw that almost all my efforts were in vain. Then the Lady led me a little further to the north and said: 'Look!'

I did and saw a small church with a low roof, a small courtyard, and a great number of boys. I resumed my work, but since the church was becoming too small, I again appealed to the Lady and She pointed out another church, much larger, and a house adjacent to it.

'In this place,' She added, 'where the glorious martyrs of Turin, Adventor and Octavius, suffered martyrdom, on these clods soaked and sanctified by their blood, I wish that God be honored in a very special manner.'

So saying, She put out Her foot and pointed the exact spot where the martyrs had fallen…I kept the place clearly in mind.

Disappointments and Trust in God

Don Bosco in his wisdom feared that one day, they might be on the move again in search of a new place for his boys. He knew that their stay in the refuge wasn't permanent.

He started to look for a better and larger spot to house his boys. And to provide a vast playground for them where they could express their youthfulness.

One morning, he decided to take a walk. And wandering within the vicinity, he found himself in front of St. Peter-in-Chains Church. He asked the permission of Fr. Joseph Terio, its chaplain, and he warmly acceded to his request.

One Sunday afternoon, he brought his boys to St. Peter-in-Chains Church. His boys were filled with enthusiasm at the vast space and the real church for their liturgical services.

However, everything turned into gloom when the old housekeeper of the church appeared to scold them because of their noise. She admonished Don Bosco for not controlling his charges and warned him not to set foot again in the premises.

Don Bosco gently responded with "Dear lady, you are not even sure of being here yourself next Sunday, so why make such a point about telling us that you won't let us ever come here again?"

When the parish priest returned home, the housekeeper reprted to him what had happened. He believed her and when he saw Don Bosco leaving the premises, he hurried up in angry tone: "Don't you come back here again next Sunday!"

Don Bosco replied gently "I feel sorry for you. Are you sure you'll be alive next Sunday?"

Fr. Tesio died shortly before midnight that day. The keeper followed too days later.

For Church and Souls

All of Don Bosco's thoughts and actions were directed to glorify the Church. Hence, even his most little actions were in congruent to Her teaching.

He tirelessly heard confessions that lasted for several hours. He would never miss to give a word of advice to those who needed it. And he would also not forego opportunities to admonish individuals if there was a need to do so.

Prisoners had always a special place in the heart of Don Bosco. This was true to the conversion among the convicts who had encountered him.

Those who had met Don Bosco could attest that he did not merit the grace of God due to prayer and virtues. Don Bosco worked hard to attain it through his various ways of mortification and acts of sacrifices.

Among the many occasions where Don Bosco was willing to give his everything just so he could assist the spiritual needs of others was when he studied German on his own through a grammar book. Later on, he sought the help of a teacher. He did this to minister to several German families who were moved to Turin because many of them were serving in the Piedmontese army.

One evening, he remarked to his boys: "I learned some German when the oratory was just beginning, but as with all other foreign languages, one soon forgets it if he does not continue to keep it up."

God’s Angels

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The latter portion of the year 1844 witnessed Don Bosco's hands filled with the task of writing a book about the guardian angels. He had started to write this book a couple of years ago during his stint at the Convitto.

He believed so much that his angel was always at his side. Throughout his life, he was convinced of the protection he would merit from his guardian angel. This prompted him to greet his angel several times each day.

He used to tell his boys: "Be ever more convinced that your Guardian Angel is really present, that he is always at your side. St. Frances of Rome always saw him standing before her, his arms clasped on his breast, his eyes uplifted to heaven; but at her slightest failing, he would cover his face as in shame, and at times turn his back on her."

Don Bosco also suggested certain days of the week in which his boy can honor their guardian angels:

  • Tuesdays are set aside by the Church for a special remembrance of the guardian angels.

  • Your birthday. It marked the start of your angel's receiving his duty to watch you.

  • The first day of every month.

He would always stress to sanctify these days by renewing their love and imitate Jesus Christ.

A Heavenly Patron

Don Bosco dedicated his oratory at Valdocco in honor of the 16th century church figure St. Francis de Sales.

In thinking of a saint to whom he would want to ask for special protection, he sought the help of Fr. Cafasso and Fr. Borel. Both were of the opinion that St. Francis de Sales was the perfect saint. Don Bosco agreed with them with his reasons below:

First, Marchioness Barolo who wanted to help Don Bosco thought of founding a congregation of priests. And this she wanted to dedicate to St. Francis de Sales.

Second, the ministry to care for poor and abandoned youth needs a lot of patience and forbearance. He needed to place himself under the special protection of a saint who excelled so much in these virtues.

Third, Don Bosco believed that the spirit of St. Francis de Sales was the best suited to that time when so many a soul was lost due to erroneous doctrines.

A New Location for the Festive Oratory

On the second Sunday of October, 1844, Don Bosco told his boys that the oratory would transfer to another location. Initially, this news was not eagerly accepted by his boys. However, when he pointed to them that the new place would be more spacious and pleasant for their oratory activities, they were filled with joy.

The next Sunday, a large group of boys came rushing down to Valdocco to search for Don Bosco and his oratory. And they were simply overjoyed when they found Don Bosco.

As his routine with them at the Convitto, he taught them little prayers and some catechism. He also introduced some new hymns for the Blessed Mother to their great delight.

The following Sunday, boys were scattered everywhere—in his room, in the corridor, on the stairs—and even the boys of the neighborhood came!

Fr. Borel told Don Bosco that they ought to look for a suitable space for them. This led him to persuade the Marchioness to convert the two large rooms of the priest's home for the use of the poor lad. She agreed.

That was to be the first site of Don Bosco's festive oratory.

On December 6, 1844, the archbishop granted Don Bosco the faculty to bless it, say mass, give Benediction and hold triduum and novenas.

The chapel of the oratory was first used on December 8, feast of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother.

A Noble Lady

Towards the latter part of the summer season, Don Bosco was sent by Don Cafasso for a chaplaincy work at St. Philomena Hospital. He would carry out his priestly ministry there together with Fr. John Borel to attend to the destitute girls housed in a refuge in the same building.

The hospital was founded by Marchioness Barolo, a devoted woman who committed to work for the poor and the needy. Aside from her various works to attend to the poor, she would also find time to visit the convicted women inside the jail. There, she would spend some three to four hours consoling them with kind words or merely her presence.

In 1834, she founded an institution meant to look after the welfare of very poor young girls. It's a boarding school that did not only form them to become productive citizens, but more importantly it sought to develop their morals.

When Don Bosco met her for the very first time, the Marchioness was already 60 years old. In his personal account, he found her to be humble despite her affluence. The feeling as mutual; the Marchioness also found Don Bosco virtuous enough, worthy to take care of her poor girls.

To persuade Don Bosco to accept the post, she did not only promise to accept the boys of Don Bosco as mere visitors. She promised him that she would allow them to gather his boys within the vicinity of her hospital.

Efficacy of Speech

Don Bosco's sermons were very effective among the country folk and young people. He was especially skillful at teaching and inspiring rude and ignorant people.

In his memoirs, he wrote:

"This was really amazing; more so to me, in my sermons, always so eagerly received, there was nothing new or studied. I spoke of things that any ordinary priest would know better than I. It was on these occasions that I realized there is no need for sublime, rare or unusual topics, to preach effectively and please the people. All they want is to understand what the preacher is talking about. If they do, they are satisfied, if not, they are bored."

In preparing his sermons, Don Bosco used the rules on logic and his vast knowledge in homiletics. His reasoning was based on a sound theology. But his secret in excellence in preaching laid in the fact that he did not preach himself but our Lord Jesus Christ.

Controversial School Reform

The edict of Charles Albert throughout the whole of Piedmont barred individuals from taking the examinations for certifications as an elementary school teacher without an attendance certificate from the method schools. These method schools are now what we popularly called normal schools.

The purpose of which was to ensure that the teachers would be equipped to carry out classroom instructional procedures using the best methods available. It would take effect on the same school year 1844-1845.

The liberals were glad about this ruling. Don Bosco had to be silent to assess the situation.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Fransoni disapproved the attendance of the members of the clergy to attend the lecture. He also commanded Don Bosco to do carry out an investigation.

Don Bosco realized that the truths about the faith were not directly taught to the students. One example was the doctrine about "hell" wasn't discussed at length. He asked about this, and the reason was it might be too complex already for the school children to know these doctrines.

Instead of distancing himself from the leader of the method school, Don Bosco befriended him since Don Bosco wanted also to establish school for his boys. Soon, Don Bosco was able to convince them to modify their methods and education should be based on religious beliefs and practices.

A Spiritual Guide

In 1844, the Convitto witnessed a change in its leadership. One of its professors and its founding director in the person of Don Louis Guala had to rest due to health reasons. Don Joseph Cafasso took the helm in teaching Moral theology. Don Bosco assisted him.

Don Bosco had this to say about his spiritual director, Don Cafasso:

"His profound knowledge of moral, ascetic and mystical theology combined with his alert insight and sharp discernment of souls enabled him to fathom and sum up in a few words the ability, piety, earning and propensities and capabilities of each of his student-priests."

Don Bosco confided everything to Don Cafasso. He shared with him his desire to become a religious and even his idea of becoming a missionary.

However, Don Cafasso seemed to have read Don Bosco's soul, and perhaps, he has seen his future. Like a tailor in one of Don Bosco's dream, which he shared also with Don Cafasso, he should devote himself in mending the future of poor and abandoned youth.

Hence, Don Bosco's attempt to belong to a religious congregation or to pursue missionary work did not materialize.

First Writings

Don Bosco was not only gifted with a charismatic personality that led him closer to the young, he was also blessed with the efficacy of speech, a gift he asked when he was ordained a priest.

His desk piled up with notes and annotations which he diligently gathered consist of topics such as the defense of faith, the Catholic Church, papacy, and various forms of devotions meant for the instruction of the young.

Despite his excellence in writing, he never claimed himself an authority on the field. He never published anything without first submitting it to Church authorities.

One characteristic of his writings was that it was devoid of superfluous ideas and complicated vocabularies. He was simple in his works. He aimed to make the truths of the Catholic faith clear to all, especially to the least educated.

Fr. Angelo Savio claimed that "Don Bosco's first editor was the Convitto's doorman."

His first published booklet was about the life of Louis Comollo, a good friend and co-seminarian of his who died at a young age. By publishing Comollo's life, he wanted to hail him as an exemplary model for the young people.

Useful Contacts

Don Bosco associated himself with the poor and abandoned youth. And they reciprocated his love for them. They also respected him, and they treated him as their very own father. Soon, he would also relate intimately with each of the families of his boys. Their parents did not only trust him, they also were all indebted to him because of the transformation happening in each of their sons.

He was not only popular among the destitute; he was able also to maintain a cordial relationship with some of the prelates of his time. Among them is Archbishop Louis Fransoni, his very own bishop.

Don Bosco never embarked on any apostolate without his knowledge and consent. He also came to him if he encountered hardships.

With Don Bosco's constant visit to the residence of the archbishop, he was able to meet very important people—both from the Church and government—who became his friends and helped him in his undertakings.

The Prisons Again

When Don Bosco visited the jail for the first time, it was not a pleasant experience. The prisons subjected him to wicked abuse, malicious jokes, and atrocious insults. However, Don Bosco controlled himself greatly. He showed them a real Christian should love. He would smile at them, and he would treat them with respect and politeness.

When he knew that a convict would be ending his term inside the prisoner, he would help him find work and continue to assist him in strengthening his moral and spiritual figments.

Don Bosco also treated the guards well. He would address them with much respect, that his dealing with him necessitates him to use "Sir" when talking to them. He gently ignored their discourtesies and even generously gifted them with presents.

There was one incident when he even invited the executioner for a coffee. The latter couldn't believe it because of the nature of his job, but Don Bosco insisted.

Triumphs of Grace

Don Bosco experienced a number of extraordinary happenings which deserve mentioning:

There was a woman dying in the last stages of tuberculosis. She was generally acknowledged to live a wayward life. And fearing that she may die as unrepentant, they called on Don Bosco to intervene.

Initially, the woman was not bent in confessing her sins. But due to perseverance of and genuine concern of Don Bosco, the woman relented. She made the confession to him.

That every evening, she died peacefully.

Another account was about an old friend of Don Bosco. Don Bosco learnt that he was sick. On this account, he wanted to see him. When he arrived at the family, he learnt from them that he's already dying. Hence, the doctor barred anyone from coming inside his room. But Don Bosco insisted. Soon, he would persuade them to let him in.

Don Bosco comforted him with consoling words. With weak voice, the man admitted to Don Bosco that when he was younger, he committed a mortal sin he has not confessed of ever since. And he would want that opportunity to cleanse himself.

Don Bosco absolved him. The man fell back on the bed and died.

This account happened between the man and Don Bosco, only to be revealed after four decades by a man who hid himself beneath the curtain of the room.


Mainstay of Faith

John Cagliero said "During the 35 years I lived at his side, I never detected any sign of distrust in him, nor any expression of fear or doubt. I never saw him troubled by any misgivings as to God's goodness and mercy towards him. He never gave evidence of suffering, and distress of conscience."

Fr. Ascanio Savio added: "If anyone had asked him offhand, 'Don Bosco where are you going?' He would have answered 'We are going to heaven.'"

His trust and faith to God made him an apt instrument of God's mercy.

With Don Bosco, preaching and practice went hand in hand. He went to confession weekly to Fr. Cafasso, not in private, but in full view of the people.

He heard confession for several hours as he was besieged by a number of boys.

Confession and the Young

In teaching catechism to the young, Don Bosco would dwell at providing them practical suggestions in order for them to properly dispose themselves for the sacrament of confession.

He would also impart to them the fruits and benefits of those who prepare to encounter Christ in the sacrament of confession.

"The confessor has received from God the power to forgive every kind and any number of sin. The more serious sins you confess, the more will the confessor innately rejoice, for he knows that God's mercy is at hand."

In delivering lectures to the student-priests at the Convitto, he would never fail to highlight their crucial role in the confessional box:

"A confessor is a father who is eager to do all he can for you and protect you from all possible harm. Never fear that you'll lose his respect when confessing serious sins or that he will reveal them to others."

"Be kind to penitents, but especially to youngsters. Help them to lay open their conscience and insist that they come frequently to confession, for this is a sure means of keeping them away from sins."

Political and Religious Ferment

While Don Bosco and his superiors, lead by Don Guala and Don Cafasso, were contributing their best to strengthen the moral fiber of the society, the civil had contradictory aspirations.

The idea of a united Italy through a collaboration of the Italian states was supported by no less than Charles Albert, the monarch. He even became a great defender of such a proposed federation.

The downside of such a proposal was that the Holy Father was being considered to head the federation.

To sell this idea to the people, a series of propaganda was carried out through books and other publications exalting the unity of Italy. And these influenced the wholly of Italy.

The support of the clergy was sought. Religious sentiments carried by the unification of Italy appealed to them.

First Growth and Difficulties

The young people heard about Don Bosco and his festive oratory, and so, they would all flock to him on Sundays and holy days.

Although Don Bosco was pleased about the multitude of young people he would meet, it also became a source of anxiety because of the limited space for him and for his boys.

He, too, realized that games are necessary to persuade boys to attend the catechism classes. As a stop-gap measure, he would lead the boys beyond the city limits for excursions, and where space is infinitely limited for his boys to play.

Soon, the boys reached 80 already. The sacristy will not be enough to accommodate the boys for the catechism classes. He addressed this by establishing two sessions of catechism classes. This set-up continued for about two years.

On Sundays and holy days, he would hear the confessions of the boys. The boys would patiently form line, which would last for hours, just so they can confess their sins to Don Bosco.

After the Holy Mass, he would celebrate the Mass and distribute holy communion. Before bidding good bye to them, he would first deliver some instructions to faith.


Don Bosco’s First Choir

Don Bosco exhausted all possible means to make the weekly gathering of his boys as engaging as possible. Since he knew fairly well how to play the piano and the organ, he used this as a means to enliven the oratory.

As Christmas approached, he wrote a Christmas carol in honor of the Infant Christ. Here it is:

Ah! sing in tone of jubilee,
Ah! sing in tones of love.
Ye faithful, our tended
Is born.

Oh, how splendidly shines every star,
The moon is fair and bright
And the veil of the shadow tears.

Oh! Seraphic band, whom heaven discloses
Singing in jubilee: peace on earth!
Others respond: glory be in heaven!
Come, come, beloved peace,

To rest within our hearts.
Oh infant within our midst
We want to keep you here.

Don Bosco then taught the melody to his boys who were totally ignorant of stuff about music. His perseverance paid off. And since there was no place at the Convitto for practicing, they had to go out to practice in public.

Individuals who would hear the delightful rendition of about six to eight boys would be astonished.

Soon, Don Bosco would teach them hymns in honor of the Blessed Mother and of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

St. Ignatius Retreat House

Towards the latter portion of the school year at the Convitto, Fr. Cafasso urged his student priests to join in a spiritual retreat. Don Bosco himself joined the retreat and wrote the following in his memoirs:

"In my first year at the Convitto, 1841-42, Fr. Cafasso invited me to join him in making the spiritual retreat for diocesan priests at St. Ignatius Shrine above Lanzo."

"His departure for Lanzo was always an event. Once the day was known, coachmen vied with one another for the privilege of driving him in their carriage. Later, on the road up the mountain, a crowd of poor people would press around him begging for alms, which he distributed to each with appropriate words. 'Endure your poverty with patience,' he would say to one. 'Be devoted to the Blessed Virgin and go to confession, he advised another. 'Obey your parents,' he enjoined a third."

The retreat went well. A Jesuit priest in the person of Fr. Menini preached the instructions, while Fr. Guala the meditations.

However, for Don Bosco, the most efficacious sermon was delivered by the saintly behavior of Fr. Cafasso, who himself was a co-retreatant. Fr. Cafasso was punctual in all the activities, and he would devoutly offer his service in the practices of piety. He was always recollected and a reflection of a man who was truly united with God.

Devotion to the Blessed Mother

Don Bosco was an excellent preacher. He prepared his sermons painstakingly, but he could also manage to touch the hearts even on a short notice. One topic very dear to the heart of Don Bosco was the Blessed Mother. It was a delight for him to deliver a sermon in honor of the Blessed Mother.

In fact, Don Bosco had penned a number of sermons on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints. Below is a list of a series of sermons he himself wrote:

Introduction to the Spiritual Retreat (April 2, 1842)

Mortal Sin (April 17, 1842)

The Death of a Sinner (July 1, 1842)

Death, the End of Time and the beginning of Eternity (July 17, 1842)

The Mercy of God (July 20, 1842)

The Two Banners (July 23, 1842)

Institution of the Holy Eucharist (August 12, 1842)

On Frequent Communion (August 22, 1842)

Don Bosco would talk about the Blessed Mother not only on the pulpit but throughout the entire day.

Prison Apostolate

During the time of Don Bosco, there were four prisons in Turin. Fr. Cafasso served all of them. He would visit the convicts frequently to hear their confessions, teach them catechism, and celebrate Mass for them.

Fr. Cafasso used to send some of his student-priests to help him out in this undertaking. Initially, Don Bosco would not want to help in the assignment. The wretched appearance of the prisoners and the gloominess of the place he couldn't take. However, because of his love for souls and his friendship with Fr. Cafasso propelled him to put forth his little contribution in this endeavor.

At first, it was a losing battle. He found it hard to make the convicts actively participate in the catechesis. But through his hard work and perseverance, he achieved to gain the trust of many of them, and thus, led them back to the Christian life.

The prisoners must have felt Don Bosco's genuine concern for their welfare that they would open up things to him. He wrote "Little by little, I instilled in them self respect, and made them understand the reasonableness of earning one's daily bread by honest toil and not by thievery."

In his frequent visit to the prisoners, he learned precious lessons he would later on find useful for his educational apostolate.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Festive Oratory at Convitto

To provide refuge for the poor and abandoned boys, he established an oratory within the premises of the Convitto. An oratory is a place that offers the youth a place where they can play and pray. Guided by some of his friend- priests, Don Bosco started his first undertaking to secure the future of the young, not only in this world, but more especially, in the life yet still to come.

Among the objectives of the oratory at the Convitto were the following:
  • To inculcate the practice of religion and virtues among the boys;
  • To educate the boys in the realm of morality; and
  • To save their souls.

Don Bosco would realize that without singing and reading of interesting and wholesome books. His encounter with the boys would have been lifeless. Hence, he taught them how to sing.
On the Feast of Purification, February 2, 1842, he had a choir of about 20 voices.

This number grew more as they celebrated the Feast of Annunciation on March 25 that same year. Both Fr. Guala and Fr. Cafasso were pleased about the progress of Don Bosco’s work. Every Sunday, there was a marked improvement in terms of number. They, too, contributed something to the development of the work at the oratory.

Fr. Joseph Cafasso

This was how Don Bosco described Fr. Cafasso (who taught them Moral Theology) as one of his professors in the Convitto:

"Remarkable was his ready, concise and lucid manner of answering. He had a talent for resolving even the most complicated doubts, difficulties and queries. The feeling was that his lectures were never long enough for them."

He spurred them to practice what they have learned. He did provide them the training on hearing confessions with such skill and piety and he never failed to talk about heaven as if one of his feet were already inside the gate.

When he taught them Homiletics, he emphasized that they should adapt their sermons to the level of intelligence of the congregation. He was keen to add that the sermon should be free from trivial and slang words, and it should be simple in diction and sentence structure.
He advised them to not end their sermons without allusion to the eternal truths.