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

Photo downloaded from

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

Photo downloaded from global gallery

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.