St. John Bosco was an Italian priest, whose mission to help the youth started when he recognised the large population of poor boys in Turin who were homeless, in prisons or otherwise in a pretty bad state. So he started teaching them, providing them a place to stay, and giving them opportunities for good, clean fun. It wasn’t an easy start because of numerous set-backs (including a rocky start with some of his young boys), but eventually his ‘oratory’ for young boys found a permanent home. Some of his first charges decided to devote their lives to St. John Bosco’s mission, and the Salesian Congregation (named after St. Frances de Sales, whom St. John Bosco admired) was founded. Later, a women’s order, the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians would be founded, and even a lay organization with the same mission. Today, the Salesians number over 15,000 men and another 15,000 women (give or take a thousand or two).
I first discovered St. John Bosco through this low-budget, sometimes cheesy, awfully inspiring movie about him on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wCEJ5SbC6o. What struck me the most about his life was that he saw his young people as full human beings – needing formation and skills, but also needing fun and friendship. As students, we can find it easy to focus on building our skills and knowledge, but what about time spent delighting in each other’s company? What about exercise and play? What about our Christian formation? It’s worth remembering that our spiritual lives are connected to our social lives, and taking care of our bodies is connected to our ability to learn and grow.
The second thing we can learn from St. John Bosco comes from a dream in which he was told, “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.” This is such an important reminder in our call to evangelization. How do we share the Gospel? Do we exhibit the “gentleness and kindness” that will show the world the beauty of our faith? Again, it comes back to this idea that our spiritual lives are not meant to be compartmentalized. As whole persons, we need to remember that the way we act and the way we learn are essential to our growth as disciples.
So read up on St. John Bosco (or watch the dorky movie!) and there are people around the Newman Centre who probably know a bit more about him than I if you have any questions!