Story of Don Bosco

Don Bosco: Friend of the Young

Friend of the Young

The boy and his mother walked along the dirt road into the glowing sunset. Towards them came the Parish Priest. As they got closer, the boy’s face broke into a big smile, and his small voice piped clearly, “Hello, Father”. The priest gravely bowed his head and passed by. “Mum, he didn’t even see me!” said the nine year ld boy.

“Priests are busy, son.”

“But Our Lord Jesus had time for children! Mum, when I grow up and become a priest, I’ll always have time for children.” Margaret Bosco smiled. Her little son John a priest? Well, and why not? He was right, and he knew and loved his catechism and prayers. If only he could go to school … if only his father were still alive … if only they had a bit of money …

The Dream

The Dream

The Dream happened soon after. The Dream, as John used to call it, mapped out his entire life. It seemed to him that he was playing with his friends on the hillside just outside his house. The boys broke into a quarrel, cursing and swearing. He tried to stop them. He ran at them, swinging his fists wildly. Then a man appeared who looked like Jesus, saying, “Not that way, son! Be kind to them.”

“Who are you?” John asked.

“You may not know me, but you know my mother. She will help you.”

A beautiful Lady stood by him. She drew John to herself. “Watch what I do,” she said.

She stretched out her hands. The boys turned into a pack of wild animals. Little John clung to her side. She put her hands out again. Now the animals changed into playful lambs.

“But what does this mean?” John asked.

“Some day you will understand. For now be humble, be strong, be courageous!”.

The dream vanished. John awoke to the poverty of the Bosco farm.

The Boy

The Boy

John Bosco was born on the 16th August 1815 in Northern Italy. His father died when John was only two. All during his boyhood poverty stared him in the face. His desire was to study to be a priest, but disappointment met him at every turn. His older brother Joseph was helpful, but his stepbrother Anthony, some 10 years older than John, opposed any chance the boy had to study. “He’s a farmer like us!” was the refrain John heard from Anthony.

An old priest met John returning from the village with his mother. Fr Colosso was impressed by the boy’s brilliant memory. He volunteered to tutor John privately. All went well for a few months, while young John made fine progress. “Don’t worry,” the old priest used to chuckle, “you’ll go to the seminary and study full time to be a priest, if that is what you want. I’ll see to it!” John idolized him. To young John, he was like the father that he never knew. But one morning when he arrived at the Parish House for his school lesson, he found the old priest dying.

John was broken hearted. Fr John Colosso left a considerable sum of money to the young John Bosco. “The money is for your studies,” he had insisted to the young John Bosco. However, after the funeral John turned the money over to the priest’s family. He did not feel that he should have it. Through it all, John kept his good spirits. “Some day I will be a priest, and devote my whole life to young people in need,” he promised himself.

Following the instincts given him by his dream, he gathered the neighborhood children around himself. He became a one-boy circus. By observing the traveling circus performers, jugglers and magicians, he taught himself acrobatics, tightrope walking and magic tricks. He would firstly lead his eager audience in a little prayer. Then came thejuggling and magic.

First Steps

First Steps

“Get these books out of here!” Anthony snarled. “Look at me. I’m big and strong and can’t read or write!”

“That’s nothing to brag about. Look at our mule. He’s as strong as you, and he can’t read or write either!” John answered, as he picked his books up off the floor.

That sounds funny to us, but to Margaret Bosco it meant quarrels and hurt feelings. If John was ever to become a priest, she had better get him started.

Because of the family tensions, at the age of 12, John went to live and work on a farm in a nearby village. After almost 2 years, Margaret divided her small family property between her sons so that John could go to school. Then at 15 John again left home for the town of Chieri, where there was a high school. After school he took every job he could find. In this way he learnt a number of trades: tailor, carpenter, blacksmith, waiter. Anything for a little money to buy food and clothing. These skills would prove very useful to him later on. In this way he did three years of high school in two, and graduated with honours.

In 1835 he entered the seminary to prepare in earnest for the priesthood. Six years later, to his mother’s great joy, John was ordained a priest and celebrated his first mass. Now everyone called him Don (“Don” in Italian means “Father”) Bosco.

Simple Beginnings

First Steps

In 1886, two years before he died, Don Bosco described how his work for young people began:

On the 8th December 1841 I was getting ready to celebrate Mass when I heard a big ar gument going on. The church sacristan was beating a poorly dressed boy with a cane, and driving him out of the church.

“What do you mean, you don’t know how to serve Mass?” the sacristan shouted

Stop!” I said. “He is my friend.”

I asked the boy his name and invited him to stay for Mass and breakfast. His name was Bartholomew Garelli, 16 years old, an orphan who worked as a bricklayer. I asked, “Can you read or write?”


“Can you sing?”


“Can you whistle?”

Bartholomew began to laugh, which was just what I wanted. We talked for a long time.

He hadn’t made his first communion because he was too old for the catechism class. They made fun of him! I offered to teach him myself.

Three days later Bartholomew brought eight of his friends, and so my work for young people got started.

Like all beginnings, it was hard and painful. He and his boys wandered about looking for a place for the catechism lesson and for space enough to play. The work was misunderstood by the local clergy and looked upon with skepticism by the city police. There were harsh words and even insults at times. But Don Bosco smiled and refused to give up. He received much encouragement from Fr. John Borel who helped him with his work. And also of course, from his friend Fr. Joseph Cafasso. The dream he had as a young boy kept coming back to reassure him.

The Shed

The Shed

Don Bosco’s first permanent school was a broken-down shed in Valdocco, a poor suburb in the city of Turin. Though the neighborhood was rough, Don Bosco took the building, with an adjoining piece of land for a playground. Today there stands a magnificent Church, the Basilica of Mary, our Help, a Youth Centre, a Technical High School and a printing press. It all started in a shed, with Don Bosco as the teacher.

In Bosco’s dream was coming true. Insults changed to compliments. People who used to sneer at him now held him in admiration. “Don Bosco” became famous throughout Italy. He was a friend of the king and the highest state officials. The Pope, then Pius IX, put the greatest trust in Don Bosco. They were close friends.

Yet he always remained poor like his boys, dressed in second-hand clothing. Neat but poor. Don Bosco’s only claim to fame was, “I am only Don Bosco, friend of street kids”.

If anyone remarked on the success of his work, he would smile and answer “It was not me. It was all done by the grace of God, and Mary the Mother of Jesus. Give them the credit”