31 January 1888
Giovanni Bosco was born near Turin, Italy. His father died when he was two leaving his mother to provide marginal subsistence for the family. He showed a remarkably sweet and kind disposition, which put him at odds with many of the rough boys with whom he grew up. When he was nine, he received a vision. Christ and the Blessed Virgin encouraged him to be kind, obedient and hard-working and a great future would be shown him. Don Bosco always counted this as the beginning of his vocation.
Giovanni was fascinated by the traveling circuses which visited his region and went about learning to juggle, walk a tightrope and do magic tricks. He put on local “shows” which drew both children and adults. The “price” of admission to these exhibitions was time spent at the end of the show saying prayers together. With help from some patrons who recognized his intelligence and talent, he attended seminary and when ordained took an appointment as chaplain to a girls boarding school.
Don Bosco was not satisfied ministering only to well-to-do young women. In time, every Sunday and feast day the campus filled up with ragamuffin boys who came for catechism, basic schooling and supervised play. The raucous energy of the boys scandalized the school and Don Bosco was fired. In 1846 he was able to open an orphanage and put the new work under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales. With the help of an assistant priest and some seminarians he had groomed from among his boys, he formed the Salesian Order. This order, grudgingly admired by secular politicians, was recognized by the Pope and grew to include women religious, lay brothers, and dedicated laity, operating orphanages, vocational schools and nighttime primary schools for working people.
Don Bosco summed up his theory of education: “Every education teaches a philosophy by suggestion, implication, atmosphere. Every part has a connection with every other part. If it does not combine to convey some general view of life, it is not education at all.”