St. John Bosco

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By Catholic Digest Staff


St. John Bosco

Feast day: January 31

 

The youngest son of a poor farmer, Bosco was born in1815, a time of great social upheaval in Europe. When he was only two years old his father died, leaving his illiterate and devoted mother to take care of him. At the age of nine, he had a strong calling to become a priest, and took great delight in teaching other children their catechism. His mother teased him that, if he followed that path and had “the misfortune to become rich, I shan’t set foot in your house again.” Bosco joined the seminary when he was 16, wearing clothes donated by charity. He became a priest and studied at the highly renowned theological college of Turin, where he began helping the impoverished and neglected youths of the city. Recognizing their vulnerability to be preyed upon or eventually be drawn into the criminal underworld, he devoted himself to caring for the children. Despite having no funds, he set up places for the homeless boys to live and organized trade classes that taught the young men valuable skills such as shoemaking, tailoring, book binding, wood and iron working. This kept them from the temptations of crime and offered them the chance to support their futures with a strong livelihood. Despite help from other clergy and his mother, several different groups attempted to block his efforts. Traditionalist clergy charged him with taking the youngsters out of their parishes (despite the fact that they’d never been a part of any), politicians wanted to recruit the large group of young men as revolutionary forces, and the rest of the citizens thought Bosco was crazy to spend all his time trying to help the children. Bosco continued to push forward with such passion that he suffered a sudden hemorrhage in 1854. Doctors predicted that he would die, but his boys quickly divided themselves into ongoing prayer and fasting groups, determined to “storm heaven” with prayers. Thankfully Bosco recovered, just in time to face a deadly cholera outbreak in the city. The citizens refused to help the sick or handle the dead. Reassuring his boys that as long as they had faith in God’s grace and committed no serious sins they would avoid the sickness as they aided others, he divided them up into teams that carried the ill to hospitals and the dead to mortuaries, providing every young man with a bottle of vinegar to clean their hands after being in contact with the sick. When the epidemic ended it claimed 1400 lives, but not one of his boys got sick. By 1862 Bosco was caring for up to eight hundred youths, and when he died in January 1888 the entire city lined the streets for his funeral with 40,000 people filing past his casket. Bosco once wrote of himself, “I have promised God that until my last breath I shall have lived for my poor young people.”

Catholic Digest Staff