John Bosco was born on 16 August 1815 at a little hamlet called Becchi, in northern Italy. When John was two, his father died, leaving the widow Margaret with an ailing mother-in -law, a stepson and two other boys to eke out a living on a farm in the Hills of Piedmont. Love and hardship characterized the home. Despite all odds, John wanted an education; he wanted to become a priest. At the age of twelve, he left home to find work. At fourteen, he found a tutor. At fifteen, he began taking jobs of any kind to pay for lodging and school. At the age of twenty six, he realized his dream.
“I want to be a priest who cares about youth”, he said and that is what he did. He began, faltering and searching at first in the industrial city of Turin. His first permanent school was a broken-down shed. The trades he had learnt while working his way through school became the trades he taught to classes given even in his kitchen. His mother joined him in Turin as Mamma Margaret, Mother of Don Bosco’s orphans”.
When he needed help, older boys supervised the younger ones, until they formed a huge family with Don Bosco as father. As boys grew to manhood, many stayed to form the Salesian Society, the world’s third largest religious Community. Small classes led to large school, lessons in Crafts to job training. Don Bosco’s unquenchable love becomes an unquenchable movement all over the world.
Don Bosco inspired the start of a vast movement of persons who in different ways work for the salvation of the young. He himself founded not only the Society of St. Francis de Sales but also the institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and the Association of Salesian Cooperators. These live in communion with each other, share the same spirit and with specifically distinct vocations, continue the mission he began.
The past pupils are also members of the Salesian family by reason of the education they have received and the bonds are closer when they commit themselves to take an active part in the Salesian Mission in the world.
Don Bosco called his Education project “The Preventive System”. It is based entirely on Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness. It follows the words of St. Paul, “Charity is patient, & kind. It bears all things, hopes all things, endure all things” (1 Cor 13:4,7)
Dominic Savio, the School boy Saint, is the first among the best of Don Bosco’s Pupils, a true model for the youth of our times; he is the most outstanding product of Don Bosco’s Preventive System of Education.
Who was Don Bosco? Historians know him as a social innovator, saint and educator. Common people claim him as a publisher, builder. Religious-minded people claim him as a clairvoyant, visionary, prophet. Churchmen and psychologists wonder at the catalogue of his prophetic “dreams” and prolific, even prodigal recourse to miracles. But his special mission was the care of youth. He was the priest who made them laugh, gave them food, enriched their minds, taught them trades and filled their souls with peace and joy. The Church has proclaimed him a Saint and the “Father and Teacher of Youth.”