Saint John Bosco (1815-1888): Our Inspiration
John Bosco, popularly known as Don Bosco, was an Italian Roman Catholic priest, educator and writer of the 19th century. While working in Turin, where the population suffered many of the effects of industrialization and urbanization, he dedicated his life to the betterment and education of street children, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youth. A follower of the spirituality and philosophy of Saint Francis de Sales, Bosco dedicated his works to him when he founded the Salesian Society of St. Francis de Sales.
Don Bosco was a famous educationist who worked with youth all his life. He practiced an approach in dealing with the young. Later it has been developed into a system of Educating and Forming youth. It was called the Preventive System. Now we present it as a New Pedagogy for Our Times. This approach is based on Reason, Love and God, where any kind of punishment is avoided. Gone are the days when we were under the spell of: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” The new dictum goes as: “Use the rod and get behind the rods.” When punishment of every kind is forbidden, be it physical, verbal or any other; including any humiliating gesture, parents and teachers have recourse to rewards. They seek to control by augmenting rewards. For every good behavior, the child is rewarded.
It all started with a dream
Everyone needs a dream, a vision to inspire them. By one count the Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco reports 153 dreams that the Saint wrote down, narrated, or merely mentioned.
Don Bosco, was only nine when he had his first extraordinary dream. He saw himself playing with a crowd of neighborhood boys; many of them were fighting and swearing. He told them to stop, then leapt in with both fists when they did not. Suddenly a radiant gentleman appeared. He told John that he needed to use kindness, not blows, to win over these children. John did not understand. The man said he would give him a teacher, and a majestic Lady showed up. She instructed John to watch, and the boys turned into wild animals. “This,” she told him, “is your field of work. Make yourself humble, strong, and energetic, so that you’ll be able to do for my children what you’ll see now.” And the beasts turned into gentle lambs. In his confusion, John began to cry. The Lady assured him that in due time he would understand. This powerful dream continued to be a guiding force throughout his adolescence. It inspired him to become a priest.
From Dreams to Permanency of a System
Don Bosco was more than just a dreamer. He knew that education was the key to helping these young people. He sought to teach them, and to get fairer treatment for them with their employers. He never lost his confidence in youth. Don Bosco started technical schools to educate the young people in skilled jobs like printing, bookbinding and mechanics. In those days, these were the skills that would guarantee better conditions and a better future for them. And he continued his work on his system of education, a style which was immediately recognized as an ideal way to improve educational standards and to get the best from the young.
Preventive System of Education
Don Bosco's capability to attract numerous boys and adult helpers was connected to his "Preventive System of Education". He believed education to be a "matter of the heart" and said that the boys must not only be loved, but know that they are loved. He also pointed to three components of the Preventive System: Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness. Music and games also went into the mix. The system is not new, though in Don Bosco's hands it achieved a freshness all its own. While it compensates for errors committed by youngsters, who are often changeable and always forgetful, it does not condone the errors; instead, it uses them as stepping stones to the formation of a solid character, permeated by Christian principles of Christian character.
The name 'Salesians'
Don Bosco had a great admiration for St Francis de Sales (1567-1622). Francis was patron saint of Piedmont and Savoy and much loved by John Bosco. He admired his joyful, optimistic spirituality and because of the gentleness of his approach, he chose him as patron of the Congregation. He wished his followers to be filled with the spirit of Francis de Sales – a kindness that was all-embracing, a gentleness that was strong, a love that was humble and a faith that was steadfast. Francis used a simple metaphor to sum up his work when he said: 'You catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than a barrel full of vinegar.' In other words: Love is stronger than violence or force of any kind. John Bosco fully agreed and he named his Congregation after Francis de Sales, hence the name 'Sales-ians'.
Life after Life
Don Bosco died on 31 January, 1888. His funeral was attended by thousands. Soon after his death, there was popular demand to have him canonized. The Archdiocese of Turin investigated and witnesses were called to determine if Bosco was worthy to be declared a saint. The Salesians, Daughters and Cooperators gave supportive testimonies. But many remembered Bosco’s controversies in the 1870s with Archbishop Gastaldi and other instances which acted as a road block in the process of his canonization. Don Bosco left a legacy. His ideals, his spirit, his constant activity are all still with us in his Salesian priests, brothers, and sisters, who strive to perpetuate his work on earth. Pope Pius XI had known Bosco and pushed the cause forward. Bosco was declared Blessed in 1929 and canonized on Easter Sunday of 1934, when he was given the title of "Father and Teacher of Youth".
Bosco's work was carried on by his early pupil, collaborator and companion, Michael Rua, who was appointed rector major of the Salesian Society by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. Today Salesian priests and brothers, bound by one rule, inspired by the same spirit of their Founder, are all dedicated to the double task of self-sanctification and the care of youth.
Youth ministry is the key role of Don Bosco Society. With the inception of New Delhi Province this ministry has been carried forward in different ways. In May 2007 Fr. Joe Arimpoor was appointed as the Youth Pastoral Delegate of the Province. He envisaged a Youth Animation Kendra that would contribute to this ministry. Officially approved by the Province, he started DBARK (Don Bosco Animation and Research Kendra) in June 2009. Initially he started with two staff, and since then it has been growing.