Saint John Bosco was born into a poor peasant family in Piedmont, Italy. He was born in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, a time of great hardship. The young saint knew hunger as a child. As a young boy, he left home to find work to support his family. He eventually found work on a wine farm, and while here he studied at night and later entered a seminary in Turn. Throughout his life he was guided by dreams, which he believed came to him from God. After six years of study he was ordained as a priest.
St. John Bosco became a chaplain in a girls boarding school in Turn. He was appalled at the poverty in the city, and was worried about the spiritual welfare of the poor. He realized that the existing parish system was inadequate, and decided to go to minister to the poor. Eventually, he established an oratory for the many poor boys who had come to the city to live. St. John named the oratory after St. Frances de la Sales, whose spirituality greatly influenced him and his mission. St. John established a network of organizations and centers to help young people. At the Oratory, young boys were trained and educated. St John developed the Salesian Preventative System, an education method based upon Christian love, charity and faith. This method was to be very influential in education systems throughout the world.
In 1876, St. John founded a movement of laity, the Association of Salesian Cooperators. Its mission was to help the poor, and especially to educate poor children in the Salesian Preventive System. In 1875, St. John began to publish the Salesian Bulletin, which is still being published to this day. He then founded the Salesian Society, with the aim of helping poor children receive a Christian education. Today, the order that St. John founded helps the vulnerable and dispossessed all over the world. Today, Salesian communities operate shelters for homeless or troubled youths, as well as schools and technical, vocational, and instructional centers for youths and young adults around the globe.
St. John Bosco died in 1888, and thousands attended his funeral.
Following his beatification in 1929, he was canonized as a Saint by Pope Pius XI in 1934.
St. John Bosco had many dreams of a prophetic character. When the King of Piedmont and Savoy adopted a series of anti-Catholic measures, including the dissolution of monasteries, the saint had a series of dreams. He wrote to the King that if he persisted with his policy, the ‘royal palace would see many funerals’. The King initially ignored this warning and continued with his policies. However, after a series of deaths in the royal family, he recalled St. John Bosco’s warning and abandoned his anti-Catholic policies.
St. John Bosco believed that every Christian should “love what is good and rejoice in what is right.”
He affirmed that all Catholics should seek to help “strengthen the young in this unsteady world.”
The legacy of St. John Bosco is that he and his order have given many neglected youths hope.