Apostle to the Youth

This past Sunday, we had the joy of blessing the new youth space, and officially dedicating it to St. John Bosco, the ‘Apostle to the Youth’!  Henceforth, its new name is the ‘Saint John Bosco Room’, or ‘Don Bosco Room’ for short.  Below is a short biography of this great saint that will hopefully convey why we chose him as the namesake for the youth space.

Father Buehler

St. John Bosco was born in 1815 in Becchi, Italy.  His father died when he was two, and so he and his two brothers were raised by their mother, a woman of deep faith in God.  The family was poor, and so John had to spend much of his youth working as a shepherd rather than attending school.  What lessons he did receive were from the local parish priest.

He was a youth of quick wit, strong memory, and good character, with a great desire to learn.  The household, though poor, was filled with charity towards all those in need.  This example set by his mother and the environment gave his a great love of God from his youth.

At times of play, he was often surrounded by less virtuous youth, but received a dream that influenced him the rest of his life.  He heard in this dream the words: “Not with blows, but with charity and gentleness must you draw these friends to the path of virtue.” “Be strong, humble and robust.  When the time comes, you will understand everything.”

One day, a travelling circus came through town, and fascinated by the performance, John quickly learned acrobatics and tricks from the performers.  He would then put on his own shows for the youth of the neighborhood, after which he would give them a brief Gospel lesson or invite them to pray the Rosary with him.  He learned early on to use the interests of youth to draw them to the Gospel!

Eventually Don Bosco became a parish priest, (‘Don’ is the Italian version of ‘Fr.’ for a priest) and early in his priesthood, while making weekly rounds to visit the prisons with his pastor (St. Joseph Cafasso – saints always seem to be friends with other saints), he saw the horrible conditions and despair of the 12-18 year old boys locked up.  He resolved to dedicate the rest of his life to service to the youth of the street (there were many during the industrial revolution, many of whom were orphans).

Don Bosco would go to the places were youth would work and play, again giving little performances of magic tricks and with short Gospel teachings relevant to their lives, and above all, showing them great kindness.  Rapidly, the number of boys whom he served increased from one, to 20, to 400, to over 130,000 at the time of his death.  (Young girls would come to be served by the religious community he founded as well.)

His approach to grow these young disciples was simple: he would instill a sense of duty, remove temptations, and praise all efforts – no matter how small – to grow in virtue.  He didn’t praise talent or skill (these are often out of our control), but good will and character.  He also encouraged play and enjoying the good things of life!  He understood the power of music, and organized a band for the youth.  He started teaching classes of basic knowledge at night, so the boys could attend after their day of work in the factories.  He would go on to start technical schools and workshops to help the youth have a hope for a better future.  He would also advocate for the youth, negotiating better working conditions, ensuring they wouldn’t be beaten, and be given days off on Feast days.

His efforts were not without resistance, both from the nationalist government which was anti-clerical, and from others.  There were even several assassination attempts made towards Don Bocso.  But he persevered in the work he had been called to by God.  He died in 1888 on Jan 31st (his feast day).  St. John Bosco’s final words on his deathbed were “tell the boys that I shall be waiting for them all in Paradise.”

Quotes from St. John Bosco

It is not enough to love the young; they must know that they are loved.

In every young person, a point of goodness is accessible, and it is the primary duty of the educator to discover that sensitive cord of the heart so as to draw out the best in the young person.

I want to give you the formula for sanctity; first, be happy; second, study and pray; third, do good to everyone.

Entrust everything to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and to Mary Help of Christians and you will see what miracles are.