St John Bosco

Founder of the Salesians of Don Bosco (entered heaven this day in 1888)

Dear Jake,

Tired?  You’re tired of trying to build up COMPASS?  It’s too hard?  I understand.  Working for Christ’s Kingdom is both tiring and hard.  No doubt.  But it’s worth it.  In fact, it’s one of the few things in this world worth getting tired and working hard for.  Recalling the life of today’s saint will refresh your soul and give you an energy boost.

Of course you remember the story of Don Bosco.  He was the son of Piedmontese peasants (northern Italy), and heard God’s call when he was still only a boy, at which point he began gathering poor boys even younger than himself in order to teach them the catechism and encourage them in Christian virtue.  He longed to be a priest, but had to overcome poverty and bitter opposition to enter the seminary.  He did so (first challenge met and conquered – a pattern that would repeat itself unceasingly throughout his life) at the age of 16.  While yet a seminarian he continued his work of teaching boys, of helping them out of the misery and poverty into which early industrialized Italy tended to force them.

Once he was ordained, he worked tirelessly to expand his projects.  Against all odds (he had no money and no connections) he opened a school where boys were apprenticed to a trade during the day and received academic and religious instruction at night.  At first, his only assistant was his mother, who served as general housekeeper for the little community.  Soon the group had grown so much, however, that he had to recruit help from other young priests.  Together, they opened two other such schools in the thriving metropolis of Turin, but these priests couldn’t keep pace with Don Bosco, and eventually abandoned him.  He forged ahead, deciding to gather his future assistants from the very boys who were enrolled in his school.  And thus began the religious order of the Salesians, priests dedicated to the Christian and practical education of boys, especially the poor.  (He also started a parallel group for girls, under the care of a religious order for women called the Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians, and a kind of third order, for interested lay people, called the Salesian Cooperators.).  By the time Don Bosco died, 768 Salesian priests were hard at work in a dozen countries, and by the mid-twentieth century, it was one of the largest religious orders in the whole Church.  Oh, I forgot to mention that at the same time Don Bosco was founding his new religious orders, the older religious orders (like the Jesuits and the Ladies of the Sacred Heart) had been expelled from Piedmont, and many convents had been shut down – it was the height of Italian anti-clericalism, a positively insane time to start a new order.

Amid all of this activity, do you think Don Bosco got tired, worn out?  You bet he did.  But he kept going, because he remembered WHY he was doing it.  He used to say, ‘First tell the devil to rest, then I’ll rest too.’  And he meant it.  He once had a dream where he saw the spiritual condition of some of the boys under his care.  Some were shining with light, looking supernaturally handsome, with flowers growing from their hearts, symbolizing virtues.  Others had their eyes and ears and tongues covered with sores; their mouths were filled with dirt, giving off a foul odor.  Others appeared with their hearts eaten out by maggots or filled with snakes – symbolizing mortal sins.  Some had ugly monkeys with sharp claws perched on their shoulders: sinners against purity, and the monkeys kept them from going to confession.

He would tell these dreams to the boys and then offer to speak with each one individually, if they wanted to.  They all wanted to.  And he helped them, encouraged them, brought them into the strength and vigor of friendship with Christ.

That’s why all your efforts are worthwhile.  Because your classmates and dorm-mates and professors and friends need Christ.  They need his truth, his mercy, his grace, his forgiveness… And you have a chance to give them.  Onward, Christian soldier!  And may the prayers and example of Don Bosco fill you with zeal.

Your devoted uncle,


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