Venerable Don Bosco, by R F O’Connor

Venerable Don BoscoAll the world has heard of Don Bosco and his wonderful work as the apostle of youth, as a social reformer, as the founder of two religious orders, as the organizer of a vast missionary enterprise in both hemispheres, as a benevolent promoter of the interests of the industrial classes and as the creator of a literary propaganda for the dissemination of Catholic truth in the domains of history and polemics. His activities were multi-form and wide-reaching in their scope and influence. Few men have wrought more by their individual exertions in their day and generation than this Italian priest. What he did in his lifetime, even if it ended there, would have been much; but more stands to his credit in the record; for his work, in all its phases, is being propagated and perpetuated by the religious bodies and their lay auxiliaries he formed and inspired with his practical and intelligent zeal. He has passed away, after sowing the seed; they are reaping the harvest, and will continue to reap and garner as long as the institutions he founded last, and their traditions along with his spirit survive.

Occasionally articles in magazines or newspapers, some short, but necessarily incomplete biographical sketches in various languages, and the Marquis Crispolti’s little work have made his attractive personality and good deeds tolerably familiar to many. But they were only sketches-in-outline. Father John Baptist Lemoyne, a Salesian priest, has given us a complete and finished pen-portrait in two bulky volumes. He was exceptionally well qualified to write the standing, authentic and official life of the Venerable Don Bosco, being intimately associated with the founder as his secretary. The first volume covers the period between his birth and the complete development of the Oratory of Valdocco, and the second its expansion and that of the numerous works that grew out of it down to his death. The portrait he draws is not drawn for mere effect, an impressionist portrait, dessine a grands traits, but rather a series of pen-pictures full of delicate detail like a Dutch panel, carefully delineated, with touches that show local color and bring out local characteristics in sharp relief. Some may think, after reading the fourteen long chapters detailing his home life and seminary course up to his ordination, that the portrait is somewhat overdrawn, that the details are unnecessarily minute and numerous, that the author labors his subject too much; but if they will suspend their judgment until they reach the conclusion, they will recognize that all these minute details have their proper place and purpose, that they are accessories that come into the picture and serve to make it complete as a portrait of the man and the movement he created and controlled. The narrative, he assures us, is scrupulously conformable to the truth. We can believe it. It is largely autobiographical, for the author had access to memoirs or memoranda written by Don Bosco himself; all his letters, and his correspondence was very voluminous; and, besides, had had confidential conversations with him during their twenty-four years’ intercourse. He was full of the subject, nothing had slipped his memory, and in these two volumes he gives us the rich result of his patient researches and of a study which must have been to him a labor of love. He leaves nothing unrecorded. Every fact, every saying, the very dialogues are faithfully reproduced from contemporary notes, which give the narrative a freshness and actuality that make it the more vivid and realistic. He brings the personality of Don Bosco before us “in his habit as he lived”; and it is a personality full of charm. What Boswell was to Dr. Johnson, Don Lemoyne is to Don Bosco; with this difference, that while the great lexicographer and his work have passed into history, Don Bosco and his work still live in his order. Non omnis mortar, wrote the pagan poet; the Christian priest might have said the same with a deeper depth of meaning.

The memorable year 1815, which witnessed the ultimate downfall of Napoleon, when Waterloo was fought, lost and won and the vanquished hero of many fateful battlefields was chained in his island prison like Prometheus to his rock, leaving behind him a record of thrones upset and sceptres broken, witnessed also the birth of Don Bosco, who triumphed over all obstacles in the accomplishment of his great lifework and left an enduring record of a career unselfishly devoted to the Church, humanity and Christian civilization. Napoleon was on his way to Saint Helena when John Bosco was born on August 16 of that year in Becchi, a village near Murialdo, in North Italy. The son of Francis Bosco, a small farmer, by his second marriage with Margaret Occhiena, he belonged to the Piedmontese peasantry. As it is the masses, particularly the rural masses, who make the nation, it is the peasantry who have been the mainstay of the Church on the human side, not princes, potentates and aristocracies, who have oftener been a hindrance to its progress. The Italian peasant, Giovanni Bosco, has done more for the Church than any royalty. There is more than a coincidence in this. The Divine Founder of Christianity, who was born in a stable and worked in a carpenter’s shop, was sent to preach His Gospel to the poor, and He chose His Apostles from among Galilean fishermen, despised tax-gatherers and tent-makers, people of no social consequence, whom the proud Roman looked down upon with disdain. Don Bosco was born and lived in poverty, not squalid poverty, not actual destitution; but was one of a family of straitened means, who were just able to keep the wolf from the door by thrift and industry. Early inured to work, as a mere child he took his share of field labor and cow-herding on his father’s little holding.

After the latter’s death in 1817, when the care of the farm and the family devoted upon his mother and her stepson. Anthony’s continual grumbling at the boy then grown dividing his time between work and reading, he was sent away from home to labor on neighboring farms when he was about thirteen. This hard upbringing soon ripened his mind and strengthened his character and gave him an influence over other boys which he used for their good. He was what is called a manly boy. Strong, robust like most country-bred boys, he was gifted with a marvelous memory. Don Calosso, the priest at Murialdo, whom he called “his guardian angel” and to whom he repeated from memory the two sermons delivered that day at a mission in Becchi in 1826 preparatory to the jubilee promulgated by Leo XIII., took an interest in the lad when he told him that his stepbrother Anthony thought studying was a waste of time and that he should devote his whole time to field work. “And why do you wish to study?” the priest asked. “In order to become a priest,” he replied. “And why do you wish to become a priest?” pursued Don Calosso. “In order to instruct the many youths who get into wrongdoing and evil ways because no one is interested in them,” he answered. That sentence furnishes the key to his whole career. It was his dominant thought from the beginning, was never out of his mind, the germinal idea out of which grew the many beneficent institutions to which it later gave birth. Don Calosso gave him lessons and found him a very apt pupil, but, to his great grief and loss, died in November, 1830. He was his first spiritual guide. “I then began to learn what the spiritual life really was,” he notes, “for I had previously acted more like a machine, which works without knowing the reason.” At fifteen he attended the public school at Castelnuovo, having to walk to it from Becchi twice daily, as he could not afford to buy a midday meal. This meant trudging ten miles. To spare him this, a tailor named Roberto at Castelnuovo housed him and taught him his own trade and, being choirmaster in the parish church, plain chant; to which he added playing on the violin and harmonium, until he was qualified to act as organist. He also spent some time in the workshop of Savio, an ironworker, and acquired much of the mechanic’s craft, and later on, lived with a restaurant-keeper named Pianta, where he became so expert at confectionery that he was offered a partnership in the concern, which he refused. At Chieri he gained some knowledge of shoemaking, which was found serviceable to himself and others. This varied knowledge of crafts, coupled with an inside knowledge of the lives of artisans, was a useful equipment for one who was to be the founder of industrial institutions so beneficial to the working classes; as his earlier practical knowledge of field work and farming fitted him to be the institutor of agricultural colleges and colonies.

When he was being educated at Castelnuovo, the commercial schools were of an eminently Catholic character, in accordance with the ordinances promulgated by King Charles in 1822. There were no mixed schools, and in each was hung the Crucifix, while teaching began and ended with prayer, the first half hour being devoted to catechism. The masters were required to arrange with the parish priest about the children hearing Mass before school, going to confession once a month and assisting at religious functions in the parochial church on feast days. The coordination of religious with secular education was on a par with the admirable system of the Christian Brothers and in sharp and suggestive contrast with the non-denominational or purely secular system of continental schools from which the Crucifix and all that the sacred emblem of our redemption represents have been banned. This training, combined with home education, had its happy effect upon the formation of John Bosco’s mind and character. It was a typical Catholic home. He had the advantage of being under the guidance and watchful care of a mother who was a model of Christian motherhood, a woman of sound sense and solid piety. She fostered his vocation and impressed upon him high views of the ecclesiastical state, when he early manifested his desire of becoming a priest and often afterward. When he thought of becoming a Franciscan and the parish priest of Castelnuovo advised her to dissuade him, pointing out that he could do much good as a secular priest and at the same time be helpful to her, she said to her son: “I only wish that you should reflect on the step you wish to take, and then follow your vocation without thinking of any one. The first thing is the salvation of your soul. The parish priest would like me to dissuade you from this decision, in view of the need I might have of your help; but I say to you no such consideration enters into these things, because God comes before everything. Don’t be uneasy about me. I want nothing from you, I expect nothing from you. I’ll be all right; I was born in poverty, I have lived in poverty, I wish to die in poverty. So, I protest to you: if you should decide to become a secular priest and, peradventure, you should become rich, I should not pay you a single visit. Remember that well!” And when he entered the seminary and became a cleric, she said to him: “Giovanni mio, you have put on the ecclesiastical habit; it affords me all the consolation that a mother can find in the fortune of her son. But remember that it is not the habit that honors your state, it is the practice of virtue. If you should ever have doubts of your vocation, ah! for charity’s sake, don’t dishonor this habit; put it off at once. I would prefer to have a son a poor peasant than a priest neglectful of his duties. When you came into the world I consecrated you to the Blessed Virgin; when you began your studies I recommended to you devotion to her, our Mother; now I recommend you to give yourself wholly to her: love companions devout to Mary, and, when a priest, always recommend and propagate devotion to Mary.” Both mother and son were moved as these words were uttered. They came from the heart and went to the heart of the listener. They showed that this humble small farmer’s wife had a clearer perception of the spiritual and a better appreciation of the priesthood than many mothers of superior station. She was fit to be the mother of such a son; they were worthy of each other; for he, too, took the same high view of the priestly office. Alluding to some priests difficult of approach, who were somewhat reserved and kept themselves aloof, he said: “If I were a priest I would act differently, I would draw near to boys, call them round me, speak good words to them, give them good advice and devote myself wholly to their eternal salvation.” Again: “If I should succeed in becoming a priest, I wish to devote my whole life to youth; they will never see me too grave, but I shall always be the first to talk to them.” Therein spoke the future apostle of youth. When he was going to the college at Chieri, to his companion Giovanni Filippello, who said, “You will soon become a parish priest,” he replied: “Parish priest? Do you know what it means to be a parish priest? Do you know what are his obligations? When he rises from dinner or supper, he ought to reflect, ‘I have eaten, but . . . will my flock have had enough to satisfy their hunger?’ What he possesses over and above his needs, he ought to give to the poor. And how many other and very grave responsibilities! Ah! dear Filippello, I shall not become a parish priest. I am going to study, because I wish to devote my life to youth.”

He began his favorite apostolate very early, as a little boy among boys. It is said that when he was only four years old, he could exercise an influence upon children much older than himself. As he grew older, when cautioned against mixing with undesirable playmates from the neighboring town, he said he did so because while he was with them they behaved better. From accompanying his mother to markets and fairs, frequented by jugglers, he soon learned the conjurers’ tricks and gave displays of his skill in sleight-of-hand performances in a field, but, before doing so, got the people to join in the Rosary and to listen to his repetition, from memory, of the substance of that morning’s sermon in the village church. He used this and other means of gathering young folk around him. He so astonished the tailor, Thomas Cumino, in whose house he lodged, by his juggleries, that the good man, a fervent Catholic, was much troubled in mind about it. “Men cannot do these things,” he said to himself: “God would not lose His time with them; then it is the devil who does it.” He almost decided to send Bosco away, but, before doing so, consulted a priest, Don Bertinetti. “Sir,” said he, “I have come to you about a serious thing that is on my conscience. I think I have a magician in my house.” The affair was referred to Canon Burzio, archpriest and administrator of the Cathedral of Chieri, who examined the boy on the faith and found his answers satisfactory. He was equally satisfied when Bosco gave him some specimens of his sleight-of-hand and explained how he did the trick, and laughingly dismissed him with the remark, “Go and tell all your friends that ignorance is the mother of wonder.” Even during his student days he would, when opportunity offered, go through the squares and streets and sometimes into the most quarrelsome quarters to seek out young people and bring them to catechetical instructions. During the vacations he got together about fifty of them, who loved and obeyed him as if he were their father, into a kind of little oratory, many of them ignorant of the truths of faith until he taught them and prepared them for the reception of the Sacraments.

His family were so poor that priests and parishioners had to provide him with what was needful to form his clerical outfit when he entered the seminary. “I was always in want of everything,” his biographer often heard him say. Needless to say, he was in every respect a model seminarist. They called him “the Father,” he was so remarked for solidity, sedateness and regularity. By a play upon words it was said that there was in Chieri a very precious wood: bosco, in the Piedmontese dialect, signifying wood. Another play upon words, not so complimentary, was made by one of his masters for whom he did farm work and who, finding him so given to reading, asked him the reason why. “Because I am going to be a priest,” was the answer. “You a priest!” he said. “And don’t you know that you would want nine or ten thousand lire for your studies? Where would you get them? Well,” putting his hands on his shoulders, “if you won’t be Don Bosco, you’ll be Don Boce” (a simpleton or good-for-nothing). One of his early teachers, Don Moglia, had a very poor opinion of the Becchi and did not conceal it. He regarded it as the Beotia of Italy and its inhabitants as asses; told him to give up the study of Latin, that he would not understand it, that he was only fit for gathering mushrooms or bird-nest hunting. But he was soon undeceived and lived to change his mind. Other teachers were of a different opinion; so also were his schoolmates. One of the latter recalled, in 1888, how the servant of God never took any pride out of his gifts, never showed the shadow of affectation or ambition, but that there was something about him extraordinary and supernatural. “From that time he was a saint,” he exclaimed with affectionate enthusiasm. Another, after listening to one of his first sermons, delivered before he received holy orders, said: “That cleric ought to succeed in accomplishing something great.” He showed remarkable ability in improvising discourses suitable to the occasion at very short notice. During his seminary course, shortened on account of his solid piety and rapid progress in the studies, his growth in holiness owed much to his intimacy with a saintly fellow-student, Luigi Comollo, who died in 1839, before he had completed his twenty-second year, and who appeared to him after his death in a spelndor surpassing noonday light, saying: “Bosco! Bosco! Bosco! I am saved!”

Ordained on June 5, 1841, by Archbishop Luigi Fransoni, he celebrated his first Mass in the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, Turin, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, coincident with the feast of Our Lady of Graces, when the archdiocese commemorated also the Miracle of the Blessed Sacrament. He referred to it as “the most beautiful day of my life. In the memento of that memorable Mass I made devout mention of all my professors and spiritual and temporal benefactors, and particularly of the lamented Don Calosso, whom I have always remembered as my great and signal benefactor. And piously believing that the Lord infallibly grants that favor which the priest asks at his first Mass, I earnestly asked for the power of persuasion (efficacia della parola), to be able to do good to souls. It seems to me that the Lord has heard my humble prayer.” His Masses then and ever afterwards were those of a saint. “Many verify what we besides daily experienced,” says his biographer; “we have assisted an infinity of times at his Mass, and we were always filled with a lively sense of faith in observing the devotion expressed in his whole demeanor, the exactness with which he followed the sacred ceremonies, his manner of uttering the words and the unction which accompanied the sacred rite. The edifying impression it made could no longer be concealed. Wherever he went, even outside of Italy, to know the hour and place where Don Bosco celebrated, was enough to gather people round his altar. Only to gratify the ardent desire of even once having this great consolation, many made long journeys to Turin; and very often, when he came out from the sacristy to go to the altar of Saint Peter, hundreds of devout persons scattered through the church, would leave their places to group round that altar, and when Mass was over, ‘He’s a saint! he’s a saint!’ they would continue repeating in a low voice.” After saying his second Mass in the Consolata, to thank the Blessed Virgin for the innumerable favors she had obtained for him, he offered the Holy Sacrifice in the Church of Saint Dominic at Chieri, at which his old professor, P. Giusiana, who was present, was moved to tears of joy. “I spent the whole of that day with him,” he notes, “a heavenly day.” At Castelnuovo, where there was a family gathering and great rejoicing, his mother said to him, what he calls “these memorable words”: “You are a priest. In saying Mass henceforward you are then nearest to Jesus Christ. Remember, however, that to begin to say Mass means to begin to suffer. You will not realize it at once, but little by little you will see that your mother has told you the truth. I am confident that every day you will pray for me, whether I am living or dead: that is enough for me. Henceforward, think only of the salvation of souls, and don’t be troubled in mind about me.”

A singular feature of Don Bosco’s life was that his special mission and its successive development were foreshown to him in symbolical dreams, or what would be called in Scriptural phrase, “visions of the night.” They were not, of course, ordinary dreams. The first of these was in his early boyhood, when he was about nine. He thus relates it: “I seemed to be near home in a yard of large size, in which a multitude of boys were gathered together. They were playing and laughing as boys do, and some were using bad language. On catching the sound of these evil words, I hurried at once into their midst, urging them by voice and manner to cease. At that moment a man of august presence appeared. He was in the prime of life, finely clad, and his face seemed to shine so brilliantly that I could not look upon it. He called me by name, and told me to become the leader of the crowd of boys, and said: ‘You will not win over these friends of yours by blows, but by gentleness and charity; you must set to work at once to instruct them in the vileness of sin and the excellence of virtue.’ In dread and utterly confused, I answered that I was but a poor and ignorant boy. But at that moment the others ceased their noisy games and evil talk, and gathered round the majestic Person who was speaking. Without knowing quite what I was saying, I asked him who he was; to which he replied: ‘I am the Son of her whom your mother has taught to salute three times a day.’ And then I saw by his side a Lady of majestic bearing, with a shining mantle about her. She looked at me, and signing for me to approach, took me by the hand and said: ‘Look!’ I turned round and perceived that the boys had all disappeared, and in their place was a herd of animals of various sorts. Then said the Lady: ‘This is your field of labor. You must become humble, bold and strong, and what you now see happen to these animals you must do for my children.’ I looked about again, and perceived that instead of the wild animals, they had become so many lambs. Then I began to cry, and begged the Lady to speak openly to me, for I could not imagine what it all meant. She placed her hand upon my head and said: ‘At the proper time you will understand its full meaning.’ When I related this dream the next morning it was the cause of much laughter. Anthony exclaimed sarcastically, ‘Perhaps you are to be the captain of the bandits.’ Joseph said, ‘You are evidently intended for a shepherd.’ Our old grandmother remarked in a decided way, ‘No notice should be taken of dreams.’ Margaret looked at her boy for a time and then said, ‘Why should it not mean that you are to become a priest?'”

They called him after that “the dreamer.” But Don Bosco, as the sequel proved, was no dreamer, but very wide awake, very much alive, alert and practical, with nothing of the visionary about him or his methods of action.

When he was at school at Castelnuovo he formed an intimate acquaintanceship with a companion named Joseph Turco, who introduced him to his family, the owners of a vineyard. Joseph’s father took greatly to him and, knowing his wish to become a priest, would put his hand on his head and say to him: “Have courage, Giovannino, be good and study so that Our Lady will help you.”

“I have put all my confidence in her,” he replied, “but always am in uncertainty: I would like to learn Latin and become a priest, and my mother cannot help me.”

“Don’t be afraid, caro Giovanni, you’ll see the Lord will smooth the way for you.”

“I hope so,” concluded the poor boy, “but – but – .” One day he ran in quite joyful. “What’s the matter with you, Giovannino,” asked Turco, “that you are so glad, while a short time ago you were so pensive?”

“Good news! good news!” exclaimed Bosco, “this night I had a dream in which I saw that I would continue my studies, become a priest and be at the head of many boys whose education would be my occupation for the rest of my life.”

“But that is only a dream,” observed the good Turco, “and there is a great difference between saying and doing.”

“Oh, the rest is nothing!” confidently answered Giovanni. “Yes, I will become a priest, I will be over many, many boys, to whom I will do good.” The next day, after hearing Mass, he visited the Turco family, to whom he repeated his dream, saying that he had seen coming towards him a great Lady leading a very numerous flock who, calling him by his name, said: “Here, Giovannino, all this flock I confide to thy care.”

“How,” he asked, “shall I take care of so many sheep and lambs? Where shall I find the pastures to which to lead them?” The Lady replied, “Fear not, I will help thee,” and disappeared. He was then sixteen.

The “sheep and lambs” he was destined to shepherd were the derelict denizens of the Piedmontese capital, the stray waifs who are to be found in every large city. The wretched, abandoned condition of the poor neglected boys in Turin, untaught and uncared for, as they wandered through the streets, lurked in hidden byways or helped to fill the jails, appealed to his compassionate heart and he “took them up into his pity.” This was the work reserved for him, his special mission, and it found him ready. Another social reformer had preceded him and led the way. This was the Venerable Cottolengo, a kindred spirit, another servant of God and of the people, who, at their first meeting, studying his features, said: “You look like an honest man; come and work in the Little House of Divine Providence, where you will have plenty to do.” Don Bosco, kissing his hand, promised, and after a few days repaired to Valdocco.

Cottolengo’s work at that time (1841) was already colossal. Begun in a small way in 1827, it prospered, and then counted eighteen hundred persons of both sexes, orphans, cripples, paralytics, epileptics, weak people unable to work, the ulcerated and the sick, stricken with every malady, gathered from other hospitals because rules hindered their reception, but who were all received gratuitously in the Piccola Casa, treated with the greatest kindness, provided with everything and all the necessary care bestowed on them. Don Bosco, on entering this abode of suffering, read in its motto, “Charitas Christi urget nos,” the secret of so many miracles of charity, and, kneeling before the image of the Blessed Virgin in the anteroom, was moved to tears, when the words, “Infirmais eram et insitastis me,” inscribed over the entrance, met his gaze. Canon Cottolengo showed him over the large establishment. He saw in the infirmary boys over whom the angel of death already expanded its wings as they lay prostrate, and speaking to them some words of comfort, said to himself: “Oh, how much poor youth need to be forewarned and saved!” When he was leaving, Cottolengo, passing between his fingers the sleeves of the young priest’s garment, said: “But your gown is too fine and thin. Get a much stronger one, of closer texture, that the boys may hold on to without tearing it. A time will come when your gown will be plucked by many people.” He had hardly returned to the Convitto di San Francesco, a house for young priests established in Turin in, 1818 by Luigi Guala, a zealous and learned ecclesiastic, where he then stopped, when Don Bosco suddenly found himself in the midst of a swarm of little boys who had followed him through the streets and squares and into the very sacristy of the church attached to the institute. He could not then take charge of them for want of a suitable place. But he taught them some catechism, invited them to return and be prepared to receive the Sacraments.

He had already decided to begin some particular work in favor of the poor and derelict and awaited the moments providentially fixed, commending the project to God in persistent and fervent prayers, and taking counsel with Archbishop Fransorri, who gave it his approval. On the 8th of December, 1841, feast of the Immaculate Conception, he felt in his heart a more earnest desire than usual of forming a company of the most needy and destitute youths under the protection of the Blessed Virgin. An apparently casual incident was the immediate occasion. While Don Bosco was vesting, the sacristan, Giuseppe Comotti, seeing a boy there, invited him to come and serve Mass. The lad, protesting that he did not know how, the angry sacristan boxed him. Don Bosco, intervening, made him bring back the boy, who had gone away. The poor boy, trembling and weeping, after the beating he got, returned. “Have you already heard Mass?” Don Bosco inquired. “No,” replied the other. “Come, then, and hear it,” said the priest; “afterwards I’ll have a talk with you which will please you.” He felt the liveliest desire to soften the blow and remove the bad impression it may have left upon the boy. After his Mass and thanksgiving he received him with a pleasant face and assured him that he need not be afraid of another beating. The boy, Bartolomeo Garelli, was an orphan of sixteen from Asti, who did not know how to read or write and had not made his First Communion. He had been to confession when he was very young, but was ashamed to attend catechism, because smaller boys who knew it were there. Don Bosco undertook to teach him privately, and began that very evening, kneeling and saying an Ave Maria before the lesson, because the Madonna had obtained for him the grace of saving that soul: “That fervent Ave Mario, joined to a right intention,” says his biographer, “was productive of great things!” The poor boy did not know how to make the sign of the Cross until he taught him. Such was the origin of the Oratory, the great fold into which this truly good shepherd of souls was to gather so many human sheep and lambs; to which he refers in his many memoirs and in the relation he sent to Rome in 1864 for the approval of his Pious Society, in which he wrote that “the work of the Oratories” was begun in 1841 “with a simple catechism in the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi.” Bartolomeo Garelli, Don Lemoyne says, was the foundation stone of the work of the Festive Oratories, and continued to be an affectionate disciple of Don Bosco.

Its beginning bore that hallmark of littleness and lowliness that has invariably been the characteristic of all good and great works inspired by the pure spirit of Christian charity, without any alloy of worldliness, self-seeking or self-glorification. The next Sunday, December 12, 1841, Garelli brought with him six other boys along with two recommended by Don Cafasso. The first reunions were in a room adjoining the sacristy. That winter he devoted his special care to the big boys from iBella and Milan, strangers in Turin, who were most in need of religious instruction; preference being given to those who had been released from prison. He attracted them by readings from interesting books and by teaching them singing, accompanying on the organ or piano sacred canticles composed for the feasts and set to music by himself. By the feast of the Purification, 1842, there were already twenty good singers who made the place resound with the praises of the Madonna, always so near and dear to the hearts of Italians, even those who are in other respects indifferent Catholics. Soon the number rose from twenty to thirty and then to fifty. When he met boys wandering here and there, in the squares or streets, or found them in workshops, he invited them to his catechisms, to which they willingly came; and when he learned that one of his little friends was out of work or with a bad master, he got him employment or a good Catholic master. Not content with that he went daily to visit them in their workshops, to their own and their employers’ gratification and mutual advantage. They became greatly attached to their benefactor, and when they met him on the street would cry out: “Viva Eton Bosco!”

Not less fruitful of good results was his apostolate in the prisons. In the beginning he felt a certain repulsion in entering these humid, unhealthy abodes, where the sad sight of the prisoners and the thought of finding himself in the midst of people stained with every crime, even blood shedding, greatly disturbed him. He called to mind the words of the Gospel, “I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:36); but that made his sympathetic heart bleed the more, thinking of the poor boys that society was obliged to imprison as a danger to it. Don Bosco in a short time exercised the same irresistible fascination over them by his personal magnetism and transparent sincerity. He gradually got them to realize the dignity of manhood, how reasonable and right it is to earn their daily bread by honest labor and not obtain it by thievery; impressing upon their minds and reviving therein the principles of morality until they felt in their hearts a peace and pleasure of which they knew not the source, but which made them resolve to amend. “In fact,” he says, “not a few changed their conduct in the prison itself, and others, on coming out, lived in a way not to deserve reincarceration, and that because they were no longer abandoned.”

He did not lack co-operators from the start in his work among boys. One of the most notable of these was Luigi Nasi, then a cleric, later Canon of Corpus Domini, who belonged to a noble family of Turin, and was a celebrated pulpit orator. Desirous of devoting himself to youth collected in institutes, he threw himself ardently into the work begun by Don Bosco, whom he helped with the enthusiasm of a saint. Poet and artist of uncommon merit, he composed for them verses and music, and for several years was their organ accompanist and choirmaster.

The little Oratory progressed wonderfully in 1843, although Don Bosco was somewhat cramped for space. The number of boys increasing and the clamor they made during recreation (and plays were essential to draw them to the instructions) causing a disturbance to the congregation frequenting the Church of Saint Francis, he had to take them elsewhere and to divide them into sections. It was hard to control these lively Italian boys, street-reared and undisciplined, with their mercurial southern temperament; but he did it most effectively. A glance from him was enough to send home the truant who had wandered away from it; to make another with a taste for idleness and vagabondage go to work; while those who had served their term of imprisonment became models to their companions, and boys who had been wholly ignorant of what concerned the faith were well instructed in it. His sympathetic and penetrating vision saw the good that was in them overlaid by contracted habits more or less superficial. “The young,” he says, “who form the most cherished and attractive portion of human society, and in whom are centred all our hopes for a happy future, are by no means intrinsically perverse or inclined to wickedness. Once you have counteracted the carelessness of some parents, the effects of idleness and of evil companions, it becomes the easiest thing imaginable to instill into their young hearts the principles of order, of good behavior, of respect towards others, and to accustom them to the practice of religion; and if you should meet any who are already spoiled at that tender age, it is the result of neglect rather than of downright wickedness. These are the ones who especially need a helping hand; the difficulty lies in finding the means of gathering them together in order to speak to them and control them. This was the mission the Son of God took upon himself; this can be done by His holy religion alone, which is eternal and unchangeable in itself, which was and always will be the teacher of mankind, which contains a doctrine so perfect that it is suited to all times, and adapted to the different characters of all men.” That Don Bosco used the right measures and the right method has been evidenced by his signal success. Many have borne testimony to it. Canon Anfossi said: “I myself saw big, unruly lads, who after a few weeks became well-behaved and practical Catholics.”

This success was not achieved without difficulties and obstacles. One of the obstacles was raised by himself. The thought of becoming a religious and devoting himself to foreign missions recurred to him, but his spiritual director, Don Cafasso, dissuaded him, saying: “And who henceforward will think of your boys?”

“Yes, it is true,” he answered; “but if the Lord should call me to the religious state, He will provide that some one else will think of them.” Then Cafasso, looking very seriously at him said, with a certain air of paternal solemnity: “My dear Don Bosco, give up any idea of a religious vocation; go and unpack your traveling1 bag if you have got it ready, and continue your work for boys. This is the will of God and none other!” At these grave words, he bowed his head and smiled, for he had learned what he wished to know. Fearing that the Archbishop might send him as curate to some country parish, and wishful of retaining him in the capital, Don Cafasso spoke to their mutual friend, Don Borel, director of the Refuge is one of those providential institutions which Turin fortunately possesses. It is in Valdocco and is the first in order of time of the many charitable foundations of that zealous, active and very pious lady, the noble Marchioness Giulietta Colbert, wife of the Marquis Tancredi Falletti di Barolo. Poor and unfortunate girls who needed a helping hand to uplift them had recourse to her in large numbers and the Marchioness had built for them a retreat capable of accommodating two hundred persons and placed under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Refuge of Sinners, and in care of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Some of the rescued ones consecrated to the Lord the remainder of their lives and entered the adjacent Monastery of Saint Mary Magdalen, near which was founded a third house for girls under fourteen in danger of falling, whose education was confided to some of the Sisters of Saint Mary Magdalen. Finally, in 1844, near the Refuge and the Magdalens was erected the hospital of Saint Philomena, for crippled and infirm children. This was the place where Don Bosco was invited to exercise the sacred ministry and in a room assigned to him by the Marchioness to collect on feast days his juvenile troop.

On the night preceding the transference of the Oratory to Valdocco (October, 1844), he had another remarkable dream. “I dreamt I saw myself in the midst of a multitude of wolves, goats, kids, lambs, sheep, rams, dogs and birds,” he writes. “They all together made a disturbance, a noise, or rather a clamor, enough to fill with dread the most courageous. I wanted to flee when a Lady, well made up in the form of a shepherdess, signed to me to follow and accompany that strange flock, while she led. We went wandering to various places; we made three stations or stops; at every stoppage many of these animals changed into lambs, whose number continually increased. After much walking I found myself in a meadow where these animals gamboled and ate together, without one trying to bite the others. Oppressed with fatigue, I wanted to sit down near a road in the vicinity, but the shepherdess invited me to continue my way. After again making a short journey I found myself in a large court, with a round portico at the end of which was a church. Here it appeared to me that four-fifths of those animals had become lambs: their number then was very great. At that moment came several young shepherds who increased and took care of the others. These little shepherds becoming very numerous, divided and went elsewhere to collect other strange animals and lead them into other folds. I wished to leave, because it seemed to me time to celebrate holy Mass, but the shepherdess invited me to observe until noon. While looking, I saw a field in which were sown mint, potatoes, cabbages, beet root, lettuce and many other vegetables. ‘Look again!’ she said to me. I looked again and a stupendous and lofty church. A choir, instrumental and vocal music, prompted me to sing Mass. In the interior of that church was a white band on which was written in large letters: Hic domus mea, inde gloria mea. Continuing in the dream, I wished to ask the shepherdess where I was and what that walking, that house, church and then another church indicated. ‘You will understand everything’ she replied, ‘when, with thy material eyes thou shall accomplish what thou now seest with the mind’s eye.’ But, it seeming to me that I was awake, I said: ‘I see clear and see with the corporeal eyes: I know where I am going and what I am doing.’ At that moment the bell in the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi rang the Ave Maria, and I awoke. This dream lasted as it were the whole night; many other particulars accompanied it. Then I little understood its significance, because, self-distrustful, I put little faith in it, but things, gradually grasped, had their effect. So later on this, in conjunction with another dream, served me as a programme in my deliberations at the Refuge.”

The first Oratory for a time led a nomadic existence. The boys followed him in increased numbers to the hospital, but as he had no chapel in which to gather them together for Mass, he had to lead them to the various city churches, until the Marchioness gave him a couple of rooms, which were transformed into a chapel, opened on December 8, 1844, and dedicated to Saint Francis de Sales, under whose protection he placed his work. There was a certain spiritual affinity between the Apostle of the Chablais and the Apostle of Turin. They were both animated by the same spirit, the spirit of faith working through charity, and employed the same method to attract souls, imparting to others the sweetness and light which their own souls possessed and diffused. Besides, the Marchioness di Barolo, to help Don Bosco, was revolving the idea of founding near the Hospital a Congregation of priests under this title.

For a time all went well. He and Don Borel opened evening classes for the boys, whose ignorance was a great hindrance to their advancement in their various trades. It was a happy thought. There were then no evening classes anywhere in Italy; now they are spread all over the country. They owe their initiation to Don Bosco who, in 1847, three years after they were started, had the satisfaction of having their value recognized by a commission appointed by the municipality to test them by their results and who were amazed that boys, of no previous education whatever, could have made such marvelous progress in so short a time.

Another obstacle to the progress of the work came from an unexpected quarter. The Marchioness Barolo, apprehensive that the number of boys who, as boys even of a better class might do, made their presence an embarrassment, would interfere with her institute, after a few months desired him to find other quarters for them. He then took them to the Church of Saint Peter in Chains, with the permission of the chaplain, Don Giuseppe Tesio, an ex-chaplain, and used the ground attached to it as a playground for the too lively youngsters. The transition occasioned further and greater trouble. The chaplain’s housekeeper, a virago, when she heard the loud racket the boys made at play, became furious and drove them away with torrents of abuse, for she had a shrewish tongue. Resolved to have done with them there and then, she said: “By Sunday next, at whatever cost, I shall not be disturbed by you.” Don Bosco, to placate her, ordered the boys to cease, and then, turning to the woman, said: “My good lady, you are not certain of being here next Sunday, and make bold to tell us that absolutely you’ll not let us come here again.”

“Oh! what a bad woman that is to scold like that!” said one of the boys. Don Bosco excused her, saying she was to be pitied because she was not in good health, adding: “Be easy about it; next Sunday that woman will no longer scold you!” After the Rosary in the church, as they were going away the irate housekeeper again gave vent to her anger. “Poor woman,” said Don Bosco, in an undertone, “she tells us we shall not set foot here again, and next Sunday she will be in her grave!” Meanwhile she denounced the boys to the chaplain, on his return, as revolutionaries and profaners of holy places and low rabble, and, seeing Don Bosco, he said to him: “You shall not come here any other Sunday to raise such a tumult and disturbance. I’ll take the necessary steps to stop it.”

“Ah! poor man,” was Don Bosco’s comment, “he doesn’t know if he’ll be alive himself next Sunday!” The chaplain addressed a strongly worded complaint to the municipality who had granted him the use of the place. It was the last letter he ever wrote. The next day he got an apoplectic stroke, from which he died. The grave had hardly closed over him, when another was opened to receive the corpse of the housekeeper, whose death followed two days afterwards. “These incidents,” wrote the servant of God, “made an impression on the minds of the boys and all who took note of them.”

“It was impossible,” observes his biographer, “not to see the hand of God therein; and the boys were so. intimately persuaded of it that, instead of withdrawing, they loved Don Bosco and the Oratory the more, promising never to abandon it.”

When he had to leave the hospital – and he told the Marchioness he was ready to endure anything rather than forsake his boys – he was consoled and enlightened by another dream, which he told to Don Giulio Barberis in 1875, and which foreshadowed the future of the Oratory. He seemed to be in a large plain full of an immense number of boys, some wrangling, others cursing, stealing or ill-behaved; while a shower of stones hurtled through the air, flung by those who were fighting. They were youths abandoned by their parents and corrupted. Directed by the Lady, of whom he makes frequent mention, to go and work among them, he did so, but saw no place to which any one wishful of doing them good could take them. He turned to persons who remained observant in the distance and might have supported him, but none helped him. He then turned to the Lady, who said: “Here is the place,” and showed him a meadow. “But there is only a field here,” he said. She replied, “My Son and the Apostles had not whereon to lay their heads.” He set to work, admonishing, preaching and confessing, but saw that for the great part every effort would be useless unless he could find some place wherein to gather these derelicts. Then the Lady led him a little to the northward and said, “Observe!” And, looking, he saw a small) low church, a little courtyard and numerous boys, and then another and larger church and a house adjoining. She next led him a little nearer to a cultivated piece of ground before the facade of the second church, saying: “I wish God should be specially honored in this place where the glorious martyrs of Turin – Adventorius and Octavius – suffered their martyrdom, on this ground watered and sanctified by their blood,” indicating the precise spot.

“At once,” he proceeds, “I saw myself surrounded by an immense and continually increasing number of youths, but, the Lady looking on, the means and the site increased likewise; and I then saw a very large church precisely in the place where she showed me took place the martyrdom of the three soldiers of the Theban Legion6 with many buildings all around and a fine monument in the midst. While these things occurred I, still in a dream, had priest coadjutors who gave me some help and then fled. I strove with great efforts to retain them, but they after a short while went away and left me alone. Then I turned again to that Lady, who said: ‘You wish to know how to act so that they may no longer desert you? Take this ribband and bind it on their foreheads.’ Reverently taking the little white ribband from her hand I saw that upon it was written this word – Obedience. I at once proceeded to do what the Lady told me, and began to bind the head of each of my voluntary coadjutors with the ribband, and suddenly saw a great and wonderful effect; and this always increased while I continued to fulfill the mission entrusted to me, for they gave up the idea of going elsewhere and resolved to help me. So was constituted the Salesian Pious Society.”

He saw many other things which alluded to great future events. “Suffice it to say,” he says, “that from that time I went on always confident whether as regards the Oratories, the Congregation, or the way of acting in relations with outsiders, with whatever authority invested. The great difficulties that are to arise are all foreseen, and the way of overcoming them I know. I see very well, bit by bit, all that will happen to us, and I will go forward in broad light.” When he told all this to others, many thought he was going out of his mind and regarded him as mad.

At his suggestion, in 1856, Canon Lorenzo Gastaldi wrote and published a book on the three Theban martyrs, making a close study of the subject with a view of finding out from history, tradition and topography in what part of the city their martyrdom took place, with the result that it could only be known for certain that they took refuge outside the city gates near the Dora River, were discovered and slain hard by their place of concealment. The large tract that extends from the walls of Turin towards the Dora, to the west of the borgo so named, called in ancient times vallis or vallum occisorum – the vale or valley of the slain – and now Val d’occo, from the first syllable of each word, perhaps in allusion to this martyrdom, seemed most certain to be the site to be blessed by God through the marvelous institutes of piety and charity that have arisen there. According to the ancient topography of the City the Oratory of Saint Francis de Sales was built near this hallowed ground or within the ambit of its walls.

Through the intermediary of Archbishop Fransoni he obtained from the municipality the use of a chapel in the Church of Saint Martin, near the Dora, to catechize his boys and of some open ground adjoining for their recreations. It did not last long, for the people of the neighborhood soon grumbled at the noise of three hundred boys at play. The one who was deputed to lay their complaint before the Municipal Council was soon after struck down with a disease which deprived him of his means of livelihood; but Don Bosco frequently came to his relief. It was the secretary of the Molini (whose name he suppresses) who wrote to the authorities an exaggerated account of the disturbance caused by the boys. It was the last letter he wrote, for he was subsequently seized with a very violent trembling in the right side and died three years afterwards. Providence, he notes, brought it about that this man’s son was reduced to beg bread, and receive it at the hospice opened in Valdocco. It was about this time (1845) Don Bosco first met Michael Rua, then a little boy, who was destined to become his right hand, his vicar during his closing years, and, after his death, his immediate successor.

The wanderings of the Oratory and its proteges were not yet over. Having no chapel, he had to lead the boys at one time to Sassi, at another to the Madonna di Campagna or to the Monte dei Cappuccini, where, with the permission of the parish priest or religious, which was never refused, he took them into the church and with the help of some priests, heard their confessions, said Mass and gave Communion to such as were prepared. In the afternoon he reassembled them for catechetical instruction, and then took them for a walk in the country, returning to Turin when the sun began to set behind the Alps. When they had definitely to abandon Saint Martin’s, as he emerged from it, raising his eyes heavenward, he exclaimed, “Domini est terra et plenitudo ejus!” and then to the boys, “Patience! the Blessed Virgin will help us! Let us go in search of another place.”

At Christmas a multitude of youths, ready to follow him wherever he would lead, crowded the room at the hospital and went with him to a neighboring church to hear the three Masses. He afterwards told them a thousand wonderful things about the future Oratory, which then only existed in his mind and in the decrees of Providence. “Don’t be afraid, my dear children,” he said. “There is already prepared for you a beautiful building, and soon we’ll go and take possession of a grand house, a splendid courtyard, and an immense number of boys will take their recreations, pray and work there.” The boys believed him.

At that time another magnificent spectacle was shown him in a “dream.” He seemed to be on the northern side of the Rondo or Circola Valdocco when, from the direction of the Dora, he saw, between the tall trees that then adorned the Corso Regina Margherita, near the Via Cottolengo, in a field covered with kitchen gardens, three very beautiful youths, resplendent with light, who stood in the place which, in a previous dream was indicated to him as the scene of the glorious martyrdom of the three soldiers of the Theban Legion. They invited him to descend and go with them. Don Bosco hastened, and when he reached them they accompanied him with great affability towards the extremity of the ground where now rises majestically the Church of Mary Help of Christians. Then, in a short space passing from one marvel to another, he found himself in presence of a Lady magnificently attired, of indescribable grace, majesty and splendor, near whom was distinguishable an assembly of ancients of princely aspect. Innumerable personages, adorned with dazzling beauty and magnificence, formed her most noble queenly cortege, and round and round as far as the eye could see extended other legions. The Lady appeared at the spot where now rises the high altar of the sanctuary and invited the servant of God to draw near, and, as he did so, told him that the three young men who had led him to her, were the three martyrs – Solutorius, Adventorius and Octavius – as if she wished to show him that they would be the special patrons of that place. Then with a charming smile on her lips and with affectionate words she encouraged him not to abandon his children, but to pursue with ever increasing ardor the work he had undertaken. She implied that he would encounter very great obstacles, but that these would be conquered and overcome with the confidence he would place in the Mother of God and in her divine Son. Finally he was shown at a short distance a, house that really existed and was then known to be the property of a certain Signor Pinardi, and a little church in the precise place where now is the Church of Saint Francis de Sales with the annexed fabric. Then, raising the right hand, in an ineffably melodious voice she exclaimed: “Haec est domus mea! Inde gloria mea!” At the sound of those words Don Bosco was greatly moved, and the figure of the Virgin – for such was the august lady – with the whole vision slowly vanished like a mist before the risen sun. He at once, trusting in the divine goodness and mercy, had renewed at the Virgin’s feet the consecration of his whole self to the great work to which he was called. The next morning he hastened to visit the house pointed out to him by the Blessed Virgin. On leaving his room he said to Don Borel: “I am going to see a house adapted to our Oratory.” But what was not his surprise when, on reaching it, in place of a house with a church, he found it to be the dwelling of bad-living people!

Through the good offices of a priest named Antonio Giovanni Moretta, he was able to fit up three rooms in a house not far from the Refuge, where in after years was opened the girls’ Oratory of Saint Angela in the Via Cottolengo, and where, without suspecting it, the boys drew near the end of their peregrinations to their promised land. Still needing a chapel, they continued to hear Mass in some church, usually the Consolata, where the Oblates of Mary were friendly and helpful, or Saint Augustin’s. Don Bosco’s health being impaired, the Marchioness di Barolo, hearing of it, insisted on his taking care of himself and sent him an offering of 100 lire for his Oratory. For a short time he had to give up his attendance at the Hospital and Refuge, but no one ventured to suggest his abandoning his boys.

Meanwhile his activities sought and found other spheres for their exercise. Everybody did not understand such zeal. Some thought it was vainglorious and dangerous; malicious tongues said Don Bosco was a revolutionary, people who saw red in every new departure; others said he was a fool, others that he was a heretic. To them the Oratory was an expedient to withdraw youth from the parishes and instill into them suspicious maxims. This last accusation was the commonest and had its foundation in the opinion that he shared the views of the liberal school of pedagogy, seeing that he allowed the boys all sorts of noisy recreations. The old educational discipline was based on the harsh idea of the master and the lash; and his innovations allowed too much liberty. Among these were not wanting some partisans of the anti-Catholic or irreligious parties who perhaps spoke with the intention of drawing away the youths and breaking up the festive meetings. Various clergy, seeing in Don Bosco something extraordinary which they could not explain, especially his activity and his art of gathering round him souls and swaying hearts, repeated: “Woe to us and to the Church if Don Bosco is not a priest according to God’s own heart . . . and who knows?” They could not persuade themselves that they should aid the advancement of a heavenly mission instead of retarding it. At a clerical conference where the subject was debated Don Borel defended Don’ Bosco with the approval of the majority; but it was resolved that he should be instructed to send the boys to the several parish churches. Don Bosco, when this view was put before him by a deputation of two priests, explained that the greater portion of his boys were strangers far from parental supervision and unacquainted with the parochial boundaries, that not a few were attracted to the Oratory by recreative amusements and by these and other means brought within the sphere of religious influence who otherwise, perhaps, would not go to any church, to the grave injury of their souls. Shortly after, meetings of the parish priests of Turin were held, at which it was considered whether the Oratories should be promoted or reproved, when word was sent to Don Bosco to go on with his work.

One obstacle was overcome, but another arose. Objection was again raised to the noise made by the boys, and Don Moretta was reluctantly constrained to send them away. They were then taken to a field, from which they were subsequently expelled because, it was alleged, they had trampled too much on it. They now numbered four hundred. Some weak-minded persons, seeing him leading this crowd of boys here and there, censured him as if he were keeping them from work and subjection to parental control and accustoming them to a free and easy life of independence; and talked of popular revolts and commotion in some parts of Italy. The affectionate obedience of the boys to the servant of God led to the ridiculous rumor that he might become a dangerous man and at some time create a revolution in the city. This fantastic insinuation had an apparently specious foundation in the fact that a certain number of his boys who had become pious and well conducted were originally young jailbirds. These rumors reached the ears of the local authorities, specifically of the Prefect of Turin, the Marquis of Cavour, father of the famous Count Camillus Cavour, the Sardinian Statesmen, the chief of the makers of New Italy. He had, some time before that, seen Don Bosco in the fields seated on the ground in the midst of a circle of boys into whom he was instilling the principles of religion and morals. “Who is that priest in the midst of those rogues?” he asked. “It is Don Bosco,” he was told. “Don Bosco! Oh, he is a fool,” he observed, “or at least a man to be sent to the Senate” (meaning the prison of the palace called the Senate). With this idea in his mind, he now sent for Don Bosco to whom, after a long conversation, he said, “My good priest, take my advice and leave these young ruffians alone; they will only disgust you and give trouble to the public authorities. I am certain these meetings are dangerous and I cannot tolerate them any longer.” In vain Don Bosco explained the work of the Oratory; the Marquis threatened him with imprisonment; but, undismayed by this threat, he never lost his calm self-possession, nor relaxed his habitual smile. This noble resistance displeased Cavour, who angrily added: “This is a disorder, and I wish and must put a stop to it. Don’t you know that every assemblage is prohibited without a legitimate permit?”

“My assemblages have no political object,” he replied. “I am teaching catechism to the poor boys, and I am doing this with the Archbishop’s permission.”

“Is the Archbishop made aware of these things?” he was asked.

“He is fully informed,” he answered. “I have never taken a step without his consent.”

“And if the Archbishop told you to desist from this ridiculous undertaking of yours, you would put no difficulty in the way?” queried Cavour.

“By no means,” he said. “I have begun and continued until now with the advice of my ecclesiastical superior, and at a simple word from him shall be altogether at his commands.” When the Archbishop was told of the interview, he counselled Den Bosco to have courage and patience. He needed them; for Cavour would not allow the continuation except on certain conditions, which were unacceptable. He wanted to limit the number of boys, prohibited their leaving or entering the city in a body, and absolutely excluded the grown-up ones as dangerous. To the calm and deferential observations of Don Bosco, he replied: “But what are these roughs to you? Leave them to their families. Don’t take such a responsibility upon you.” The result was that he and his poor proteges were placed under police supervision. When he found himself escorted to and from the place of meeting by carbineers he only smiled. He used to say that the most romantic time of the Oratory was that of these field gatherings.

In his “dreams” he had luminous visions which he narrated to Don Rua and others; visions of a large house and church, like that of Saint Francis de Sales, as before, with “Haec est domus mea, inde gloria mea” over its portals, through which entered boys, clerics and priests. Now to the spectacle, in the same place succeeded another like the small Pinardi house, and around its porticos and church little boys and ecclesiastics in very large numbers. “But this is not possible,” he said to himself; “this is quite other than a dwelling suited to us. I am afraid I am the prey of a diabolical illusion.” And then he distinctly heard a voice which said to him: “And dost thou not know that the Lord can enrich his people with the spoils of the Egyptians?” The dream of the night preceding the second Sunday of October, 1844, was near its fulfillment. The Oratory was to pass through three stages before it had a settled dwelling place. The end was then near!

But Don Bosco was not yet at the end of his troubles. Opposition revived. Several of his friends, in place of encouraging him to persevere, suggested to him to abandon the work. Some thought he was the victim of a monomania. His fellow-students at the seminary advised him to change his method of apostolate, saying he compromised the sacerdotal character with his extravagances, lowering himself in taking part in the playing of so many rogues and permitting them to raise such an unseemly tumult; adding that such things had never been seen in Turin and were contrary to the customary habit of a clergy so grave and reserved. And when their logic failed to persuade Don Bosco they said his head was turned. Even his old friend Don Borel said,: “Dear Don Bosco, not to expose ourselves to the danger of losing all, it is better that we should save a portion. Let us wait for times more favorable to our designs; let us dismiss the present Oratory boys, retaining twenty of the youngest; meanwhile let us privately continue to occupy ourselves with these few. God will open a way for us to do more, providing us with the means and a place.” Like a man sure of what he was doing, he replied: “Not so, not so! The Lord in His mercy has begun and will finish His work. You know with what trouble we have been able to rescue from evil ways such a great number of boys and see how they follow our lead. It is not fitting now to leave them again to themselves and to the dangers of the world to the grave injury of their souls.”

“But in the meantime where are we to assemble them?”

“In the Oratory.”

“And where is this Oratory?”

“I see it already built. I see a church. I see a house, I see an enclosure for recreations. This is ours,” he said, “and I see it.”

“And where are these things?”

“I cannot yet say where they are, but they really exist and will be ours.”

On hearing these words Don Borel was deeply moved; they seemed to him sufficient proof of his friend’s madness, and he said to himself: “Poor Don Bosco! truly his brain is really going away!” and, as he withdrew, shed tears. Don Pacehiotti, too, glancing at him with compassion, repeated sadly: “Poor Don Bosco!” The rumor of his mental alienation spreading, some leading priests visited him. They pointed out how he could do great good to souls in otherwise exercising the sacred ministry, preaching missions, helping in some city parish or devoting himself exclusively to the Marchioness Barolo’s works. “It does not do to be self-willed,” they urged; “you cannot accomplish impossibilities; Divine Providence, too, seems clearly to indicate that it does not approve of the work you have begun. It is a sacrifice, but it must be made; dismiss the boys.”

“Oh! Divine Providence!” exclaimed Don Bosco, raising his hands to heaven, while his eyes shone with extraordinary splendor. “You are in error! I am very far from not being able to continue the Oratory. Divine Providence has sent me these boys, and I will not send away one, be sure of that. I have the invincible certainty that Providence itself will supply me with all that is necessary. So the means are already prepared; and, as they won’t let me a place, I shall build one with the help of Mary most holy. Yet, we shall have large buildings, with schools and dormitories capable of receiving as many boys as shall come; we shall have workshops of every kind, so that boys can there learn a trade according to their liking; we shall have a fine courtyard and a spacious cloister for recreations; in fine, we shall have a magnificent church, clerics, catechists, assistants, head masters, professors ready at command, and numerous priests who will instruct the boys and take special care of those in whom there are signs of a vocation.”

Astonished at this unexpected reply, and looking at each other, these good priests said: “You mean then to form a new religious community?”

“And what if I had this project?”

“What device would you assign to your religious?”

“Virtue,” replied Don Bosco, not wishing to explain minutely. They wanted to know with what habit he would invest the new religious. “I wish,” he said, “they should all go about in overalls, with sleeves like working stone masons.” A laugh greeted this. Don Bosco smilingly observed: “Perhaps I have put it in a strange way? Don’t you know that to go about thus means to be poor, and that a religious society without poverty cannot last?”

“We understand perfectly,” they replied as they retired, unanimously of opinion that his mental facilities had lost their equilibrium.

This persuasion prevailed throughout Turin. His friends were grieved; the indifferent or envious derided him; and almost all stood aloof. Some official personages of the archiepiscopal Curia sent a prudent person to further examine him, fearing that if he was as rumored, something might occur injurious to the dignity of the priesthood. The envoy came to the conclusion that he was under an hallucination, that he had a fixed idea of possessing what he would never have. They were undecided as to what course to pursue, because the Vicar General Ravina, a friend of Don Bosco, would not permit any precipitate decision. But others took the matter in hand and, imagining that his “illusions” would inevitably lead to insanity, thought to prevent such a calamity by sending him to an asylum where he would have every care that charity or medical skill could suggest. Accordingly arrangements were made with the superintendent, and the execution of the plan was entrusted to Don Vincenzo Ponzati, parish priest of Saint Augustin’s, and a young priest Luigi Nasi. They went to Valdocco, where, after engaging in conversation for some time, they invited him to go out for a drive, saying they had a carriage in readiness. “A little open air will do you good, dear Don Bosco,” said Ponzati. Don Bosco suspecting they were among those who thought him out of his mind and intent on giving them a surprise, accepted the invitation. They politely requested him to enter the carriage first. “No,” he protested, “it would be a want of respect on my part; you go in before me.” They entered without suspecting anything, sure that he would follow them. But when he saw them seated, he slammed the door and said to the coachman: “Go immediately to the Asylum where these gentlemen are expected.” The driver drove rapidly, unheeding the appeals of the two priests to stop, and quickly reached the Asylum, which was very near the Refuge. As soon as they were within, the porter hurriedly shut the outer gates, and the carriage was at once surrounded by the attendants. To their surprise, instead of one priest, whom they were told to expect, they found two who, despite their energetic protests, were detained. They demanded that the doctor should be called, but he was not in the house; the chaplain, but he was at dinner. Finally, after reiterated and urgent requests, the latter made his appearance and, seeing they had been caught in their own trap, burst out laughing and had them set at liberty. The feelings of the poor priests may be easily imagined. Don Bosco had turned the tables on them; they kept out of his way in the streets whenever they saw him approaching; they had become a laughing stock throughout the city.

After that they left him alone; the question of his sanity was no longer discussed. Monsignor Fransoni, who never withdrew his support, advised him to resolutely go on with his work. It was fortunate that the see was filled by a prelate so intelligent in the ways of Divine Providence, so well disposed; otherwise, without a miracle, the work would have failed. Don Cafasso helped him with alms; and to temporizers who would have Don Bosco put a limit to his too enterprising zeal, said in grave and as it were prophetic accents: “Leave him to his work! let him work on!” (lasciatelo fare!). Don Borel was always ready to help him, but was then a silent observer who compassionated his friend. The servant of God let him into the great secret that he had had, and more than once, certain visions from God and the Blessed Virgin, that the fields of Valdocco would be the crade of the Oratory and a new Pious Society he had it in mind to found.

All Turin was talking about him. When he passed through the streets with his boys, people came out of their houses, or out on their balconies, or went to the windows to see the sight. Some said he was a great saint, others that he was a great fool. Sometimes, on returning from their rambles, the boys halted and, seizing Don Bosco’s arms, raised him on their shoulders and carried him in triumph into the city, the good priest striving in vain to prevent them.; although he had them under such control that in the fields a word, a sign, a glance from him was enough to impose silence. A carbineer, who witnessed this, exclaimed: “If that priest was a general, he would fight the best-disciplined army in the world with the certainty of victory!”

Yet he was not a martinet. In the midst of this crowd of boys, mostly wild shoots when they came to him first, rude, untaught lads, he was like a father in the midst of a large family. He was not repelled by their roughness; he drew them to him by his kindliness until they learned to love him as he loved them; he laughed with them, joked with them, played with them, made them feel quite at home with him; attracted them by innocent artifices until he gained their hearts and then opened their minds to the knowledge of the truths) of religion, purified their souls by confession and absolution after he had enlightened their intellects and then gave them Holy Communion. He resembled Saint Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratorians, who once said he did not care if they broke sticks on his back so long as they did not sin.

One of the saddest days of his life was Palm Sunday, 3 April 1846, the last day he was allowed to use the field in which he was wont to assemble his boys. He did not know where to take them on Easter Sunday. Meanwhile they went on pilgrimage to the Capuchin Church of the Madonna di Campagna to beg, Our Lady to obtain for them another place for their Oratory meetings. After Mass he delivered a little ferverino in which he compared them to birds whose nest had been destroyed. They did not pray in vain; some of the boys, his biographer avers, were “angels of virtue.” He prayed very fervently himself, for he was pensive and melancholy, and his eyes filled with tears when he reflected that he had no place, no fold into which to gather his young flock. When they went back to the field in the evening and the boys were at play, while he stood, sad and isolated, in a corner, one Pancrazio Soave told him Francesco Pinardi had an outhouse to let. He went at once to inspect it, terms were agreed upon, and when he announced the glad news to the boys they leaped for joy, and then recited the Rosary in thanksgiving to their heavenly benefactress.

The new Oratory was inaugurated on Easter Sunday, April 12, 1846, when it was blessed and dedicated under the invocation of Saint Francis de Sales by Don Bosco, who celebrated Mass, attended by many youths from the vicinity and other persons from the city; the Archbishop, to testify his satisfaction, renewing the faculties he had already given him. It was a very modest edifice, a sort of shed, about three feet high at one end and a little higher at the other. When he first entered it, he had to be very careful to avoid knocking his head against the low roof. The floor was damp ground, and when it rained it was filled with loughs of water. Rats infested it and bats fled around his head. Yet the good man was satisfied. “This shall be the chapel,” he said. “It will be poor, like the stable at Bethlehem.” It was transformed in a week. Workmen dug out the soil, the walls were strengthened, and lofts were erected. Don Bosco, his boys and the owner lent a hand. Two poor rooms behind the altar served as sacristy and repository. It was the second chapel of the Oratory and was used for divine worship for about six years. But his “dreams” were confirmed; he was established in the place reserved for him through the goodness of Our Lady.

More youths and little boys were attracted in various ways to the Oratory until their numbers increased to 700; and several ecclesiastics who had abandoned it returned. Lay helpers supported him with their money and personal service. The boys became more assiduous and orderly. “It was marvelous,” relates Don Bosco, “the way in which a multitude of whom I knew little at first and of the greater portion of whom it might be truly said that they were sicut equus et mubus quibus non est intellectus, behaved. It should be added, however, that in the midst of that great ignorance I was struck with their great respect for the things of the Church, for its sacred ministers, and a great eagerness to learn the dogmas and precepts of religion.”

Pinardi, in making some improvement, dug up a good deal of earth which formed a heap of a few paces from the chapel, upon which the boys used to play at soldiers. To some one who urged him to have it removed, Don Bosco answered: “It will be removed another time when in this very place will be built a large chapel.” As a number of boys were chanting a solemn air, he imposed silence and said: “My dear children, listen to a thought that has come into my mind. Here where we now are some day or other will rise the high altar of our church, to which you will come to receive Holy Communion and sing the praises of the Lord.” Five years afterward the church was begun, and the high altar erected in the very, spot pointed out by Don Bosco, although the architect who designed it was unaware of this.

Notwithstanding the order, discipline and tranquillity that reigned in the Oratory, the Marquis Cavour persisted in regarding this assemblage of boys dangerous and wanted to disperse them. He again sent for Don Bosco, to whom he said: “My dear Abbe, it is time to put an end to it; and, since you have not thought it convenient to take my advice, I am constrained, for your good, to put in force my authority and require the closing of your Oratory.”

“Pardon me, Marquis,” replied Don Bosco, “but I think it my duty to respectfully repeat that if the Oratory should be closed it is to be feared that God’s malediction would fall upon me and you.” While the Marquis displayed great animosity, the priest displayed dignified courage. The former was resolved to carry his point, and, unable to get the Archbishop to forbid Don Bosco the exercise of his ministry, hoped to have the Oratory closed by a formal condemnation by the municipal authorities. In this he failed; but, still hostile, he sent again for Don Bosco, to whom he said: “You are working with a good intention, but the good you are doing is full of danger. On the other hand, I am obliged to safeguard public peace; henceforth I shall have yourself and your assemblies overlooked. At the first compromising act I shall have your rogues dispersed, and you �shall be accountable to me for whatever may occur.” It was the last time they met, for subsequently the Marquis was suddenly stricken with an attack of gout which, after much suffering, took him to his grave. Meanwhile every Sunday some civic guards spent the day at the Oratory, spying everything that was done within and without the church, but instead of hearing or seeing anything to find fault with, were much edified. Finally the Marquis was satisfied with the explanations given him, recognized the utility of these gatherings for the moral benefit of youth, and promised to let the Oratory alone.

Don Bosco fell ill. The Marchioness Barolo, fearing that his brain was weakening, wanted him to have some months of absolute rest in a salubrious atmosphere, and offered him a sum of 5,000 lire for the purpose. While thanking her for her charitable offer, he said: “I did not become a priest to take care of my health.” She was not satisfied. She had seriously hoped that, going away from Turin for a long time, he would forget all about his boys, who had troubled her by the noise they made, and she decided, in her own mind, that he should only concern himself with her institutions. “Absorbed in her own works,” comments Father Lemoyne, “she had not understood the spirit of Don Bosco, as she had not known how to understand that of the Venerable Giuseppe Benedetto Cottolengo. She put before him the alternative of giving up the Oratory or his chaplaincy of her hospital, giving him time to think of it before answering. “My answer is already thought out and I am ready to give it to you now,” he replied. “You have much money and means, and you will find as many priests as you wish to take charge of your institutes. It is not so with the poor boys, and I cannot and ought not abandon them. If that was done the fruit of many years would be lost. Therefore henceforth I shall willingly do what I can for the Refuge, but shall give up my regular office to devote myself more to my work for the boys.”

“Then you prefer your vagabonds to my Institutes?” she exclaimed. “If so, you are dismissed from this moment. I shall procure your successor this very day.” He observed that such a precipitate proceeding might give rise to suspicions, and it was agreed there should be a delay of three months, during which, through the medium of Silvio Pellico, her secretary, and Don Borel, she renewed her proposition; returning to the charge directly or indirectly. Once when she visited the humble chapel, it seemed to her still more inexplicable that he should refuse her generous offer. “What can you do here?” she said, “if I do not come to your aid? I know you haven’t a penny! And with all that won’t you accede to my proposal? So much the worse for you! Think well before deciding it: it concerns your whole future!” Another time she said to him: “You are in great straits, is it not true?”

“Oh, no!” he replied affably, but looking grave and reserved. “I didn’t come to talk to you of money! I know your intentions and I don’t wish to disturb you, the more so as I don’t need anything and – if you will permit me to say it without intending to offend you – I have no need of you either, Signora Marchesa!”

“Really, eh?” she said. “Here’s a proud man!”

“No,” he said quietly, “I don’t seek your money and though you know I am necessarily straitened and don’t make a move to help me, I am of quite a different mind towards you. So, making an inadmissible supposition, if the Signora Marchesa should fall into poverty and needed my help, I would take the mantle off my shoulders and the bread from my mouth to succor her.”

The lady was for a moment confused; but presently, with her customary vivacity, pursued: “I know it, I know it, that you persist in not having need of me and not wanting my favors! Canon Cottolengo, too, did the same, he did not want my money!”

It also grieved the Marchioness to see the failure of her pet project of forming a kind of congregation of priests to whom she wished to confide her establishments with Don Bosco, who possessed the necessary gifts to realize it, as its director; she, so powerfully supported by the King and all the authorities, her wealth, the nobility of her family, the popularity she acquired by her beneficence, could not but feel baffled at the insuperable resistance of Don Bosco. With all that, she was an eminently pious lady and really sincerely humble, for she always knelt and asked his blessing at his coming and going. He had, however, decided at the end of three months, to leave the hospital, which meant relinquishing his apartments at the Refuge. In addition to his apostolate among youth, to which he was so self-sacrificingly devoted, he found another sphere for the exercise of his indefatigable zeal and ardent charity in ministering to prisoners under sentence of death, his exhortations being extraordinarily efficacious. In the midst of this very trying mission he was stricken with a grave illness which threatened to be fatal. The last sacraments were administered and the boys, divided into squadrons, alternately kept vigil from morning till night in the sanctuary of the Consolata, praying to Our Lady to preserve the life of their loving father and friend, in which they were joined by his mother and his brother Joseph, who hastened from Becchi to Turin. One night, which looked as if it would be his last, Don Borel prevailed upon him to pray for his own recovery. To console him, he said in a feeble voice: “Lord, if it be pleasing to You, cure me”; while, as he himself narrates, he mentally prayed thus: “Non recuso labor em; if I can be of service to some soul, O Lord, at the intercession of Your most holy Mother, be pleased to restore me to such health as may not be contrary to the good of my soul!”

“That is enough,” said Don Borel, “now I am certain she will cure you!” A short time afterwards he fell into a sleep from which he awoke out of danger, as if restored to a new life. Doctors Botta and Cafasso, on coming to pay their morning visit, not without fear of finding him dead, felt his pulse and said: “Dear Don Bosco, thank Our Lady of Consolation, who has taken good care of you.” There was great rejoicing, particularly among the boys, at this unexpected recovery. They wept for joy, Don Bosco mingling his tears with theirs. When he reappeared in the Oratory he said to them: “I thank you for the proofs of love you have given me during my illness; I thank you for the prayers offered for my cure. I am persuaded that God has granted me life at your prayers; and, therefore, gratitude requires that I should spend it all to your advantage. I promise to do so as long as the Lord shall leave me on this earth, and do you on your part help me.” There was exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and they chanted the Te Deum in thanksgiving. Then he went to Castelnuovo and Becchi to recuperate; until, warned in one of his “dreams” of the backsliding of two of his boys who relapsed into a disorderly life, he returned to Turin, accompanied by his mother, who he declared was a saint, and who said to him: “My dear son, you may imagine how much it affects me to leave this house, your brother and the other dear ones, but if it appears to you that such a thing may please the Lord, I am ready to follow you.” They made the journey together on foot in the primitive manner, discoursing of God and divine things. It was November 3, 1846. The apostle of youth, destined to perform prodigies of charity for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, was at last free to carry out that admirable programme which to human eyes scented daring, even impossible. “If rich, you shall not see me!” his mother had said. But now, seeing him sacrificing himself for the poorest, piously and generously she followed him. The holocaust of mother and son could not be more complete.

He next busied himself, inter alia, with the organization and coordination of his schools in which were taught Christian doctrine, sacred history, languages and music, the experiment being very successful, so that Professor Rayneri of the Royal University, said: “If you wish to see teaching admirably put in practice go to the Oratory of Saint Francis de Sales and observe what Don Bosco is doing.” The City Council, after sending a commission to investigate them, set aside an annual subsidy of 300 lire “for the schools of the poor children of the people,” and the Cavaliere Gonella, director of the Mendicita istruita, was so impressed by the method of teaching that he obtained from the administrators of that pious institution 1,000 lire to be used by Don Bosco for the advantage of the schools and the benefit and encouragement of the pupils. It being the first time in Italy that were opened public schools of music and that singing was taught in classes to many pupils simultaneously, it excited much interest and curiosity. When the pupils were sufficiently instructed they formed choirs who sang in theatres and churches. This initial school produced musicians of notable ability, not a few clever organists, and a hundred other schools that enhanced its reputation; while the Turin local authorities voted Don Bosco a prize of 1,000 lire for his promotion of music. “The encouragements I received from the civic and ecclesiastical authorities – among whom King Charles Albert and Monsignor Fransoni continued to be in the first line – the zeal with which many persons came to my aid with temporal means and the cooperation, are an indubitable sign,” he records, “of the blessings of the Lord and the public approbation of men.”

But the teaching of Christian doctrine was uppermost in his mind and his primum motor. His real for its teaching was marvelous. He would roam the streets and squares, go into lodging houses, cafes, shops and ascend the scaffoldings of houses and mansions in process of construction to beg the contractors and foremen to send their boys to catechism. People would stop to look at this unusual sight, and while the one exclaimed, “Is that priest mad?” others would ask, “Whoever can he be?” to which some one would answer: “Oh, it’s Don Bosco in search of boys!” Shortly after noon during the days of Lent a boy would get hold of a big bell and go ringing it round about the Oratory. Its sound, penetrating into the houses, would remind the occupants of the duty of sending the youngsters to catechism, and in a few minutes troops of boys would be crowding from all parts and inviting other boys to join them to the Oratory. To stabilize on an organic basis the discipline and administration of the Oratory, he instituted the Company of Saint Louis, for the mutual edification of the boys, that by the frequentation of the Sacraments and giving each other good example they might become confirmed in virtuous living. The Archbishop, who approved of it by a rescript of April 12, 1847, wished his own name to be the first enrolled. Don Bosco compiled for them a pious manual called “II Giovane Provveduto.”

The enemy of all good could not behold so much being done in the way that saints do it without venting his rage, which he did by nightly noises, to the great detriment of poor Don Bosco’s health; but when he prayed to the Blessed Virgin he was freed from this disturbance. His room was regarded by all the boys as a sanctuary in which Our Lady was pleased to make known to him her will. His mother, who was of the same opinion, had removed her bed into the room adjoining his, persuaded that he spent part of the night in prayer and suspecting that, then took place something surprising which she could not well define. She told the boy Giacomo Bellia that once, in the small hours before dawn, she heard her son talking in his room and some one answering; she listened, but could understand nothing. In the morning, although she was certain no one could have got in, she asked him who he was talking to, and he answered: “I talked with Luigi Comollo.”

“But Comollo is dead years ago!” she said.

“Still it was so,” he replied, without giving any other explanation. His face was as red as fire, his eyes sparkled; it was evident that a great overmastering idea was in his mind, and he was agitated with an emotion that lasted for more than a day.

But more surprising was the fact he narrated himself for the first time, seventeen years after it took place. One evening, in 1864, after the conferences he was wont to give in his anteroom to members of his Pious Society, having spoken of detachment from the world and one’s family to follow our Lord’s example, he continued: “I have already told various things in the form of a dream from which we may conclude how much the most holy Madonna loves and helps us; but since we are here alone by ourselves, that every one of us maybe assured that the Virgin Mary favors our Pious Society and that it may animate us to labor still more for the glory of God, I shall tell you not now the description of a dream, but what the Blessed Virgin herself was pleased to make visible to me. She wishes that we should put our trust in her. I am speaking to you in all confidence, but I wish that what I am) going to tell you be not divulged to others of the house or outside the Oratory in order that it may not give malignant critics something to talk about. One day in the year 1847, having meditated much on the way of doing good, particularly to the advantage of youth, the Queen of Heaven appeared to me and led me into an enchanting garden. There was a rustic, but very beautiful and large portico in the form of a vestibule. Trailing plants adorned it and festooned the pilasters, and branches very rich in foliage and flowers stretching above the one towards the other their tops and interlacing, spread over it like a handsome veil. This portico led to a beautiful avenue, upon which one saw in the distance a bower charming to look upon, supported and covered with marvelous roses in full bloom. The ground was also completely covered with roses. The Blessed Virgin said to me: ‘Take off your shoes!’ And when I had taken them off, she added: ‘Go forward to that bower, that is the way to reach it rapidly.’ I was glad to have put off the shoes, for I would have been sorry to trample those roses, they were so lovely. I began to walk, but suddenly I felt that those roses concealed very sharp thorns, so that my feet bled. Then, having gone hardly a few paces, I was obliged to stop and retrace my steps. ‘We want shoes here,’ I said to my guide. ‘Certainly,’ I was answered, ‘we want good shoes.’ I put on my shoes, and resumed my way with a certain number of companions who made their appearance at that moment, asking to accompany me. They kept behind under the arbor, which was of incredible loveliness; but as I advanced it appeared narrow and low. Many branches arose lofty and recounted like festoons, others hung perpendicularly above the path. From the stems of the roses other branches spread out here and there at intervals horizontally; others formed sometimes a thicker hedge, obstructing a part of the way; others wound a little higher from the ground. They were, however, all covered with roses, and I saw nothing but roses at the sides; roses above and roses between my steps. While I felt acute pains in the feet and sometimes hesitated, I touched the roses here and there and felt that thorns still sharper were concealed under them. Nevertheless, I went forward. My feet got entangled in the branches resting on the ground and remained stuck there; I removed a transversal branch that obstructed my progress, but to get clear of it grazed the back and pricked myself and was bleeding not only in the hands, but over the whole body. The roses which hung above concealed a great quantity of thorns that stuck into my head. However, encouraged by the Blessed Virgin, I pursued my way; but, from time to time, was pierced with punctures more acute and penetrating, which gave me a still more painful spasm. Meanwhile all, and they were very numerous, who saw me walking through that garden, said: ‘Oh! how Don Bosco is always walking over roses; he is advancing very quietly; all is going well with him.’ But they did not see the thorns that lacerated my poor limbs. Many clerics, priests and laity whom I invited set about following me joyfully, allured by the loveliness of those flowers; but when they realized that they had to walk over prickly thorns and that these protruded everywhere, they began to cry out, saying: ‘We have been deceived!’ I answered, ‘Whoever wants to walk pleasantly over roses, go back; let the others follow me.’ Not a few went back. Having gone a good part of my way, I turned to glance at my companions. But what was my grief when I saw that a portion of these had disappeared and another had already turned their backs on me and withdrawn. I at once retraced my steps to call them back, but in vain, for they would not listen to me. Then I began to lament and complain excessively, saying: ‘Is it possible that I must traverse all this weary way alone? But I was soon consoled. I saw advancing towards me a troop of priests, clericals and seculars, who said to me, ‘Behold us; we are all yours, ready to follow you.’ I preceded them, leading the way; only some lost courage and stopped, but a large portion went with me to the end. Having traversed the whole length of the garden, I found myself in another very pleasant one, where my few followers, all attenuated, ruffled and bleeding, surrounded me. Then a fresh wind arose, and by its breath all were cured; another breath of wind and as by enchantment I found myself encircled by an immense number of youths and clerics, lay helpers and also priests, who set to work along with me in guiding those youths. I recognized several by their features, many I did not yet know. Presently, having reached an elevated place in the garden, I saw before me a monumental edifice surprising in the magnificence of its architecture and, crossing its threshold, I entered a very spacious hall of such magnificence that no palace in the world could boast of its equal. It was all strewn and adorned with thornless roses in full bloom, from which emanated a most delightful fragrance. Then the Blessed Virgin, who was my guide, asked me, ‘Dost thou know what all thou now seest and hast seen signifies?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I pray you explain it to me.” Then she said to me, ‘Know that the way traversed by thee amid roses and thorns signifies the charge thou hast of taking care of youth; you must make your way with the sandals of mortification. The thorns on the earth represent sensible affections, the human sympathies or antipathies that distract the teacher from the true end, injure him, stop him in his mission, hinder him from proceeding and attaining the crown of eternal life. The roses are the symbol of the ardent charity that should distinguish thee and all thy helpers. The other thorns signify the obstacles, sufferings and unpleasantnesses that you encounter. But do not lose courage. With charity and mortification thou wilt overcome everything and reach the thornless roses!’ The Mother of God had hardly finished speaking, when I came to myself and found myself in my room.”

The servant of God concluded by affirming that after that he clearly saw the path he was to tread; the opposition and artifices with which they would try to stop him were revealed to him, and that though he would have to walk through many thorns, he was certain of the will of God and of the success of the great undertaking confided to him.

He next addressed his attention to a phase of rescue work which strongly appealed to him and to his mother, called by his boys “Mamma Margherita.” Many little Turin boys and strangers to the city, well disposed to lead moral and industrious lives, were in want of food, clothing and temporary shelter. For one of these, a homeless orphan, who had come from Valesia in search of work and was penniless, and had nowhere to go, they improvised a bed in the kitchen. “This,” writes Father Lemoyne, “was the first bed and the first dormitory of the Salesian Hospice in Turin, which was to reach and contain more than a thousand rescued ones.” Mamma Margherita, who had a homely talk with this first orphan boy on the necessity of work, fidelity and religion, introduced the very useful practice maintained in the Oratory and extended to all the Salesian houses, that of impressing every night before they retired to rest some good word or thought on the minds of the inmates.

At the close of 1847 a new Oratory was opened in the vicinity of the Porto Nuova and was dedicated to Saint Louis Gonzaga, the angelic patron of youth, who was also the name saint of Archbishop Fransoni, a tower of strength to Don Bosco’s work, which he upheld through good and evil report. The new Oratory had to encounter snares and difficulties, but from the first feast days there was a marvelous rush of boys.

At this time Don Bosco’s mind was sadly preoccupied. One day as he was celebrating Mass at the Institute of the Good Shepherd, and was at the elevation, a Sister gave a loud cry which disturbed the whole community. He, too, was very much impressed, and the Sister came to ask him to excuse her for the disturbance she caused. “What did you see?” he inquired. “Jesus in the host in the form of an infant dripping with blood,” she answered. “And what would that mean?” he queried. “I don’t know,” she said. “Know,” said he, “that it indicates that a great persecution of the Church is being organized.”

Troubled times were near. They were on the eve of a revolutionary epoch. The next year, 1848, was to be signalized by insurrections in Ireland, France, Prussia, Austria and Italy. Pius IX. in Rome and Charles Albert in Sardinia thought to stem the torrent by concessions to the liberal movement which had begun to transform Europe; but it broke down every breakwater, every barrier. The Supreme Pontiff, more saint than statesman – who stood at the parting of the ways, when the receding old order was about to give place to the new – saw his benevolent efforts foiled and had to flee to Gaeta. Mazzini and Garibaldi set up their short-lived Roman Republic in the City of the Popes, which was desecrated and demoralized. Don Bosco, by his tact and firmness, avoided being drawn into the whirlpool and vortex of politics, as he continued to do all through his life, and had his reward in his relations with the civil power which, though at first it put obstacles in his way, ended by recognizing the great public service he rendered the State by his social reforms. Faithful to the Papacy, he taught the boys when, in the beginning of his Pontificate, the name of Pius IX. was greeted with tumultuous applause, not to cry Viva Pio Nona! but Viva il Papa! for certain people wished to separate the Sovereign of Rome from the Pontiff, the man from his divinely bestowed dignity. Again, when on February 8 Charles Albert promulgated his promise of a measure to give effect to civil reform, and the Turin authorities proposed to celebrate it with a public function, and the Marquis Roberto d’Azeglio invited Don Bosco to participate along with his boys. He refused, saying that he resolved to keep aloof from everything that had reference to politics. Urged by some members of the Council to manifest his own opinions and to do something that would please the liberal party, he gave a non-committal reply. To refuse would be construed into a declaration of enmity to Italy, to agree would imply the acceptance of principles which he judged fraught with disastrous consequences; therefore, he neither approved nor disapproved. Though they said, “Don’t you know that your existence is in our hands?” he remained firm.

Soon after there were hostile demonstrations against some religious orders and cries of “Death!” were heard under the windows of the refectory of Saint Francis of Assisi and of the Marchioness of Barolo’s. From the Pinardi house they heard the indecent clamors of drunken men, ready for mischief, and of abandoned women who poured out all sorts of insults against the Refuge, threatening to drive the inmates out and burn it. Don Bosco then ran the greatest risks. A shot, aimed at his heart, was actually fired at him from a wall one Sunday when he was catechizing the boys, but it failed to hit its mark. A universal outcry followed the detonation; then profound silence. With pallid faces all the boys fixed their eyes on the servant of God. The bullet had torn his cassock and sleeve and spent itself against the chapel wall. With great composure and presence of mind, to quell the indescribable terror this sacrilegious outrage had aroused among the boys, he smilingly remarked: “What! are you afraid of a bad joke? It is a jest and nothing more. Certain ill-instructed people never know how to make a joke without offering offense. Look! they have torn my cassock and spoiled the wall! But let us turn to our catechism.”

He got to know who his would-be assassin was. Meeting him one day he reflected that, if he showed he knew all about him – and he was a scoundrel guilty of other misdeeds – he would not have the courage to approach him, fearing denunciation. He asked him what motive impelled him to play such an ugly joke. Surprised, but not humiliated, the wretch replied: “I wanted to see if the gun would make a good shot . . . against the wall of your house.”

“You’re an unfortunate fellow!” said Don Bosco, “however, I forgive you from my heart and wish to be your friend!’ ‘

The political tumult outside had its reverberation within the Oratory. Piedmont had declared war on Austria, and between enthusiasm for war aroused by its proclamation and enthusiasm for liberty evoked by the new statute minds were everywhere in a whirl of excitement. The boys, particularly the grown lads, caught the contagion which was fostered in every borgo by Associations of Youth, called in the local dialect Cocche. Every one who was for the war took sides against those who were opposed to it, with the result that the two factions had often pitched battles. In one of these near the Oratory Don Bosco intervened; but, finding words unavailing to quell the clamor and separate the combatants, determined to stop it at any cost. Endowed with strength of muscle as well as strength of will, he threw himself into their midst, while projectiles of all kinds were flying about, and put both the belligerents to flight; thus putting an end to the disorder. “I remained master of those fields,” he says, “and no one ventured to return.” Then he pondered: “What have I done? I might have been hit by one of those stones and stricken to earth. But neither in this or in similar cases has any evil consequence befallen me, except once when I received a blow of a wooden shoe in the face and bore the mark of it for some months. When one relies on the goodness of his cause, he need fear nothing. I am made like that; when I see God offended, to hinder it I would not retire or yield, even if I had to face an army against me.”

They invaded the region of Valdocco, and he often went into the midst of the tumult, the stones sometimes striking him on the shoulders or the limbs; but the cry, “Here’s Don Bosco, here’s Don Bosco!” was enough for the greater portion to disperse and for the others to gather round him. While he spoke to them, the already open blades of knives, were concealed in sleeves, and the stones dropped silently down from the hand. The Waldenses, abusing the liberty accorded to them by the edict of June 19, sought to make proselytes. The first to taste the bitter fruits of this emancipation were Don Bosco and the Oratory of Saint Louis, not far from which the heretics spread their snares. On the first Sunday fifty of the five hundred boys who frequented the Oratory fell away, enticed into the enemy’s camp; on the second Sunday the biggest boys made themselves the guardian angels of the younger; and on the third Sunday only thirty or forty made their appearance in that camp. The boys obediently returned like lambs into their own fold. The enraged heretics besieged with volleys of stones the Oratory, which looked like a fortress they wanted to take by assault. The eldest boys lost patience and, despite every danger, sallied out and drove the assailants off with the same missiles. This scene was renewed for months.

A far different scene was witnessed at the Oratory of Saint Francis de Sales on the celebration of the feast of Saint Louis when the procession was headed by a young artisan carrying a banner, the tassels being held by two youths of the noblest families, while at either side of the statue were seen two notable personages, one of whom held in his hand a lighted taper, and the other the Giovane Proweduto, and both sang, along with the sacred ministers, the hymn, “Infensus hostis gloria,” in honor of Saint Louis. They were the Marquis Gustavus and Count Camillus Cavour. The Marquis wished to be enrolled in the Company of Saint Louis and, kneeling before the altar in the midst of the boys, read in a loud voice the formula of aggregation. The two brothers, seeing how Don Bosco had the ability and constancy to overcome so much opposition, became his admirers. They often visited him, and there was no feast of any importance at the Oratory in which they did not take part. They delighted to see so many boys playing peaceably, well instructed and well treated, rescued from evil ways, and at such a sight Camillus often exclaimed: “What a grand and useful work is this! It would truly be desirable that there was one at least in every city; thus many boys would escape imprisonment; and Government would not have to spend so much money in keeping them in jail, and would have instead many well trained citizens, who, with a handicraft or trade, would lead honest lives.”

The work of the Oratories, which gained such high recognition, had then triumphed. It was in full bloom, but there were still thorns beneath the rose leaves. All his associates did not think as he did. One day two priests, attached to the Oratory of Saint Louis, where the boys had resisted the allurements of the proselytizers with such constancy in the faith, asked for permission to lead these very boys with banners and the tricolor cockade through the streets. He refused. Joined by others, they declared themselves openly against Don Bosco, and the next Sunday led out the boys of the Oratory of the Porta Nuova. Afterwards an effort was made at the Valdocco Oratory to get the boys to drop the Catholic paper, the Armonia, for the liberal Opinione. When he was addressing his juvenile auditors, he was interrupted for half an hour with shouts of “Emancipation, independence, liberty!” A rebellious squadron of about a hundred boys were led into revolt, Don Bosco having dispensed with the aid of the hitherto co-workers, who made all this trouble. The latter detached all the big boys from his. Priests and clerics for one motive or another abandoned him, with one or two exceptions, notably Don Borel. Censorious tongues criticized his conduct with unsparing hostility. Carlo Gastini, an orphan in the Valdocco Hospice, heard him say: “All are abandoning me, but I have God with me, and whom should I fear? The work is His and not mine, and He will think of carrying it on.” He did. All the boys, little by little, returned. He had the patience and faith of the saints and he had their reward. In the midst of all these trials he remained heroically tranquil. His “dreams” and the vision of the garden of roses had prepared him for them. After the return of the young prodigals, the number of boys increased.

While perfect peace prevailed at Valdocco, some of his cooperators, fearing that renewal of the recent disturbances would ruin a work so well begun, proposed that the existing Oratories and those that might be founded should be formed into a confederation governed by a kind of assembly; but Don Bosco, who had other views, would not approve of it. “Then,” observed Durando, a learned priest of the mission, “you mean to found an ecclesiastical congregation.”

“Be it a congregation, be it what you like, I want to erect Oratories, chapels, churches, catechism classes and schools, and without a person to help me I can do nothing.”

“But how can you undertake such a thing? You will want sites and money in abundance.”

“Not merely wanting! We desire them. And they shall be ours.”

Durando went away, saying there was no reasoning with him.

It was among the boys he sought and found the first collaborators and continuators of his work. In 1849 he selected seventy out of the hundred who frequented the Valdocco Oratory and got them to make the spiritual exercises to see if any of them would show signs of a vocation to the priesthood. He took four, to whom he said: “I want to collect boys who are willing to take up the work of the Oratory along with me. Will you consent to be my assistants?”

“In what way can we help you?” they asked.

“We will begin to form a little elementary school,” he answered. “I will there teach you the first rudiments of the Latin language, and if such be the will of God, who knows but in time you may become priests.”

When a third Oratory was added, that of Valdocco became like the Seminary of the archdiocese and of Piedmont, and was such for twenty years, so that a large number of these boys, through the zeal and at the expense of Don Bosco, were enabled to pursue the usual course of studies, receive ordination, and become priests in various dioceses.

The work went bravely on. The Minister of the Interior was petitioned to subsidize it. A commission of three Senators was sent to Valdocco in January, 1850, to report on it. They found more than five hundred boys on the playground. “What a beautiful sight!” exclaimed Count Sclopio.

“Beautiful indeed!” responded the Marquis Pallavicini.

“Fortunate Turin!” added Count Collegno, “if several such institutes should be raised within it!”

“Then,” pursued Sclopio, “our eyes would not so often be confronted with the disagreeable sight of so many wretched youths scouring the streets and squares on festive days, growing up in ignorance and evil ways.” The greatest praise was given to Don Bosco. “His work,” exclaimed Sclopio, “is truly philanthropic and of great social importance. The government ought to promote and support such works; and for his comfort I tell him that the Intendant and all the royal family appreciate this work and will give it their protection.”

“These are miracles of Catholic charity,” declared Palavicini.

“Signor Don Bosco,” said Count Sclopio, as he was taking his departure, “I am not wont to use flattery, but with all the sincerity of my heart, and in the name of of my colleagues, I confess to you that we are leaving, highly satisfied; and as Catholics and citizens and Senators of the Kingdom we applaud your work and wish it may prosper and extend.” The proposal received the approval of the Senate; and from that day the Oratory and Hospice were favorably regarded by the government, which sent them subsidies. During a local disturbance arising out of the Constitutional Charter, when the populace were about to make a descent upon Valdocco, one of the demonstrators, who had had experience of Don Bosco’s benevolence, harangued them, saying: “Hear me, my friends! Some would wish to go down to Valdocco to groan Don Bosco. Take my advice and don’t go. Being a working day, you’ll only find with him his old mother and some poor rescued boys. In place of crying out, ‘Death to him!’ we should cry out, ‘Long life to him!’ for Don Bosco loves and helps the children of the people!” Another added: “Don Bosco is not a partisan of any one! He is a philanthropist! He is a man of the people! Let us leave him in peace! Let us not go to him to cry out ‘viva!’ or ‘morte!’ and let us go elsewhere.” These words stopped the tumultuous crowd which went to deafen the ears of the Dominicans and Barnabites.

Count Camillus Cavour was then all for the Oratory, and it was wonderful to see how the servant of God had the support of personages otherwise seemingly adversaries of the Church, or rather of the temporal power of the Papacy. At first sight it might seem that their large promises of help for his pious undertakings, their proffers of signal honors, their granting of many of his requests would dangerously put to the test his piety, fidelity to the Holy See and his religious principles. But Don Bosco, with heroic fortitude and without a shadow of human respect, always remained the most faithful supporter of the Church’s cause, which is the cause of God. Count Camillus not only often visited him, but had him frequently at his table as an honored guest. “I was not too easily induced to take my seat at the Count’s table, notwithstanding his pressing invitations: but as I sometimes had to treat with him on important affairs, it was necessary that I should go to his house or that of the Minister,” he notes. “But often, when he was already Minister, he told me resolutely that he did not wish to give me audience at dinner or lunch hour, and that when I needed some favor from him there was always a place for me at his table.” This was because they could there converse with greater freedom than in the official residence or offices, where there were too many people. His brother, the Marquis Gustavus, fixed the same time for his receptions.

Don Bosco founded in Turin the first conference of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society on the model of the parent establishment in France, begun in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam. It was a charitable work in harmony with his own, particularly that phase of it which found visible expression in the Hospice, in which he sheltered so many orphaned and destitute stray waifs. On July i, 1850, he inaugurated the Society of Mutual Help, the genesis of those innumerable societies or Union of Catholic Works which then flourished in Italy. The main object was to counteract the various associations inspired by Freemasonry, which under the guise of charity and philanthropy, tended to sap or undermine the faith of the people and withdraw them from the influence of the Church. One day two elegantly dressed gentlemen approached Giuseppe Brosio, of the Society of Mutual Help, and offered him about 600 lire, and promised to secure him an important position, if he would give up the Oratory and draw away his companions, but he indignantly refused, saying: “Don Bosco is my father and I would not abandon or betray him for all the gold in the world!” At intervals they renewed the offer, which was always rejected.

In 1851 was completed the first decade of the foundation of the work of the Oratories when, as they carried the founder on their shoulders in triumph, a young student exclaimed: “O Don Bosco, if one could see every part of the world and in each of them so many Oratories!” He answered: “Who knows if a day will not come when the sons of the Oratory will be scattered over the whole world!” He was already preparing to bring about that consummation. On February 2 his four first clerics were habited when, auspiciously, they kept the feast of Saint Francis de Sales, under whose patronage the work had been placed. On the 19th of that month another important step forward was taken, when he agreed to purchase the Pinardi house for 30,000 lire without a penny in his pocket! Rosmini came to his aid by lending him 20,000 lire, the Countess Casazza-Riccardi gave 10,000 lire and Giuseppe Cotta, a banker, added 3,500 lire to cover incidental expenses. In a materialistic and commercial age, in which the science of economics and monopolies with the accumulation of millions ranked first; in the midst of so many speculators, egoists, indifferentists and proud contemners of Divine Providence, God, observes Father Lemoyne, raised up a man who, without capital and unknown in the spheres of commerce, was to carry on his works to colossal proportions, handling huge sums offered through charity and entirely spent for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

The acquisition of the Pinardi house was only the prelude to bigger enterprises. A month afterwards he said to his mother: “Now I wish that we should erect a handsome church in honor of Saint Francis de Sales.”

“But where will you get the money?” she asked.

“You know we have none of our own; everything was spent to provide food and clothing for these poor boys; so, before undertaking the expenses of a church, you ought to think twice, and take counsel with the Lord.”

“That’s exactly what we shall do. If you had the money, would you not give it to me?”

“You may imagine with what pleasure.”

“Now,” concluded her son, “God who is so good, is more generous than you. He has funds all over the world, and for a work that should tend to His glory, I hope He will send me wherewithal in time and place.”

He got an architect to draw a design and put the contract into the hands of Federico Bocca, warning him that sometimes he might not have the money to pay him. “Then we shall proceed more slowly with the work,” said the cautious contractor.

“Oh, no!” he replied, “I want you to get on with it as quickly as possible, and to have the church built within a year.”

“Very well,” said Bocca, “we shall hurry matters on.”

“Then begin,” said Don Bosco. “Here is some money already to go on with; Divine Providence will send us the rest in time.” The Bishops, one of whom thanked the Lord “for having in such perverse times raised up in him a priest full of His Spirit and of holy zeal for the salvation of souls,” wrote him encouraging letters; the King, who contributed 11,000 lire, laid the first stone; when the funds in hand were exhausted he raised more by that time-honored expedient on such occasions – a lottery, organized by a mixed committee which had the enthusiastic concurrence of all classes from royalty downwards. An earthquake that occurred at this time and did great damage throughout the city failed to shake the walls of the new edifice, which was regarded as a special favor from heaven. A very pious boy of thirteen, Gabriel Fassio, one of the ricoverati or rescued waifs sheltered in the Hospice, whose death Don Bosco predicted, after he had received the last sacraments, being in extremis about a year before that, foretold this disaster, repeating: “Woe to Turin! woe to Turin!” Some of his companions asked: “Why woe?”

“Because,” he said, “it is threatened with a great disaster.”


“A horrible earthquake.”

“When will it be?”

“Another year. Oh, woe to Turin on the 26th of April!”

“What should we do?”

“Pray to Saint Louis that he may protect the Oratory and those who inhabit it.” Shortly after he died holily in the Cottolengo Hospital. Witnessing his rare virtues and struck by the apparently inspired tone in which he uttered the word “woe!” the boys were profoundly impressed and respected his advice. It was for this reason, at their request, were added to the prayers said in common morning and night, a Pater, Ave and Gloria, to Saint Louis with the invocation: Ab omni mala libera nos, Domine, a custom always observed in Salesian houses. Out of gratitude for the providential preservation of the Church, Don Bosco allocated half of the proceeds of the lottery to the Cottolengo Hospital. The first conference of Salesian cooperators, who were to be the chief lay promoters of his numerous works, took place on the day of the inauguration of the sacred edifice, for which he wrote an ode, set to music and sung by the boys.

The same unbounded confidence in Divine Providence, the same unfaltering faith, the same splendid audacity, to use a phrase in which a panegyrist extolled an English Bishop,’ characterized the erection of the magnificent church of Our Lady Help of Christians in Turin, his magnum opus as a church-builder. Although very ill in Holy Week, 1863, and ordered by the physicians to remain in his room to take some needful rest, he would not do so, but kept revolving in his mind the erection of a large church in honor of her who, in repeated visions, had foreshown to him churches and houses in large numbers. He said to the cleric Paul Albera (now Don Albera, superior-general of the Salesian Congregation): “Today I have been hearing confessions for a long time, but I hardly know what I said or did, for there was one idea which distracted me so powerfully as to take me almost out of myself. I kept on thinking over the small size of our church and how the boys are almost on top of each other. We shall build another handsomer, larger, magnificent, and will give it the title, Church of ‘Most Holy Mary Help of Christians.’ I haven’t a half-penny, nor do I know where to get the money; but that does not matter; if God wills it, it shall be done. I shall make the attempt, and if it fails, the shame will be wholly mine. They may then say: coepit aedificare et non potuit consummare.” When he again broached the subject, some one said to him: “To build a church without any means in an age so covetous and so self-interested! That would be tempting Providence.”

To this counsel of human prudence he replied: “When we are about to do anything, we should consider first if it is for the greater glory of God; if it is known to be so, let us go ahead and not hesitate, and success will follow.” To Don Cagliero he said: “The present times are so sad that we have special need that the Blessed Virgin should help us to preserve and defend the faith. Do you know another reason?”

Don Cagliero answered: “I believe it will be the mother church of your future society and the centre from whence will emanate our other works in favor of youth.”

“You have divined it,” emphasized Don Bosco. “Most Holy Mary is the foundress and will be the supporter of our works!” Asked where it would be built, he indicated the site in a field opposite that of Saint Francis de Sales’ and with a gesture which signified its large proportions; it was the very spot where had taken place the martyrdom of Saints Salutorius, Adventorius and Octavius, of the Theban Legion. Although he had not yet acquired this site, he was enabled to do so on February 11, 1863, when he at once sent for the distinguished architect, Antonio Spezia, whom he, Dr. Butt, Bishop of Southwark, commissioned to draw out designs for a church of vast dimensions. When this was done he sent the plan with the title, “Church of Our Lady Help of Christians,” to the municipal authorities for their sanction, but, though they at first demurred to the title as “unpopular, inopportune and savoring of bigotry,” by an adroit manoeuvre he overcame the objection and had his way. He would not on any account change the title, for Pius IX had sent him a first donation of 500 francs, which inspired the hope that such a title would be pleasing to the Queen of Heaven. Our Lady was not slow to show that the hope was well founded. An initial expenditure of 4,000 lire was involved in the purchase of the field, which exhausted the exchequer of the Oratory. The economer demurred. “What shall we do?” he asked aghast. “This morning there was not in the house wherewith to pay the postage on a letter.”

“Begin to dig the foundations,” said Don Bosco. “When did we ever begin anything with the money ready beforehand? We must leave something to Providence.”

Called to the bedside of a man who was seriously ill, he counseled him to make a novena to Our Lady for his cure, which was granted, and the grateful recipient of this favor gave him a promised gift of 1,000 francs for the church, just the sum he then needed to pay the workmen who were preparing the site. After that, money poured in from all parts of the world to the extent of over �40,000, almost all of it in thanksgiving for favors obtained through the intercession of Our Lady Help of Christians. The corner-stone was laid on April 27, 1865, by Prince Amadeus of Savoy, and the church was consecrated in 1868; the second of the churches the founder erected, models of very many since built by the Salesians. The first Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of Turin at the high altar, Don Bosco immediately saying a Mass of thanksgiving to Our Lady. On his return to the sacristy he was surrounded by a multitude representative of every class, who congratulated him on the completion of this great undertaking. The sick were brought to him to be healed; devout people came to kiss his hands, the curious to see a man so much talked of, who did wonderful things. A man who had been blind for years had his sight restored and a paralytic recovered the use of his arm; preludes to many marvels wrought by Mary Help of Christians through the intermediary of her fervent and faithful disciple. It was an event of more than local interest; it was of national importance; and during the solemnities that signalized the octave crowds came from a distance, from Milan, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples to this new sanctuary of Our Lady Auxilium Christianorum.

The two Religious Orders, the Salesian Society (now called the Salesian Congregation) and the Daughters of Our Lady Help of Christians, which he founded, secured the continuation of Don Bosco’s multiform work. He never forgot those early “dreams” in which its development was adumbrated.

The idea of an organization, which would be a bond of union to hold together his various institutions, not only originated in his own mind but was impressed upon by others. Archbishop Fransoni often said to him: “What steps will you take to continue your work? You are mortal like other men and, if you don’t provide for them, your Oratories will die with you; and, therefore, it is well that you should think of some way of securing that they shall survive you. Seek, then, a successor who, in due time, will take your place.” Don Cafasso was of the same opinion and said: “For your works a society is indispensable.” Don Savio, who was more explicit, said: “You should found a Religious Order.” He became more and more convinced himself of working more openly through such a society, inheriting his spirit and apostolate. He had already for years been wont to hold conferences of his clerics and the most zealous of the youths who directly co-operated with him. Of one of these held, in the beginning of 1854, Don Rua records: “On the evening of January 26, 1854, there assembled in Don Bosco’s room Don Bosco himself, Rocchietti, Artiglia, Cagliero and Rua, and it was proposed to us, with the help of God and Saint Francis de Sales, to give a proof of the practical exercise of charity towards our neighbor by making a promise, and then, if it would be possible and convenient, to make a vow to the Lord. From that evening the name of Salesians was given to those who proposed or should propose such an exercise.” The Marquis Crispolti thus relates the simple incident which was the actual birth of the Order. “On 25 March 1853, Don Bosco called one of his clerics, Michael Rua, to his room and asked if he felt disposed to make for the term of a year the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; in other words, the vows on which Religious Orders depend for their existence and their strength. Don Bosco volunteered no explanation as to the object of the contract which the young man made. The three virtues were important enough to be their own recommendation and besides, the man who proposed the profession of the vows inspired confidence enough for any sacrifice. Moreover the co-operation and constancy of the young cleric were better secured, and these motives were quite adequate for the step taken. There were no witnesses to it; the two knelt down before a crucifix, and then the first seed was cast that was to grow into an immense tree.”

This Michael Rua – who, as Don Rua, the second superior-general, not many years ago died, as he had lived, like a saint – was no ordinary man. When Don Bosco, in 1845, used to visit the College of Saint Barbara, conducted by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, a little eight-year-old boy there was much attracted by the priest, loving to listen to him. This was Michael Rua, who that year began to frequent the Oratory, joining in the retreat given by Don Bosco at Giaveno in 1850. When he finished his schooling at Saint Barbara’s, Don Bosco advised him to study Latin and found him a teacher. He made rapid progress and when Don Bosco heard of his successfully passing examination, he said: “I have designs on young Rua; he will be of great assistance to me when the time comes.” He received the clerical habit on October 3, 1852, at Becchi, the rector or pastor of which remarked to Don Bosco: “Do you remember when you were a cleric you said: ‘I shall have priests and clerics and young students and artisans and a church,’ and how I answered that you were mad? Now it seems you knew what you were talking about.” On that occasion Don Bosco said, what he afterwards often repeated: “If God had said to me, ‘Imagine a boy adorned with all the ability and virtue you would like, ask Me for him, and I will give him to you,’ I would not have imagined such a rare combination as that possessed by Michael Rua.”

Though he had enrolled its first member, he had not yet definitely decided on the particular form of the contemplated society. It gradually took shape. The Sunday evening conferences had already familiarized his associates with a sort of community life. There were eight clerics among his young assistants upon whom he felt he could count with confidence. Those who filled the chief positions in his Sunday Oratories and in the growing school at Valdocco would form the nucleus of the future Superior Chapter, and there existed regulations and rules directing the work of those who would form a permanent Council. With these as a working basis he constructed the fabric of the Constitutions which should rule the future Congregation. In his judgment it would not undertake practices of the ascetic character associated with other Orders, but would be built principally on the model of the secular clergy.

As he himself put it: “It will preserve the substance of the Religious Orders – the outward appearance is not necessary. In fact, I am of opinion that a society in its simplest form would inspire greater confidence and sympathy, and would, in time, attract a great many subjects, through what I may call its up-to-date character.”

In this he showed great wisdom, great insight into the present day needs of the Church, which the various Congregations seem to have been providentially designed to meet. Freer and more flexible in their character than the old Orders – more or less behind the times, originated when different social conditions existed – they harmonized more with the modern spirit and methods of propagandism. While in essentials unchanged and unchangeable, the Church – ever ancient and ever new – marches with the times and is always modern, destined to live through all ages. Change in this connection does not connote any deviation from the semper eadem, but is illustrative of the approved doctrine of development. Don Bosco was a modern man in his ideas and methods, a man of his time who reflected in his beneficent work, both religious and social, what was best in the age his lot was cast in. His genius was creative; he was no mere revivalist or copyist.

Still the time did not seem opportune or propitious for the foundation of such a congregation. Ideas then dominant in Italy were strongly opposed to it. The belief that the age of the Religious Orders was a thing of the past beyond resuscitation, prevailed. The Cavour-Rattazzi Ministry, in 1855, got a law passed which suppressed the majority of the Religious Congregations in the Sardinian States. A powerful party in a hostile Parliament would be sure to oppose it. How to prevent the nascent Order from being strangled at its birth was a difficulty which seemed insurmountable. Help came from an unexpected quarter, from no less a personage than Urbano Rattazzi himself, then Minister of the Interior, who, in the course of an interview, opened up a conversation on the subject of Don Bosco’s work, to which he was personally well-disposed. “I wish, Signor Don Bosco,” he said, “you may live many years for the training of so many poor boys, but you are mortal, like everybody else, and if you should be wanting what will become of your work? Have you yet thought of that eventuality? And if you have, what steps do you intend to take?” Then he went on: “In my opinion, you ought to select some among the laity and ecclesiastics in your confidence and form them into a society under certain rules, imbue them with your spirit, teach them your system, so that they shall be not only assistants but the continuators of your work.” Don Bosco, having alluded to the suppression of the religious corporations, the Minister replied: “I know all about the law of suppression and its scope. It raises no real difficulty, since you are instituting a society according to the needs of the times and conformable to existing legislation, a society that would not be under a dead hand (mortmain), but a living hand, a society in which every member would retain his civil rights, subject to the laws of the State, pay taxes, etc.; in a word, the new society in the view of the Government, would be nothing else than an association of free citizens, united and living together with a beneficent object.”

“And your Excellency assures me that the Government permits the institution of such a society and allows it to exist?”

“No constitutional and regular Government will hinder the establishment and development of such a society; just as it does not impede but promotes societies of commerce, industry, exchange, mutual benefit and the like. Any associations of free citizens is permissible, provided its scope and acts are not contrary to the laws and institutions of the State. Be easy in your mind; you will have the full support of the Government and of the King, since it concerns a work eminently humanitarian.” On several other occasions he conferred with Don Bosco at the Ministry and continued to support the design which he imagined emanated from himself. In 1876 Don Bosco said: “Rattazzi willingly pointed out how various articles of our rules should be formulated so as to be in keeping with the laws. In fact it may be said that certain precautionary measures to keep us from being molested by the civil powers came entirely from him. But what was pleasing to God and man was not pleasing to the arch enemy of man. One of Don Bosco’s most intimate disciples relates: “We noted how he generally suffered from grave diabolical suggestions every time he undertook some important work for the greater glory of God. One morning, having asked Don Bosco if he had rested well during the night, he replied: ‘Not much, for I was molested by an ugly monster who threw me on the bed and tried, by oppressing, to suffocate me.’ This did not take place only once; Don Bosco said clearly that they were infernal assaults.” On the night when he had finished writing the first rules of the Salesian Society, the fruit of many prayers and much labor, while he indited the concluding phrase – ad majorem Dei Gloriam – the enemy of man appeared to him, moved the table, overthrew the ink-bottle, stained the manuscript with ink, whirled it wildly in the air and let it fall in scattered leaves with a sound so strange as to cause the greatest terror. It was so stained as to be no longer legible, and Don Bosco had to recommence his work, as he told some of his companions.

It was Don Cafasso who first advised him to knit the Society together by the obligation of vows and the approbation of the supreme authority of the Church, an advice repeated by Archbishop Fransoni, who counselled him to lay his plan before the Pope, to whom he gave him a letter of recommendation. Before doing so he put the following question to several Bishops and theologians: “Could not a society, whose aim is to work for the glory of God and which, in the eyes of the Government, is only a civil society, assume at the same time the nature of a religious institute before God and the Church? Could not its members be free citizens and religious at the same time? It appears to me that they could; just as in every State a Catholic is subject to the King or to the Republic and also subject to the Church, faithful to both, observing the laws of both.” The replies were favorable.

Accordingly, accompanied by the young cleric, Michael Rua, as his secretary, he set out for Rome on 18 February 1858, after making his will, as persons were then accustomed to do before going on a long journey; “in order,” he said, “not to leave the Oratory stranded in a way, should it please Providence to summon me to eternity, giving me as food to the fishes of the Mediterranean.” Many wept, fearing they would not see him again; for he was ailing and was so prostrate when he reached Leghorn that he could not get off and proceeded to Civitavecchia, whence he made his way to Rome. When he entered for the first time the unrivalled basilica of Saint Peter’s, that “eternal ark of worship undefiled,” as the Protestant poet, Byron, calls it, he remained for some time in ecstasy, without uttering a word. The first thing that struck him were the marble statues of the founders of the Religious Orders between the pilasters of the great nave. A time was yet to come when his own would find a place there.

On March 9, he and his young companion were admitted to audience, when both kissed the Holy Father’s hand, Rua twice, once for himself and again for the Oratory boys in fulfillment of a promise he had made. The Pontiff motioned to them to arise saying to Don Bosco: “You are a Piedmontese?”

“Yes, Holiness, I am a Piedmontese and at this moment experience the greatest consolation of my life in finding myself at the feet of the Vicar of Jesus Christ.”

“And in what are you engaged?”

“Holiness, I am occupied with the education of youth and Catholic Readings,”

“The instruction of youth was useful at all times, but to-day it is more necessary than ever. There is also another in Turin who is looking after youth.”

The prelate who was on duty in the anteroom had announced the “Abate Bosser,” instead of the “Abate Bosco.” The Pope was amused at this and continued: “What are you doing in your Hospice?”

“A little of everything, Holy Father: I say Mass, preach, hear confessions, hold school; sometimes I have also to go into the kitchen to teach the cook, or to sweep the church!”

The Pope smiled and put various questions about the boys, the clerics, and the Oratories; wished to know the number and names of the priests who helped him and how many collaborated in the Catholic Readings; asked Rua if he was a priest and what he was studying; and, turning again to Don Bosco said with a pleased expression. “I remember the offering sent to me at Gaeta and the tender sentiments with which those boys accompanied it.”

Don Bosco seized the opportunity of expressing the attachment of all those boys for his sacred person and begged him to accept as a sign of it a copy of the Catholic Readings. “Holiness,” he said, “I offer you a copy of these little books in the name of the editors; the binding is the work of the boys of our house.”

“How many boys are there?”

“Holiness, the boys in the house are about 200; the binders 15.”

“Good! I wish to send a medal to each of these.” And, going into another room, he shortly afterwards returned with fifteen little medals of the Immaculata, another larger one for Rua, and a last one, still larger, for Don Bosco. They had knelt to receive the precious presents, and the Holy Father, thinking that Don Bosco had nothing further to say to him, was about to bring the audience to a close when he humbly observed: “Holiness, I shall have something particular to ask of you.”

“Very well,” replied Pius IX. Rua retired and the Pope continued to converse with Don Bosco about the Oratories and their spirit, praised the publication of the Catholic Readings, encouragingly blessed the contributors, and repeated with great complacency: “When I think of those boys I am touched by those thirty lire sent to me at Gaeta! Poor boys, depriving themselves of the money destined for their food and victuals, a great sacrifice for them!”

Don Bosco, with the utmost affectionateness, observed: “Our desire was to be able to do more, and we were greatly consoled when we heard that our humble offering was agreeable to your Holiness. Your Holiness knows that there in Turin there is a numerous troop of children who love you tenderly, and every time they happen to speak of the Vicar of Jesus Christ they do so with the liveliest transports of joy,” The Holy Father listened with satisfaction to these words, and, resuming the conversation about the Oratories, at a certain point observed: “My dear, you have put many things in motion, but when you come to die, what will become of your work?” Don Bosco replied that he had come to Rome precisely to provide for the future of the Oratories and, presenting Monsignor Fransoni’s letter of recommendation, added: “I beg your Holiness to be pleased to give me the basis of an institution compatible with the times and places in which we live.” The Pope, having read the letter which made him aware of the projects and intentions of the founder, exclaimed with great satisfaction: “It seems we are all three of one accord!” and exhorted him to draw up the rules of the pious society according to the design he had in mind, giving him thereon important suggestions. Various other affairs were descanted upon in that audience. Don Bosco asked for other favors which were graciously granted, and Rua, having been readmitted, the Pope blessed them both, saying: “The blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Ghost descend upon you, your companions, your clerics, helpers and benefactors, and all your youths and all your works now and forever, and forever, and forever!”

On Sunday, March 21, he was again sent for at the Vatican. The Pontiff, who desired to converse more fully with him, received him in the most benevolent and paternal manner, and as soon as he saw him, said: “I have thought over your project, and I am convinced that it will be of much good to youth. It is necessary to put it in execution. How can your Oratories maintain themselves without it? And how provide for their spiritual needs? Therefore a good institution in these doleful times seems to me necessary. It should be founded on these bases: as a society with vows, because without vows unity of spirit and of work could not be maintained; but these should be simple and easily dispensed, so that the bad dispositions of some of the associates should not disturb the peace and union of the others; the rules mild and of easy observance; and the form of the habit and pious practices should not make it appear singular in the view of the world; and to this end it would be better to call it a Society instead of a Congregation. Finally, make it your study that every member of it be in the sight of the Church a religious and in civil society a free citizen.”

When Don Bosco presented the manuscript of the Constitutions to Pius IX. he again expressed his approval of the idea that inspired them. It was in this audience the Pope declared his wish to know the history of the Oratory and, thinking the founder must have had some supernatural lights, told him he should relate everything minutely and enjoined him to commit to writing anything extraordinary that had occurred to him, to leave it as a precious record to his sons. Then the conversation turned on other matters, and, inter alia, the Pope put this question to him: “Among the sciences to which you have applied yourself, which pleased you most?”

“Holy Father,” he replied, “my knowledge does not amount to much; that, however, which would please me and which I desire is scire Jesum Christum et hunc crucifixum.” At this reply the Pope remained somewhat thoughtful; and, perhaps wishing to put such a declaration to the test, offered as a token of his esteem and affection to nominate him his Private Chamberlain. The servant of God, who never ambitioned honors, thanked the Pontiff, but added: “Holiness, what a fine figure I would cut in the midst of my boys if I were a Monsignore! My sons would no longer recognize me and give me their full confidence if I were to give myself this title! I would no longer venture to fraternize, now here now there, as I have been doing up to this. And then, on account of this dignity, the world would think me rich and I should no longer have courage to quest for our Oratory and our works. Holy Father, it is better that I should always remain poor Don Bosco.”

The Pope, who could not but admire such humility, which is not too common, after encouraging him to write good books for the people, granted him in perpetuity the faculty of hearing confessions in omni loco Ecclesia and, that he might have more time to devote to his works for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, dispensed him from the obligation of saying the breviary; and, as if this did not fully express the goodness of his fatherly heart, conceded to him every possible faculty in these words: “I grant you all that I can possibly grant you.”

It was Holy Week. As a mark of his particular affection and esteem, the Pope, most amiable and beloved of Pontiffs, had a place �assigned to him in the tribune at Saint Peter’s reserved for diplomatists. Alongside of him was an English nobleman, a Protestant, who was much impressed by the ceremonies. At a certain point, when a soprano from the Sistine Chapel sang a solo so sweetly and penetratingly that Don Bosco was moved to tears, the nobleman, who was enraptured, turned towards him at the close and exclaimed: “Post hoc paradisus!” (Shortly afterwards he was converted, became a priest and then a Bishop.) This was on Palm Sunday. After the Pope had blessed the palms, the diplomatists filed before the Pontifical throne, each ambassador and minister receiving his palm, kneeling, from his Holiness, Don Bosco and Michael Rua among the rest, as the Holy Father wished.

At the third audience on April 6 the Pope told him he had read the manuscript of the Constitutions from the first to the last article, and bade him give it to Cardinal Gaude, who would examine it and it would be referred back to him in due course. Don Bosco saw that Pius IX had added some notes and modifications in his own handwriting. He obtained permission to have the rules sanctioned temporarily, pending their final approval and the concession of several indulgences in favor of his work and those engaged in it. “And now, Holy Father,” he added, “have the kindness to give me a maxim that I may repeat to my boys as a souvenir of the Vicar of Christ.”

“The presence of God!” replied the Pope. “Tell your boys in my name to always regulate their conduct by this thought! And now have you nothing else to ask of me? You certainly desire something else ”

“Holy Father, your Holiness has deigned to grant me what I have asked, and it now only remains for me to thank you with all my heart.”

“Still – still you wish for something else.” Don Bosco remained for some time without uttering a word. Pius IX resumed: “What? Don’t you wish to gladden your boys when you shall return to them?”

“Yes, Holiness.”

“Then wait.” A few moments passed, and in presence of Don L. Murialdo, Michael Rua and the Chancellor of the archiepiscopal Curia of Genoa, who were astonished at the familiarity with which the Pope treated Don Bosco, he opened his secretaire, took from it a large sum in gold and without counting it, gave it to Don Bosco, saying: “Take it and give a good feast to your children.” Having encouraged him to prosecute his work to make an experiment of putting into practice the Constitutions, he closed the audience by again exhorting him to write down minutely what he had told him of supernatural events as well as those of minor importance, but which were connected with the first idea of the Oratories; repeating that he knew it would be a source of comfort at future times to those who would form part of the new institute. A Cardinal having entered while the Pontiff was speaking, his last words to Don Bosco were: “Remember what I have said to you!”

Leaving Rome on April 14, he reached Valdocco on the i6th of the same month and feasted the boys of the three Oratories on June 24, when there was great rejoicing.

At a conference in Don Bosco’s room on December 9, 1859, after they had invoked the light of the Holy Ghost and the assistance of the Blessed Virgin, he announced to them with visible emotion that the hour had come to give form to that society he had long thought of founding; that Pius IX. had encouraged and praised it, that it already existed in the observance of the traditional rules, and to which the majority of those present belonged at least in spirit and some through having made a temporary promise; that the moment had come to declare if they wished to join the pious society which had taken and preserved the name of Saint Francis de Sales, and that at the next conference should assemble only those who intended forming part of it. Only two were absent from the next conference on December 18, when Don Bosco, as “initiator and promoter,” was elected Chief Superior. Thus was happily laid the foundation of the Salesian Pious Society. On January 7, 1860, Pius IX. addressed to Don Bosco a Brief in response to a letter from the founder who had been unjustly suspected of intriguing against the State because, inter alia, in one of his popular publications he had said that “two conspicuous personages* would disappear from the face of the political world.” In the course of this Brief the Pontiff, after alluding to the movement to deprive the Apostolic See of its civil principality, expressed the consolation it afforded him to know that he and other ecclesiastics by the diffusion of good books and other writings were doing all in their power to oppose the enemies of the Church. “There is nothing more excellent than this work,” wrote His Holiness, “and nothing more useful to promote and stimulate piety. The care you have taken of poor boys received into your Hospice is from day to day more happily successful and increases the number of those who may become useful ministers of the Church. Continue the career you have embraced for the glory of God and the utility of the Church. Endure, if it should happen to you, any grave trial and sustain with greatness of soul the tribulations of the present time. Our hope is in God who, through the protection of the Queen of Heaven, Mary the Immaculate Virgin, will deliver us from such great evils and console her afflicted Church, causing it to triumph over its enemies.”

The “grave tribulations” were soon manifest. The suspicions, despite the fact that his works elicited the admiration and gained the favor of many, increased, and they believed, or at least said so, that there was a room in the Oratory at Valdocco full of guns, and the Minister of the Interior, Carlo Luigi Farini, had Don Bosco watched! Four months afterwards the Oratory was subjected to a domiciliary visit on account of an intercepted letter from Archbishop Fransoni, then exiled in Lyons, containing a confidential pastoral to his clergy instructing them how they were to act in the midst of so many conflicts. Knowing nothing of this, three days before the visit, Don Bosco dreamed that he saw a band of rascals enter his room, seize upon his person, rummage among his papers and boxes and turn everything topsy-turvy. One of them looking rather benevolent, said: “Why not put away such or such writing?” Next day he told the dream, treating it as a phantasy; nevertheless, he put several things in order and put away some writings, which might be misinterpreted to his injury. The first visit took place on the vigil of Pentecost, May 26, 1860, when several guards distributed themselves within and an armed guard stood sentinel outside the house. When they demanded to be let into his room, he boldly protested: “I cannot and will not lead you into my room until you let me see who sent you and with what authority and for what reason. Take care you don’t come to acts, for in that eventuality I should summon my sons to my aid. I should have the bells rung and consider you as aggressors and violators of other people’s dwellings and force you to withdraw. You can, it is true, lead me to prison by violence, but in that case you would commit an action blameworthy in the sight of God and man, and perhaps with bad consequences and to your injury.” When it came to the boys’ ears that they were going to take Don Bosco to prison a furious agitation pervaded the whole place; while a number of the most courageous and determined drew close to him and whispered: “Let us?”

“No,” he promptly replied. “I forbid any word, any act that would give offense to anybody. Have no fear; I’ll arrange everything and do you go and fulfill your duties.”

* The Grand Duke of Tuscany and the Duke of Modena, whose territories were annexed to Piedmont.

The decree ordering the visit, being produced, charged him with being “suspected of compromising relations with the Jesuits, Archbishop Fransoni and the Pontifical Court.” Having no option but to yield to force majeure a thorough search was made which resulted in the visitors finding nothing compromising.

About a fortnight afterwards, on June 10, another visit and another search followed, the authorities having got it into their heads that Don Bosco possessed a large sum of money sent him by the Pope and the deposed Princess ostensibly to provide for the boys, but in reality, it was alleged, to enroll soldiers and wage war against the Government! The boys, numbering 500, were individually cross-questioned, while a shorthand writer took a note of all the answers; but, as on the previous occasion, nothing incriminatory was discovered or elicited. In a subsequent interview with Farini, when that Minister intimated that with one word he could have him imprisoned, Don Bosco replied: “That does not intimidate me. For the truth I fear no one. Your Excellency loves honor and justice too much to commit the infamy of sending to prison an innocent citizen who for twenty years has devoted his life and all his substance for his neighbor.” Ultimately through the intervention of Count Cavour the matter was amicably arranged and Don Bosco was allowed to depart in peace to look after his boys; Farini contenting himself with advising him to be prudent. These vexatious incidents gained for him more sympathy; while Rattazzi, then no longer a Minister, but a simple deputy, when he heard from Don Bosco what had taken place, declared those domiciliary visits illegal and offered to bring the subject before Parliament, adding that the Government in disturbing such institutes committed an iniquity that deserved to be denounced before all Europe.

On the day following the second visit the members of the nascent Salesian Society subscribed the Rules of the Congregation of Saint Francis de Sales to be sent to Archbishop Fransoni (deceased March 26, 186?), solemnly promising that if, peradventure, on account of the disturbed state of the times they could not make the vows, in whatever place they found themselves, even if all their companions were dispersed and only two existed, or even one to strive to promote the society and always, as far as possible, observe its rules. On July 23, 1864, the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars issued its Decree of Praise (Decretum Laudis) in favor of the society in view of the commendations which in two Briefs the reigning Pontiff bestowed on its good works and the recommendations of the ecclesiastical authorities of Turin, Casale, Mondovi, Susa, Cuneo and Acqui. It constituted Don Bosco Superior General for life.

In the beginning of 1867 he paid a second visit to Rome, where he was received with extraordinary enthusiasm, “as if he was a prince,” wrote his travelling companion, Don John Baptist Francesia. “The whole city was astir: and the principal Roman families came to visit him. His fame as a wonder-worker had preceded him and many stricken ones awaited him as an angel of healing. I never expected to see such faith, such confidence in our Don Bosco.” Very many commended themselves to him as to a saint, to the Pope’s great consolation. In the first audience given him Pius IX asked: “Have you, Signor Abate, taken my advice? Have you written those things regarding the inspiration to found your Society?”

“Holy Father,” he replied, “in truth I had not time amid so many occupations.”

“Well, it being so,” said the Pope, “I not only counsel it, but I command it. All other occupations, of whatever kind or importance they be, should give place to this work. Leave everything aside, when it is not possible to act otherwise, but write. You cannot fully comprehend the very great good that certain things will do when made known by your sons.” In another audience, wishing to give something for the Oratory boys, he went to his cash box and found it empty. Smiling and raising his eyes to Heaven, he said: “The world does not know that the Pontiff hasn’t a penny of his own! I am really reduced to the financial condition of Saint Peter.” Then, turning to Don Bosco: “Carissimo, see what a little difference there is between me and your orphans; you are living on Providence and I on charity. My children will provide.” Pius IX., who had illimitable confidence in Don Bosco, insisted that he should found a house in Rome and accorded extraordinary spiritual favors to the Salesians.

Still he had not yet obtained the definite approval of the Pious Society. One of the theses they were already studying in Rome preparatory to the (Ecumenical Council was whether it was expedient to approve of new religious institutes or fuse those already existing of similar scope. That seeming to raise an almost insurmountable difficulty, he quitted Rome. His departure, like his arrival, was an ovation. The noblest families had vied with each other to be received by him or to receive him in their palaces; from morning till night people of every grade, sex and condition, sought him, to see him, to speak to him; the infirm came to receive his blessing or the touch of his healing hand. Monsignor Manocorda wrote with the tears still in his eyes of his departure, which left the Romans like desolate orphans. “The Roman nobility,” he said, “which mingled with the populace and forgot court etiquette to bend the knee to Don Bosco and receive his blessing, would not leave the anteroom of the Father of the ragamuffins (monelli) to sit alongside the Grand Vizier. Oh! how powerful is the virtue of Don Bosco!”

He was again in Rome in the beginning of 1869, for the purpose of obtaining the approval of the society by the Holy See, although some Bishops and others tried to dissuade him, telling him it would not be possible. “Everything is against me,” he said to himself, “still my heart tells me, if I go to Rome, the Lord who has the hearts of men in his hands, will come to my assistance. Then I go!” He was intimately convinced, too, that Our Lady would help him. He was received in princely fashion, three carriages, two of them Cardinal Berardi’s, awaiting him at the station. The Cardinal’s nephew, a boy of eleven, had been for fifteen days ill of a malignant typhoid fever that resisted every remedy. His Eminence, having promised to use his influence with the Holy Father in favor of the society, Don Bosco, counselling a novena to Our Lady Help of Christians, blessed the boy, who was immediately cured. The Cardinal went to the Pope and narrated with enthusiasm what had occurred, earnestly recommending the Salesian Society to his Holiness who, wishing to see Don Bosco as soon as possible, sent his carriage for him. All opposition having been overcome, which the founder attributed to prayers to Our Lady, on the 19th of February the approbation of the society was sanctioned and the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars issued on March 1, 1869. On March 5 the founder, full of gratitude to God for this signal favor, was back at the Oratory, where he was received with extraordinary demonstrations of joy, and on the 7th kept for the first time the patronal feast of the new Society of Saint Francis de Sales in the sanctuary of Mary Help of Christians. That evening, with edifying simplicity, like an affectionate father speaking to his children, he narrated to the Salesians of the Oratory the various vicissitudes passed through in obtaining the desired approval. In a circular addressed on the feast of the Assumption of that year, August 15, to the Salesians, he wrote: “We have a great undertaking in hand. Many souls are awaiting salvation through us; among these souls the first ought to be ours, then those of our associates and those of whatever Christian creed it may happen to us to be of any service. God is with us. Let us fit ourselves to correspond to the heavenly favors which have been conceded to us and which we hope may be granted to us in large measure in the future.” Further opposition arose in the Roman Congregations before, in 1874, Pius IX finally and definitely gave his approval to the Constitutions. The society then numbered 320 members and the boys under their care, 7000.

In a subsequent audience Pius IX, in a long colloquy on the Pious Society, told him that at the Vatican Council a Bishop had dwelt on the necessity of a religious society whose members should be bound (vincolati) in view of the Church and in that of the world should be free citizens. The Bishop of Parma was rejoiced to be able to say that it already existed and was that of the Salesians, an announcement which the Council received with applause; while the Bishop of Mondori was commissioned to report on it.

Another instance of the confidence reposed by the Pontiff in Don Bosco may here be quoted. When the Piedmontese troops entered and took possession of Rome, on September 20, 1870, various members of the Pontifical Curia advised the Pope to abandon the city and seek some safe refuge elsewhere. Pius IX. hesitated, though necessary preparations for the journey had been made. The prelates insisted. The Pope wished to take counsel with Don Bosco, assuring him that he would follow his advice. Those who were urging him then said: “Let us wait for Don Bosco’s reply.” The latter, after praying long, sent by hand his response conceived in this sense: “The Sentinel, the Angel of Israel, remains at his post and keeps guard over the Rock of God and the Sacred Ark.” The Pope read it, revoked all the arrangements for his departure, and did not stir out of Rome; notwithstanding that for some time contrary opinions reached him. The authority for this statement is Cardinal Giovanni Cagliero, who was well informed of this fact. “What a service has not Don Bosco rendered to the Church and to Italy by this advice!” comments his biographer. Another signal service he rendered to the Church in Italy was, when more than sixty dioceses were vacant in 1871, and he wrote to the Minister Lanza, pointing out that, in accordance with the law of guarantees it was not in the interests of the Government to oppose the nomination of Bishops and offered his good offices with the Holy See; with the result that the Government desisted from its attempts to suppress several dioceses. At the Pope’s request Don Bosco drew up the list of Bishops, of which His Holiness approved. More than forty sees were provided for in the Consistory of October 27, 1871, and in his allocution the Holy Father repeated substantially what Don Bosco had said to his brethren: “Did Jesus Christ ask permission of anyone when He sent the Apostles to preach? He only said to them this word ‘Go!’ And they went.”

The foundation of the second Order was foreshadowed by the Association of Devout Clients of Mary Help of Christians, canonically erected by Archbishop Riccardi, enriched with many indulgences by Pius IX. and then elevated to the rank of an Archconfraternity, to which Leo XIII. granted faculties of aggregating associates in all parts of the world. About ten years previously a priest, Don Domenico Pestarino, of Mornese, had asked for admission to the Salesian Society – but Don Bosco, while accepting him, wished him to remain in his own part of the country where, since December 8, 1855, he had founded a Union or Association of Daughters of Mary Immaculate, a kind of tertiary sisterhood who, while remaining in their homes, strove to attain Christian perfection by practicing the Gospel counsels. This Pious Union – approved March 20, 1857, by Monsignor Contratto, Bishop of Acqui – had already spread into other provinces of Italy. Don Pestarino remained in Mornese and in co-operation with Don Bosco, in 1864, laid the foundations of a college for youths. But that was not to be its work; it was to be the cradle of a new Institute which, along with the Salesian Society, was to be devoted to the salvation of souls. Addressing his Council in 1871, he said: “Many persons in authority have repeatedly exhorted me to do something also for young girls, some little good as by the grace of God we are doing for boys. If I were to yield to my own inclinations I would not undertake this kind of apostolate, but as I have been so often urged by persons worthy of every esteem, I would fear opposing a design of Providence if I did not take the matter into serious consideration. I propose it to you now, inviting you to reflect upon it in the presence of God, to weigh the pros and cons, to be able to come to some decision that will be for the greater glory of God and the greater advantage of souls. Therefore, during this month, let our prayers in common and in private be directed to this end – to obtain from the Lord the necessary lights in this important affair.” At the close of the month he re-assembled them and asked them, one by, one, their opinions, beginning with Don Rua; all were unanimous in deeming it opportune that Don Bosco should make provision for the Christian education of young females, as he had done for boys. “Well,” he concluded, “we may now hold it for certain to be the will of God that we should interest ourselves also in girls; and to come to something concrete. I propose that the house Don Pestarino lately opened in Mornese be destined to this work.”

That very month, being in Rome, he submitted his new project to the Pope, who listened attentively and promised to give him his opinion at the next audience. When he next found himself in the Pontifical presence Pius IX. said to him: “I have thought over your design of founding an institute of female religious, and it seems to me for the greater glory of God and advantage of souls. I am of opinion, then, that it should have for its principal work to do for the instruction and education of girls what the members of the Society of Saint Francis de Sales are doing for boys. As to its dependence, its dependence should be on you and your successors, just as the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul depend on the Lazarists.8 In this sense draw up your Constitutions and begin the trial. What remains will be seen to afterwards.”

On January 29, 1872, Don Pestarino assembled his little community of twenty-seven, who had for two years been leading the common life, and laid before them Don Bosco’s project. They recited the Veni Creator Spiritus before a crucifix placed on a little table between two lighted candles, and then proceeded to the election of a superioress. At the first scrutiny Maria Mazzarello had an absolute majority – 21 of the 27 – and was declared elected. In her humility she begged to be dispensed, saying that while she thanked them all she did not believe herself capable of filling such an office. They insisted while she protested, unless constrained by obedience; ultimately the choice of the first superioress was left to Don Bosco. Meanwhile, Sister Maria Mazzarello only assumed the direction as Vicar until June 14, 1874, when, with the unanimous approval of the Sisterhood and of Don Bosco, she was formally elected Superioress-General. To the new nuns he gave the name of Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, because as he said a little later in moving language, he wished the institute to be a monument of lively gratitude to the Mother of God Incarnate for great and multiplied favors obtained. The ceremony of the clothing or investiture with the modest habit selected by the founder had previously taken place on August 5, 1872, feast of Our Lady of the Snow, when Monsignor Sciandra officiated and received their first tri-annual vows. After being scarcely five years in existence the sisterhood numbered 200, and they had twelve houses in Italy and France, sent the first religious to America, and opened a hospice for poor, abandoned girls at Villa Colon, near Montevideo. They are now everywhere the Salesian Fathers have established missions. The fervor aroused by the first expedition in the houses of the Pius Society was diffused among the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, especially in the mother house of Mornese. The humble and holy Superioress-General wrote to Don Cagliero that many wished to go to America, and repeated, “It is true that we are good-for-nothings, but, with the help of the Lord and with good will, I hope we shall succeed in doing something. Get me then summoned there soon. Oh! if the Lord should give us this grace! If we did nothing else but gain one soul for Him we should be sufficiently paid for all our sacrifice.” This zealous nun died in 1881 at Nizza Monferrato. When visiting the French houses in the winter to revive among her daughters the spirit of piety and love of religious perfection, she contracted a fatal malady that ended her life at the age of forty-four. Endowed with special gifts for the direction of souls, she brought about in a short time such a development of the institute as surprised the founder himself. In the space of nine years the nuns numbered more than a hundred and were pursuing their good work in Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Venetia, France and America. They are now established at Pallaskenny, near Limerick, in Ireland, where the Salesians have founded an agricultural college under the direction of Father Aloysius Sutherland, for several years rector of their school at Farnboro, Hants, England. The ordinary process for the cause of the beatification of Sister Maria Mazzarello has been completed in the Episcopal Curia of Acqui and the Acts sent to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. Sister Catherine Daghero, already Vicar, was elected the second Superioress-General.

An important link between the two Orders was forged when Don Bosco founded the semi-lay organization, known as the Salesion Cooperators. We say semi-lay, because, though mainly composed of the laity, it also includes ecclesiastics. It was obviously suggested by and, to some extent, modelled upon the Third Orders instituted by Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic in the thirteenth century; but, in harmony with the freedom of action and modern spirit that permeates the Salesian Congregation, not so ascetical or aiming so high. Every reader of history knows what a profound and wide-reaching influence, both religious and social, the tertiary movement created by the founders of the Friars Minor and Friars Preachers exercised in every grade of society in mediaeval Europe. The Salesian Cooperators have opportunely arisen in modern Europe in these days to fulfill a similar mission; when the forces of good need to be marshalled to combat the forces of evil; when Christian civilization is being sapped and undermined by a species of neo-paganism, the old Christian ideals being discarded; and when the social question in its various phases is so interwoven with problems affecting faith and morals, and causing such universal unrest.

Two things Don Bosco deemed most urgent were the multiplication of sacerdotal vocations and the banding together of the faithful for the carrying out of a plan of united action to meet the needs of the times. Having unfolded his views to the Holy Father and gained the support of several Bishops, he established the work of Mary Help of Christians for the vocations of adults to the ecclesiastical state and the Pious Union of Cooperators. In 1874, the latter was called the Christian Union; in 1875 the Association of Good Works; then Salesian Association; and finally, in 1876, Salesian Cooperators. He had long pondered on this development of his work. The fundamental design was not that of only helping the Salesians, but cooperating with the Church, with Bishops and the parochial clergy according to the spirit of the Salesian Society in beneficent works, in imparting catechetical instruction, in the education of poor boys and the like. “To help the Salesians,” he said, “is only to help one of the many works existing in the Catholic Church. True, the Salesians will appeal to the Cooperators in their difficulties, but the Cooperators ought to be as well arms in the hands of Bishops and pastors for the good of the universal Church and more especially of the respective dioceses.” In this sense he declared: “A time will come when the name of Salesian Cooperator will mean a true Christian.”

On March 4, 1876, he petitioned the Pope to open the treasury of the Church by granting indulgences to those who were enrolled in the work of Mary Help of Christians or as Salesian Cooperators. The original programme not having specifically mentioned “cooperatrixes,” Pius IX said: “And why not aggregate to this work also cooperatrixes? No, No! Make no exclusion: put in also cooperatrixes. Women have always had the principal part in good works, in the Church itself, in the conversion of peoples. They are, too, by natural inclination, generous and enterprising in supporting good works, more than men. Excluding them, you would deprive yourself of the greatest of helps.” Needless to add that the Pontiff’s choice was taken, greatly to the benefit of the organization, which increased and multiplied not only in Italy, but in France, Austria, Poland and various other European States, as well as in many distant parts of the world, especially in America; so that at the founder’s death there were about 80,000 Salesian Cooperators. A monthly publication, the Salesian Bulletin, printed at the headquarters of the Order in Turin, in Italian, French, Spanish, German, Polish, Portuguese, Hungarian (Magyar) Slovenian and English keeps the members an courant of all that is being done all over the world by Salesians for their mutual information and edification. It has a circulation of 350,000.

Pius IX. not only had his name placed first on the roll of Cooperators, but exhorted many Cardinals and Bishops to join their ranks. “The Salesian Cooperators,” he said, “are destined to achieve much for the good of the Church and of society. The very object of their work directed to the education and the amelioration of the conditions of the young, will make that work more and more esteemed as time goes on; therefore, I seem to see not only individuals but whole cities enrolled among the members. That is why I think so highly of them and have favored them so much.” This great Pontiff, whose powerful patronage and protection was the mainstay of Don Bosco’s work all through its struggles, its difficulties and its triumphs, in one of his last audiences, when he received him in his bedroom – as poorly furnished as that of some poor member of a Mendicant Order8 – said to him these remarkable words: “Go, write to your sons and begin to say now, and always repeat that there is no doubt that it is the hand of God that guides your Congregation. Therefore there rests upon you a great responsibility, and you should correspond to such a grace. But I say to you, in the name of God, that if you correspond to the Divine assistance, if you promote the spirit of morality, and especially that of chastity, if this spirit remains in you, you will have coadjutors, Cooperators, zealous ministers; you will see religious vocations multiplied a hundredfold, either through you or your Congregation, as well as in other religious orders, and also in the diocese that good clergy will not be wanting who will do much good. I believe I am unveiling to you a mystery. I am certain that this Congregation has been raised up in these times by Divine Providence to show forth the power of God; I am certain that God has willed to keep hidden until now an important secret, hidden for many centuries and from many other past Congregations. Your Congregation is new in the Church, because of a new kind, because it has arisen in these times in a way that it may be a religious and secular Order, that it may keep the vow of poverty and at the same time hold possessions, that participating of the world and the cloister its members may be religious and seculars, cloistered men and free citizens. The Lord manifests that in our days, and this I wish to disclose to you. The Congregation was instituted in order that in the world, according to the expression of the Holy Gospel in maligno positus est, it should give glory to God. It was instituted because it sees there is a way of giving to God that which is God’s, to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, according to what Jesus Christ said in His time, ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.’ And I foretell to you, and you write it to your sons, that the Congregation will flourish, will miraculously extend, will last to future ages and will always find coadjutors and cooperators, to the end and so far as it will strive to promote the spirit of piety and religion, but especially of morality and chastity.”

His successor in the Pontificate, the great Statesman-Pontiff, Leo XIII, now one of the historic figures in the retrospect of the Papacy, the Pope of the Rerum novarum encyclical, the charter of the working classes, fully shared the views of his predecessor regarding the Salesians and social action. His first interview with him was when he was Cardinal Camerlengo, and he asked permission to kiss his hand.

“Who are you who approach with such authority?” asked His Eminence.

“I am a poor priest,” replied Don Bosco, “who now kisses your Eminence’s hand, praying, with a firm hope that in a few days I may kiss your sacred feet.”

“Take care what you are doing; I forbid you to pray for what you say.”

“You cannot prohibit me from asking from God what pleases Him.”

“If you pray in this sense, I threaten you with censures.”

“Up to this you have not authority to inflict censures; when you have I shall know how to respect it.”

“But who are you who speak to me so authoritatively?”

“I am Don Bosco.”

“Per carita, be silent about this. It is a time for working, not jesting.”

As he predicted, on the 20th of February, 1878, about fourteen days after the death of Pius IX, Cardinal Gioachino Pecci, Archbishop of Perugia, was elected Pope, assuming the name of Leo XIII. With the frankness and boldness characteristic of saintly and privileged souls Don Bosco prefaced his first audience by addressing to the new Pope a letter on the most pressing needs of the Church in the same strain as, he observed, he sometimes communicated things to Pius IX, which he judged came from the Lord. When he begged His Holiness to allow his name to be inscribed among the Cooperators, as Pius and many Cardinals had done, and that it was an association promoted by his immediate predecessor, the Pope hastened to say: “That is enough, in that sense I am not only a Cooperator but an operator, both as Pontiff and as one of the faithful. Undoubtedly I will promote all institutions that have as their aim the good of society, above all those that take care of erring youths. I am persuaded that there is no ministry more noble than that of striving to diminish the number of the disorderly by making them honest citizens and good Christians.”

As he was about to retire, he asked the Pope for a word of advice to communicate to those under his charge. “Tell all who belong to your Congregation,” replied the Pontiff, “never to be unmindful of the great benefit God has done them in calling them to it, wherein they can do great good to themselves and to their neighbor. The foundation of this institute, the pupils that are receiving a Christian education in the various houses, the industrial schools, the churches opened for worship, the missions that have already produced satisfactory fruit, and all this done without material possessions, certainly show that it has the blessing of the Lord. I believe that those who repudiate miracles, if they would explain how a poor priest could give food to 20,000 boys with all the other accessories, I believe they would be compelled to say: Digitus Dei est hic. Let the Salesians, however, be grateful for this mercy of the Lord, but show their gratitude by the exact observance of the rules. Let the youth whom Divine Providence has confided to you courageously combat that formidable enemy of souls, human respect; let them be instructed in the faith, taught to know the authority of the Holy See and of the Roman Pontiff, that it is the centre of truth. Let them learn in time to know and love Holy Mother Church, the Infallible Teacher, the anchor of salvation, to which it is necessary that all live united in order to be saved. The Cooperators have before them a vast field in which to labor and do good. They are living in the world, but are acquiring the merits of those who live in community. There is no work more meritorious in the eyes of God than to cooperate in the salvation of souls. The mission of the Salesian Cooperators, however, is to sanctify their families by good example, by the fulfillment of their religious duties, their solicitude to help the Salesians in their undertakings in matters that it is not convenient should be done by a religious. Remind them of the Gospel dictum that earthly possessions are thorns and that it is for the possessors to make good use of them, so that at the moment of death they may become odoriferous flowers with which the angels may weave a heavenly crown. Remind the novices that they are precious plants enclosed in a garden. Alas! if the hedge is broken down, robbers will enter, steal the few fruits they see, spoil the plants, ruin everything. Then to the novices, the hopes of the Salesian Congregation, is to be recommended retirement and the cultivation of those virtues they should practice all their lives.”

Having been told that there were then twelve houses and churches, that sixty missioners had been sent out from Europe, that one of them had died at his post, and that, counting priests and novices there were in all about a hundred, the Pope observed: “The missioner, who goes to give his life for the Faith, has a right to a special reward. I consider missioners as so many envoys of the Church, sent to carry civilization and religion to distant countries. They are charged to preserve the faith in regions where it is already preached and to propagate it among savages. The fatigues of their journeyings, the sufferings and deprivations which they must certainly undergo in diverse climates among unknown, ignorant and often dangerous men; the privations in food, rest and in other ways, are all things that render the missioner well-deserving of religion and civil society. Tell them that I thank them for the service they are rendering to the Church, that I love and esteem them, pray God that He preserve them in His grace, that He save them from moral dangers and make their labors fruitful. I bless them from my heart. But do not fail to impress upon them to keep a strict watch over themselves! The teachings they give to young people are well; but the light of works, of an exemplary life ought to be like a light that enlightens the minds and hearts of all who admire their works or listen to their discourses. When you select those who are to go on the mission, prefer always those who have been already well exercised in virtue. These things are the foundation of Catholic missions.”

Both Pontiffs, as well as distinguished ecclesiastical and lay personages, had the highest esteem and veneration for Don Bosco. Pius IX called him “the treasure of Italy,” and Leo did not hesitate to emphatically declare him on several occasions to be “the Saint, the Man of Providence.” The King and Queen of Italy and other royalties loved to converse with him and help him in his works. Victor Emmanuel recognized his sanctity; even the very enemies of the Church proclaimed him, “the saint, the wonder-worker of Valdocco.”

Leo XIII would not let him kneel in his presence and seated him by his side in one of his long private audiences. Don Bosco’s health failing, the Pope said to him: “It is absolutely necessary you should recover your health and not neglect the necessary means of sustaining and recuperating your strength. Be careful of yourself, without too much scrupulosity. Spare yourself more before you get worn out. Make the others work. It is necessary you should live longer, because your life does not belong to yourself, but belongs to the Church, belongs to the Congregation you have founded and which has much need of you to obtain those fruits that Divine Providence demands of it. You, Don Bosco, are necessary. Your work has increased and extended. Italy, France, Spain, America, the very savages of Patagonia, claim your existence. You have sons who will follow in your spirit, but they will be always in the second line after you. That you cannot engage in much work at present is not a great matter. Your life, your existence, your counsel are all necessary things, and that I and your friends desire earnestly, because you cannot complete the works you have begun. If I were ill, I am certain you would do as much as you could for the preservation of my life. Now I wish you would do for yourself what you would do for me. Henceforth take every care of it, seek all the necessary means for your preservation. I will it! Do you understand? I command it; it is the Holy Father who wishes it and the Pope who commands it; the Church needs your life!” The kindly old Pope – they were both then aged – who granted him every favor and privilege he asked, said affectionately: “I love you, I love you, I love you! I am all for the Salesians. I am the first among Cooperators! Whoever is your enemy is the enemy of God! I would fear to go against you! You in fact with means so small are doing a colossal work. You, not even you, know the extent of your mission, and the good it is to do the whole Church! Your mission is to make the world see that one can be a good Catholic and at the same time a good and honest citizen; that one can do great good to the poor and abandoned youth at all times without clashing with political novelties, but remaining nevertheless a good Catholic. The Pope, the Church, the whole world are thinking of you, of your Congregation and admire you. The world either loves you or fears you. It is not you but God who works in your Congregation. Its wonderful increase, the good it is doing, are not to be ascribed to human causes. God Himself guides, sustains, carries on your Congregation. Tell it, write it, preach it! This is the secret of your being able to overcome every obstacle and every enemy.”

When he heard there were 208 novices he said it was marvellous; and, reverting to the Cooperators he repeated: “I myself intend to be called not only Cooperator, but operator, because Popes ought not to stand apart from these beneficent works. If we wish to promote social well-being, there is no other means than to give a good education to those poor boys who at present wander through our streets. They will shortly form the masses, and if they be well taught we shall have a well ordered and good society; if ill, society will be in a bad state, and sons in their manhood will have to lament the bad education given them by their fathers, if they should not everlastingly curse their memory.”

When Don Lemoyne, who had been appointed secretary to Don Bosco, was presented, the Pope in a solemn manner impressed upon him the duty of taking special care of the founder’s health, saying: “You ought to be his support and you are responsible for the life of your superior. And I wish it, the Holy Father wills it; it is the Pope who wills it. Surround him with every care, be his consolation. What an honor is yours! And for you, Salesians, the mission that God gives you is a great honor, and a great obligation to which you should correspond; tell all your brethren that they are the consolation of this poor old man!”

Speaking of the missions, when he was told that the missioners had already baptized about 15,000 savages, Leo XIII exclaimed: “Fifteen thousand savages! It is a great number, and I am grateful for so many souls. It is a magnificent thing to save souls, and the Pope cannot but rejoice at it.”

Don Bosco made his last journey to Rome in 1887. It was also the last year of his life; he knew he was nearing his end. Wholeheartedly devoted to the Church, to the Papacy, to the Supreme Pontificate, his thoughts, his faith, his affections drew him Rome-wards, as the thoughts of the Israelites under the Old Dispensation turned towards Jerusalem when they “lifted up their hands to the holy places.” Pope and priest met each other for the last time on this earth. Leo XIII. greeted him, smiling, and when Monsignor Delia Volpe, at his instance, brought a chair for Don Bosco – for he would not let him kneel – and it was placed at a certain distance, the Pope drew it nearer to himself, and, seizing his hand, pressed it warmly. “Oh, dear Don Bosco,” he asked, “how are you? . . . how are you?” and, without giving him time to answer, rose quickly. “Don Bosco,” he pursued, “perhaps you are cold, is it not so?” And he went to his bed and removed from it the coverlet. “See,” he continued, “this beautiful ermine coverlet which was presented to me to-day for my sacerdotal jubilee, I wish you to be the first to use it.” And wrapping it round Don Bosco’s knees, he again took him by the hand and earnestly entered into conversation.

Don Bosco was much moved by this condescension. “I am an old man, Holy Father,” he said. “I am seventy-two; and it is my last journey, and the end of all things for me. Before dying, I wished to again see your Holiness’ countenance and to receive your blessing. I have been heard, and nothing now remains for me but to chant, Nunc dimittis seruum tuum, Domine, secundum verbunt tuum in pace!

“I am six years older than you,” the Pope observed, “and count upon living longer; if you don’t hear that Leo XIII is dead, make your mind easy.” Having in view the future of the Salesian Congregation, His Holiness desired him to impress upon its members specially obedience and the conservation of Don Bosco’s maxims and traditions; telling the founder and his Vicar not to be so solicitous about the number of the Salesians as of the holiness of those they already had. “It is not the number that increases the glory of God,” said the Pope, “it is virtue and the holiness of the members. Wherefore be very cautious and rigorous in accepting new members of the institute; take care above all that they are of proved morality.”

As he was leaving the Vatican a group of the Swiss guards stood at attention and gave him the military salute. “But I am not in the least a king,” he said, smiling, “I am a poor priest, quite bent, and of no account.” When on May 16 he was celebrating the Holy Sacrifice at the altar of Mary Help of Christians in the new Church of the Sacred Heart, consecrated on the I3th by the Cardinal Vicar, more than fifteen times he burst into tears and strove to finish the Mass. Don Viglietti, who assisted him, had, from time to time, to distract him from this strong emotion. After Mass, the congregation, touched by his piety and suffering aspect, gathered around him, kissing his vestments and hands: and when they asked his blessing, he blessed them with a weak and trembling voice, and then, again giving way to tears, covered his face with both his hands and was led away. Asked why he was moved at the altar he said: “I had so vividly before my eyes the scene when between nine and ten years old I dreamt of the Pious Society, and saw and heard so well my mother and my brothers asking me about the dream, that I could not go on with the Holy Sacrifice.”

It was the fulfillment of that first “dream” and the reflections it inspired that moved him to tears and recalled memories of the past. “In time you shall understand everything,” the Blessed Virgin had said to him; and the humble shepherd of Bacchi, after sixty-two years, now clearly perceived how the mission which had been intimated to him in his childhood by our Lord and His Blessed Mother had had, in the erection of the Church of the Sacred Heart in the centre of Christendom at the instance of the Vicar of Christ, its solemn seal and sanction. His personal work was ended; his departure for eternity was, therefore, imminent.

While they were celebrating the feast of Mary Help of Christians, a dying infant was brought to him; he blessed it, urging the parents to put their trust in Our Lady. Before they left the church they turned back, their features beaming with gladness, and made him an offering for the favor received. The enthusiasm of the people was such that he had to wait for an hour before he could leave, he was so besieged by thousands of persons who wanted to kiss his hand, speak a word to him, or get his blessing. A little boy, who had entered the church with crutches, was speedily seen to leave it carrying them in his hand, and a paralytic was completely cured. It was the last feast of Mary Help of Christians at which Don Bosco assisted.

At that time, early in June, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him again in a “dream” to reprove him for not having published a booklet teaching the wealthy how they ought to make use of wealth. Don Bosco’s doctrine on this point was considered too rigorous, and he prudently had kept silence. Now he was ordered to admonish the rich against the bad use of wealth. He communicated this to’ his brethren and Don Francesia was charged with putting it into execution, whereupon was issued a booklet with the title: “Heaven Opened to the Rich Through the Medium of Alms.”

For a long time Don Bosco knew the time of his death and that he would be buried at Valsalice. On October 20 he went to Foglizzo Canavese, where he invested with the clerical habit ninety-four aspirants to membership in the Pious Society. It was the last journey he made out of Turin. On his return ha said to Don Rua: “In another year it will be your turn to perform this function, for I will be here no longer.”

He gradually became weaker. For two months he had to lean on the arms of his brethren in order to move a step. Speaking to Don Berto of the Oratory boys, he said: “As long as there remains in me a thread of life, I will devote it all to their good and their spiritual and temporal advantage.” It was plain to those who were present at his Mass that the end was near. He celebrated with great difficulty and in a very low voice in the little chapel near his room, being often interrupted by deep emotion. He said Mass for the last time on the 4th of December, 1887. The next day he heard one and received Communion, bursting into tears at the words “Ecce Agnus Dei.” His thoughts reverting to the Cooperators, he dictated for their guidance some maxims. It was to them he addressed the beautiful letter known as his Last Testament, in which he said: “I feel that the end of my life is drawing near, but before I depart from you forever, there is a debt I must pay you, and so satisfy a deep craving of my heart. It is a debt of immense gratitude for all that you have done in assisting me in the works I have undertaken on behalf of the young, so that they may be brought up as good Christians, useful to themselves and to society, and so that they may gain their eternal destiny. Without your charity little or nothing could have been accomplished; but with it and the grace of God, we have been able to wipe away many a tear and save many a soul; it has enabled us to gather into homes and schools thousands of the young who would have otherwise been desolate, and to provide for their future. With the help of your charity we have established missions in the farthest confines of the earth, in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, and sent out hundreds of evangelical laborers to cultivate the vineyard of the Lord. Through your generosity again our printing-presses have sent out millions of copies of good books10 in defense of the truth, to promote piety, and to support good morals. Through your charity we have built many churches and chapels in which from generation to generation there will be sung the praises of God and of His Blessed Mother, and by means of which great numbers of souls will be saved.”

As Monsignor Cagliero was returning from America he was saved, as it were by a miracle, from death in a fall at the foot of the Cordilleras, when he heard an interior voice saying: “Go to Turin to assist at the last moments of Don Bosco.” Some distinguished people from Chile who visited him, said: “We are praying hard to the Lord that he may free you from your ailments and preserve you still longer.”

“I wish to go soon to Heaven, where I can do better for our Pious Society and my sons and protect them,” he replied. “Here I can do nothing more for them.” To the cleric Festa he said: “Nothing remains for me now but to make a good end;” repeating the words with emphasis. The gravity of his state having become more accentuated, he said to Monsignor Cagliero on the 2nd of December: “Have you kept well before your mind the reason why the Holy Father ought to protect our missions? You should tell the Holy Father what until now was kept as a secret: the Pious Society and the Salesians have as their special object to sustain the authority of the Holy See, wherever they find themselves, wherever they are laboring. You shall go, protected by the Pope, into Africa; traverse it, go to Asia, Tartary, and elsewhere. Have faith.” To Cardinal Alimonda he said: “I have always done all that I could. May the holy will of God be done in me!”

“Few could say that at the point of death,” observed the Cardinal.

“Difficult times, Eminence, I have passed through difficult times,” said Don Bosco.

“What humiliations and repulses he had to bear for ten years!” comments his biographer. “We have seen him weep when it appeared that once more hopes he cherished were to vanish, and it was then we heard him exclaim: ‘If I had known at first that it would cost so many griefs, fatigues, oppositions and contradictions to found a religious society, perhaps I would not have had the courage to set about the work!'”

“But, Don Giovanni,” said Cardinal Alimonda, “you ought not to fear death, you have so often recommended others to be prepared.”

“I have said it to others,” he humbly answered, “now I have need that others should say it to me.” On Christmas Eve he received the Viaticum with great devotion. Handing his purse to Don Viglietti, he said: “I don’t think there is anything in it, but in case there should be any money, give it to Don Rua. I wish to die in a way that it can be said: Don Bosco died without a penny in his pocket!”

Extended on the cross of suffering, he forgot his pains to think only of saving his own and others’ souls. To Monsignor Cagliero he said: “I only ask one thing of the Lord, that I may save my poor soul! Recommend all the Salesians to work with zeal and ardor. Work, work! Always exert yourself indefatigably to save souls!” It was his constant exhortation during these closing hours of a life spent in the service of God and the people. “Save souls, save souls!” he repeated, “it now devolves on you; I can no longer do anything. Oh, how many souls Mary Help of Christians will save by means of the Salesians!”

His death was a public event. All eyes were turned towards the room where the dying priest lay, waiting for the “one clear call.” The daily papers published every medical bulletin; crowds besieged the Oratory asking eagerly for information; telegrams were continually received from the correspondents of Italian and foreign papers and from the superiors of Salesian houses; public and private prayers, triduums and novenas were offered up in Italy, France, Spain and other countries and in many monasteries, convents and religious communities for his recovery; while the brethren and boys in the Oratory succeeded one another, day and night, praying for the same intention before the Blessed Sacrament, lights being kept continually burning before the altar of Mary Help of Christians. In many families of Cooperators they wept or offered their lives for his restoration to health, twelve Oratory boys having done the same. All hope was not given up. Don Alfera said to him: “It is the third time, Don Bosco, that you have approached the threshold of eternity, and then came back through the prayers of your sons. I am certain this will happen again this time.” The servant of God answered: “This time I shall not return.”

All Rome – the Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops, nobles, everybody – was anxious about the revered invalid in Turin. There was an amelioration when, after being twenty-one days in bed, almost partaking of no nourishment, and with a mind weakened by debility, he suddenly felt a return of strength as if he was capable of getting up, writing1 and working. “I feel myself at this moment in health as if I was never ill,” he said. To one who asked him how he was, he answered: “Quod Deus imperio, tu, prece, Virgo, potes. Certainly my time is not yet come; it may be shortly, not now.” This was attributed to the prayers to Our Lady Help of Christians, which went up from all parts of the world, and was regarded as a signal favor, because it enabled him to regulate various affairs and lay down rules for the management of the Oratory and other things. The physicians were astounded at his activity and mental lucidity. This lasted until the 2Oth of January, 1888, when he relapsed into his previous condition, and sometimes utterance failed him. Don Sala, to raise his spirits, said to him: “Don Bosco will now find contentment in the thought of having, at the price of many strivings and labors, succeeded in founding and establishing the Salesian Society and extending his institutes everywhere.”

“Yes,” he replied, “what I have done I have done with the help of the Lord . . . and if I could do more . . . but my sons will do it,” and then, after regaining a little more breath, he added: “Our Pious Society is guided by God and protected by Mary Help of Christians.”

On the 28th of January, after receiving Communion, he said in an undertone: “And presently the end!” and to Don Bonetti: “Tell the boys I await them all in Paradise!” On the morning of the 30th Monsignor Cagliero (now Cardinal) said the Litany for the agonizing, many Salesians being present. The doctors having said that at night or at dawn on the next day he would die, all the brethren, over a hundred, at their request, were permitted to enter and kiss his hand, one by one – the hand so often raised to bless them; then those living in the neighboring colleges, the students, and the big working boys. All the night he lay motionless on his little bed, breathing with difficulty. Between one and two in the morning he entered into his agony, when Don Rua said the prayers for the dying. In a moment the room was filled with kneeling priests, clerics, and laity. At three a dispatch was received from Rome carrying the Apostolic blessing. While the bell of Maria Ausiliatrice sounded the Ave Maria, and Don Bonetti was whispering ejaculations into the ear of the dying priest, the rattles ceased. . . . the breathing for some instants became tranquil . . . and then stopped. Don Bosco was dead!

He was nearly mid-way in his seventy-third year. After Monsignor Cagliero had intoned the Subvenite sancti Dei and the De profundis was recited with sobbing voices, Don Rua, turning towards his brethren, said in a voice broken with emotion: “We are doubly orphans. But let us console ourselves. If we have lost a father on earth, we have gained a protector in Heaven. And let us show ourselves worthy of him, following his holy example.” That morning – it was January 31, 1888 – various persons were favored with apparitions of his soul and succored in their sufferings. At Grado, an ecstatica saw his soul going into Heaven, escorted with much rejoicing, as she had seen no other soul since the day, ten years before that she had seen the soul of Pius IX, similarly greeted on his entrance into Paradise. Another nun, a member of a family very devoted to Don Bosco, was in a painful state, which deprived her of rest and prevented her from doing good. Having heard he was dying, she said to herself: “My mother will go and find him and recommend me to his prayers.” That morning, while the whole community were in the church, after a restless night she slept and shortly after heard some one say: “Oh! Sister Philomena, what is the matter?”

“It was Don Bosco standing upright at the foot of my bed,” she wrote. “He carried his customary short cloak on his arm, held his cap in his right hand, and was as young, cheerful and vivacious as exactly I had many times seen him in our house in the years of my childhood. ‘Oh, Don Bosco,’ I said, ‘has my mother spoken to you about me? I am so disgusted and feel so weak, not being able to do any good.’ ‘I know your mother was to come, but could not,’ replied Don Bosco. ‘See, when I was in this world, I could only do but little good for her and for her family; but now that I am in Paradise, I can do much more, and I wish to do now what I could not then, because I had so much to do for my boys.'” At these words the nun begged him to intercede with God for her cure; and Don Bosco replied: “Rise now, God is with you.” And she arose, went into the church to thank the Lord; and on that very day she was notified of the precious death of the servant of God.

Was it not Lacordaire who said that there are deaths that exhale the perfume of immortality? Such was Don Bosco’s. After the first obsequies in the Church of Saint Frances de Sales, when a hundred thousand persons thronged the piazza and the adjacent streets and two hundred priests and forty canons and Bishops joined in the funeral procession, eight Salesian priests carrying the coffined remains on their shoulders, people exclaimed, “What a beautiful feast!” It was really more a feast than a funeral; the sentiment of joy extinguishing that of grief, the sense of triumph repressing tears; for it marked the triumphal ending of a life distinguished by memorable achievements. Eloquent tongues spoke his panegyric. When he was borne to his last resting place at Valsalice, where they have erected as a mausoleum a cruciform chapel under the invocation “O Crux, ave, spes unica.” Monsignor Cagliero, the first Salesian Bishop and Cardinal, said: “Just as the first Christians were encouraged to fight for the Faith to suffer and to die for Jesus Christ and were fortified at the tombs of the martyrs, as Saint Philip Neri learned to become the Apostle of Rome by often visiting the Catacombs, so you, so we, so all shall come often to acquire at this tomb that fortitude which in his hardest trials sustained Don Bosco in laboring for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and to rekindle within us that fire of charity which always inflamed his breast and made him the apostle not only of Turin, of Piedmont and of Italy, but of the most distant regions of the earth.” Cardinal Alimonda, having referred to the obituary in the London Times, which called him “the Vincent de Paul of our times,” said both Saint Francis de Sales, whom he had taken as his model and whose name he gave to his society, and Saint Vincent de Paul were reflected in him, and he likened these three heroes in the spiritual contest of divine love to the three children cast into the fire, who with one voice praised, glorified and blessed the Lord in the furnace. Monsignor Manacorda, speaking at the function in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Rome, said in all his life and in all his acts he showed the incontestable characteristics of an extraordinary mission, according to the designs of Divine Providence. The most illustrious ecclesiastical dignitaries were unanimous in speaking of him as a soul divinely privileged, a signal benefactor of humanity, a splendid glory for religion, an emulator of Saint Vincent de Paul, Girolamo Emiliani, Joseph Calsanctius, and John Baptist de La Salle. Monsignor Giacome Catala y Albosa, Bishop of Barcelona, who proclaimed him the glory of humanity, of the priesthood, of the Church and of all the religious orders, concluded an eloquent tribute with the words: “To-day we have honored the memory of a great man; to-morrow we will raise a church to a great saint.” The Bishop of Pampeluna went so far as to say that it was not lawful to doubt the complete felicity of Don Bosco in Heaven. Leo XIII., in the first audience given to Don Rua, said: “You are the successor of Don Bosco. I condole with you on the loss you have sustained, but I rejoice because Don Bosco was a saint, and will not fail to assist you from Heaven.” Told that in his last illness he had recommended his brethren always to uphold the authority of the Pope and promote respect and obedience to the Church and its Visible Head, the Pontiff observed: “By that it is seen that your Don Bosco was a saint, like in that respect to Saint Francis of Assisi who, when he came to die, warmly recommended his religious to be always sons devoted to the Roman Church and its Head.” Speaking to the Cardinal-Vicar he repeated: “Don Bosco is a saint;” and then added: “I regret being old, not to be able to cooperate in his beatification.” To Monsignor Cagliero he said: “You have certainly had a great loss, losing your Father and Founder; but he lives in Heaven and will be able to help you better, because his works are the works of a saint, his virtues were the virtues of a saint, and his intercession with God will, therefore, be equal to that of the saints.”

The many marvellous favors obtained through his prayers during his life were multiplied after his death. He soon became the object of a cultus that extended all over the world. The Ordinary Process on his sanctity, life, virtues and miracles was begun in the Archiepiscopal Curia of Turin on 4 June 1890, and ended on 1 April 1897, after 562 deliberations. The Acts were remitted on April 11 to the Congregation of Rites which, after examining them – Cardinal Vives y Tuto being the Relator – declared, in the sitting of 23 July 1907, that the Cause of Beatification might be introduced. The decision being referred to Pius XI on the day following, His Holiness ratified the decree of the Sacred Congregation and signed with his own hand “the Commission for the introduction of the Cause of the Venerable Servant of God, Giovanni Bosco, Priest, Founder of the Salesian Pious Society.” The day is anxiously awaited when the heroicity of his virtues and the approbation of the miracles wrought through his intercession being declared the Vicar of Christ will raise Don Bosco to the honors of the Church’s altars.

At the close of the Apostolic Process on the virtues and miracles in specie, on 13 October 1917, was made the canonical recognition of the remains, when the body was found in course of gradual mummification. “Whoever was fortunate to see him alive and to see him then,” says Don Lemoyne, “perfectly entire and with the lineaments unaltered, would think he was again in his presence. Only the black color, the open mouth and the hollow sockets without those eyes that had often smiled on so many boys, said clearly they were the frail remains abandoned by the great soul of the best-loved Father. What memories were awakened in seeing again, still perfectly preserved, those priestly hands that were so often raised in blessing, that innumerable troops of boys and adults had covered with kisses, that had labored so much for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”

Don Bosco has found in Don Lemoyne a worthy biographer. He has given us a full and faithful record of the life and works of one of the most remarkable men that the Catholic Church – magna virum parens – has produced in modern times. He was preeminently the man of Providence of the nineteenth century. A man of his time, fully abreast of the age, he was the initiator of a new departure in the spheres of labor assigned to the religious orders and congregations. An educationist hors ligne, he developed a system of the teaching and training of youth which, judged by its very successful results, was a masterpiece. His many-sided life is suggestive of practical reflections on many points, which must set any intelligent reader thinking. These and other features are brought out prominently in Don Lemoyne’s two valuable volumes which comprise 1,471 pages of closely-printed matter, copiously illustrated. Only the chief events of his well-filled life are here touched upon; the reader who would wish to know more of it must be referred to his biography, which could not have been entrusted to more capable hands or better done. It is a thoroughly satisfactory book; a perfect portrayal of the man and of the times in which he played so important a part.