Father and Teacher of Youth
God gave him wisdom and understanding and a heart as vast as the sand on the seashore.” With these words, the Church ushers in the feast on January 31 in honour of St. John Bosco, affectionately known to his spiritual sons and daughters all over the world as Don (Father in Italian) Bosco.
John (Italian: Giovanni) Melchior Bosco was born of poor parents in a little cabin at Becchi, a hillside hamlet near Castelnuovo, Piedmont, Italy on 16 August, 1815. When he was little more than two years old his father died on May 11, 1817, he was only 33 years of age, leaving the support of three boys to the mother, Margaret Bosco. The mother, Margaret Occhiena, had to struggle to bring up the family. Her lively faith, her confidence in God, her spirit of prayer, her strength of spirit enabled her to tide over difficult times. These sterling qualities were absorbed by John as he grew up under her loving care.
Don Rua writes: “His confidence in God was so great that whenever he found himself faced with a difficulty greater than usual, he seemed to be more joyful than was his custom.” Cardinal Cagliero testifies that Don Bosco would repeat in moments of severe trial, “There is a God in Israel – let nothing disturb us, let nothing frighten us.”
Devotion to Mary
“I learnt to recite the Rosary on the knees of my mother,” Don Bosco often told his pupils. He was very particular that the Rosary should be recited in all his houses. Every year he took a group of boys to the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary at Becchi for the feast in October. En route they entertained the towns with their band and singing.
“Be devout to Our Lady,” was the advice Mamma Margaret gave her son John when he left in 1830 to stay and study at Castelnuovo. On October 25, 1835, after John received the cassock and was preparing to join the Seminary at Chieri, his mother took him aside and said, “When you came into the world, I entrusted you to the Blessed Virgin; when you commenced your studies I recommended you to practise devotion to Her; now I urge you to give yourself wholly to Her. Associate with companions who are devoted to Her and when you are a priest do you utmost to draw people to Her.” In 1941 he was ordained priest on the eve of Trinity Sunday by Archbishop Franzoni of Turin.
Today, Don Bosco’s name is so linked with the Blessed Virgin that she is often known as “The Madonna of Don Bosco.” He raised several monuments in honour of Our Lady.