31 January 2018

Don Bosco – Saint

Father and teacher who could do magic tricks

Giovanni Bosco was born in 1815 soon after the
end of the Napoleonic Wars
Saint John Bosco, who was often known as Don Bosco, died on this day in 1888 in Turin.

He had dedicated his life to helping street children, juvenile delinquents and other disadvantaged young people and was made a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1934.

Bosco is now the patron saint of apprentices, editors, publishers, children, young delinquents and magicians.

He was born Giovanni Bosco in Becchi, just outside Castelnuovo d’Asti in Piedmont in 1815. His birth came just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that had ravaged the area.

Bosco’s father died when he was two, leaving him to be brought up by his mother, Margherita.

Mama Margherita Occhiena would herself be declared venerable by the Catholic Church in 2006.

Bosco attended Church and grew up to become very devout. Although his family was poor, his mother would share what they had with homeless people who came to the door.

While Bosco was still young, he had the first of a series of dreams that would influence his life.

He saw a group of poor boys who blasphemed while they played together, and a man told him that if he showed meekness and charity he would win over these boys, who were his friends.

Don Bosco used magic tricks to get the attention of street children
Don Bosco used magic tricks to get the
attention of street children
Not long afterwards he saw a travelling group of circus performers and magicians and realised if he learnt their magic tricks he could use them for his own purposes. He staged a magic show for other children and ended by inviting them to pray with him.

He later decided to become a priest, but had to work for two years in a vineyard before he found a priest, Joseph Cafasso, who was willing to help him achieve his ambition. Cafasso would later be made a saint for his work ministering to prisoners and the condemned.

After studying for six years, Bosco was ordained as a priest in 1841. He was assigned to work with poor children in Turin and visited prisons which housed large numbers of boys between the ages of 12 and 18 in deplorable conditions.

Bosco used his magic tricks to get the attention of the street children and then shared his message with them. He developed teaching methods based on love rather than punishment.

His mother began to help him and by the 1860s they were responsible for finding shelter for hundreds of boys.

He negotiated new rights for apprentices to prevent them from being abused and beaten. He encouraged some of the boys he met to consider becoming priests, but was accused by other priests of stealing boys from their parishes.

Don Bosco is commemorated around the world. This statue is in Rondo, in Spain
Don Bosco is commemorated around the
world. This statue is in Rondo, in Spain
The Marquis of Cavour, Chief of Police in Turin, regarded his open air services as political and a threat to the state. Bosco was interrogated on several occasions but no charges were ever made against him.

In 1859 Bosco established the Society of St Francis de Sales to carry on his charitable work helping boys. The organisation has continued to help children all around the world to this day.

Some of the boys helped by Don Bosco also decided to work to help abandoned boys. One of these was John Cagliero, who later became a Cardinal.

Bosco also founded a group of religious sisters to do for girls what he had been doing for boys. They became known as the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

After Bosco’s death on January 31, 1888, his funeral was attended by thousands and the call for his canonisation came immediately.

Pope Pius XI had known him personally and declared him blessed in 1929 and a Saint in 1934. He was given the title Father and Teacher of Youth. His feast day is celebrated all over the world on this day.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II was formally petitioned to declare Bosco the Patron Saint of stage magicians.

Bosco’s extraordinary life was featured in the 1935 film, Don Bosco, directed by Goffredo Alessandrini and starring Gianpaolo Rosmino as the priest.

The house in which Don Bosco was born is in Becchi, a
hamlet just outside Castelnuovo d'Asti
Travel tip:

Castelnuovo d’Asti in Piedmont, which was near the hamlet where Bosco was born, has been renamed Castelnuovo Don Bosco in honour of the saint. It is situated about 20km (12 miles) east of Turin and about 25km (15 miles) northwest of Asti. One of the main sights is a medieval tower, one of the few remains of the castle, which was built before the year 1000 and gave the town the name, Castelnuovo.

The Basilica of Don Bosco was built between 1961 and 1966
The Basilica of Don Bosco was built between 1961 and 1966
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Don Bosco was built in Frazione Morialdo at Castelnuovo Don Bosco between 1961 and 1966 close to the saint’s birthplace. In front of the church there is a large square designed to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims who visit the Basilica. It is also possible to visit the birthplace of Don Bosco, which is still standing at Via Becchi 36.

More reading:

Francesco Faà di Bruno - the wealthy academic who helped the poor

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