St. John Bosco was born in August 1815, in a place that was later renamed “Castenuovo Don Bosco” in his honor. His family was poor, and his father, a peasant farmer, died when John was only two years old.
John’s mother Margherita was deeply devout, and she taught her son the faith, including the importance of charity. She often used her own small income to support those in need, and taught John to do the same.
When John was nine, he had a prophetic dream. A group of boys were uttering blasphemous words, and Jesus and Mary appeared to John, telling him that he would bring youths like this to God through the virtues of humility and charity. It was this dream that later led John to the priesthood, but it also shaped his childhood — he often entertained his friends with by juggling, acrobatics, and magic tricks, followed up by prayer or discussions of sermons.
John’s older brother Anthony did not want him to become a priest, and John left home at 12 to work on a farm. Three years later, he came home to finish school so he could attend the seminary.
In 1841, John was ordained a priest. He became known as “Don Bosco,” a traditional Italian title of honor for priests. He ministered to young men and boys who lived on the streets, and often had no education and no jobs. John was determined to save these people from degradation, establishing the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales, where he supported boys in need. His mother helped him get the project off the ground. He also helped St. Mary Dominic Mazzarello start a similar group for girls.
Despite setbacks and struggles caused by Italy’s nationalist movement, which made things difficult for religious orders, the Salesians were helping 130,000 children in 250 houses by the end of Don Bosco’s life.
On Jan. 31, 1888, St. John Bosco conveyed his last message: “Tell the boys that I shall be waiting for them all in Paradise.” He died in the early morning, and was canonized on Easter Sunday in 1934. He is the patron saint of young people, apprentices, and Catholic publishers and editors.
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