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Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Salesian Relationships with the Young

10. Salesian Relationships with the Young

Don Bosco asked Salesians to treat the young as their teachers. To learn the needs, hopes, and insecurities of young people should be paramount in the minds and the hearts of Salesians. This attitude of reverence is rooted in the recognition of God’s unfolding presence in every young life. The Salesian serves this inner spirit in the young by growing into the Gospel image of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. In adopting this good shepherd role four relationship skills are vital


The mystery of God at the heart of the young demands that a Salesian be polite, honest, genuine and sensitive in relating to the young. The dignity of the young person should be obvious in the behaviour of the Salesian.


A Salesian works with the limitations and potential of young people as groups and as individuals. Knowing their fears and strengths the Salesian shepherds them towards experiences that lead to life, preventing harm before it happens.


Engaging young people with the heart; establishing genuine, friendly relationships with the young people is essential to the Salesian work. Don Bosco said that affection sets up an electric current of confidence between adult and young person by which hearts are opened, hurts are healed and life unfolds for both the Salesian and the young person.


Don Bosco saw fun and laughter as an expression of faith in the God of life. In touching what is deepest in the young he preferred noise, laughter and chaos to heavy and solemn silences. Cheerfulness in adults and young people is a sign of holiness for Salesians.

The above four words spell out the Hebrew word for spirit: Ruah.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Salesian approach to young people

8. Salesian approach to young people

My belief is that in every young person there is an individual goodness, and where I can not yet see it, then I am challenged find it. "You are young, you are precious, you are loved."

It all starts with my attitude to young people, my belief, value system and my spiritual development. My values, beliefs, spirituality, are "caught", by my being a role model for the young person.

I want to be engaged with the young and make a difference in their lives, so that they can grow up as honest, effective citizens of this world and the next. Citizenship is a very popular word today — but was used by Don Bosco 150 years ago.

Some sayings from past Salesian educators, starting with Don Bosco, come to mind: "It is not enough to love the young; they must know that they are loved." "Education is a matter of the heart, and we need to ask God for the keys."


Meet them on their own ground: no matter what they are "doing". We saw in the popular film, how Don Bosco stole money from the young gamblers and encouraged the young people to chase him right back to base, where he introduced them to others, and eventually gave them their money back, with their promise of returning on the following days. Their motivation at the start was to get their money—still very relevant today—but we like to think that the atmosphere that was created in the "oratory" was such that they felt eventually at home. What an innovative way to begin a relationship, that perhaps, lasted a long time, and would bear fruit in Salesian principles being passed on to their children. This may be a "glossy" story, but it points out the creativity that sometimes we need to use ourselves, in contacting and making relationships with the young in today's world.

Young people "in their liberty of spirit" can be found in the most "inappropriate" places, as we might see it, for many of us to contact them— around the betting shop, the local kebab/chip shop, the bowling alley, hanging on the corner, as they say "plotting", kicking a football, on a stairwell, smoking behind the school—where no rules but their own apply, where they think they can be themselves, where they don't want any adults to tell them what they should be doing. This approach can give them the friendship they need to face a harsh world, and that is very important. As we know, peer pressure can also lead them to behave in negative ways, break down any principles they have learned from home, school, church, etc., and can get them into "big trouble", The local adult population can actually become afraid of them, and see them as "gangs" of hoodlums.

It's up to those who feel daring enough, to find creative ways of making initial relationships, without judging, meeting them on their own ground, but longing to bring them on to our ground. Don Bosco gives us the inspiration on how to meet, start relationships and find ways of developing them, so that they let us "enter their door".

In formal set-ups, such as school, church or youth club, this is somewhat easier, because the young person is already a "captive audience", on our ground, but the same principle applies: become their friend, not their "mate" and create an atmosphere where they feel good about being with you.

There are many stories of how Don Bosco made inroads into relationships with the young and we can read them and still apply today the principles he used.

  • Have a friendly attitude. Use innovative ways of meeting them on "their ground", as the Salesian Constitutions say "in their liberty of Spirit". Be interested in their world, where they are on their journey, without judging. Listen without seeming nosey, trying to engage in their world,finding common ground.Make a positive developing relationship, being involved in their activities. "Go through their door, to bring them out your door."
  • It's a question of maintaining a fine balance, the tightrope walk that Don Bosco used as a young boy and referred to metaphorically many times in his life. Keep your eyes always ahead (on the vision, on the Lord). Never look down (think negatively). Never look back (regret, counting the cost).
  • Find situations, actions, no matter how small, to praise, encourage. Give them the large dream, and the small dreams to look forward to, "one step at a time"
  • Offer them what they need, mixed with what they want, starting from where they are. Don Bosco didn't have many physical resources, but used all his human ones.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Saint Francis de Sales

7. Saint Francis de Sales

More than a name

We look to Jesus in order to know God and how God is towards us. That’s why Jesus could say ‘Learn from me.’ He asked us to learn especially that he is ‘gentle and humble of heart.’ (Mt 11:29). St Francis de Sales is one who learned and lived the gentle love of Christ to such an extent that those who knew him would say that if Jesus were to appear at any time, they would know him because he would be just like Francis.

Don Bosco saw in Francis someone to imitate, someone to model himself on for his life’s work. Francis was for him much more than a ‘patron saint’. In fact, when he was ordained priest he made this resolution: ‘The love and gentleness of St Francis de Sales will guide me in everything’. Logically then, he felt compelled to say that anyone who wanted to share in his work for young people had to have ‘the spirit of Francis de Sales’. They were to live the Gospel of Jesus as Francis did. What does that imply?

Under God’s tender love

For Francis God is above all the God of my heart. He is father and mother to me: he carries me and nurtures me; his heart touches my heart and draws me gently into a covenant with Jesus, whose most tender love was shown when he died for me on the Cross.

My daily life is the ordinary place to find God. For Francis the ‘present moment’ is like an eighth sacrament, a sacred meeting-place with God. Nothing is more sure than his presence to me. ‘As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, so surely will he be there with me as he is today’.

I can have the deepest trust in God. ‘If I have some heavy cross to bear’, says Francis, ‘he will either take it from me or give me the strength to carry it’. There is no need for any fear.

The gift of life

My life, in all its humanness, is unique and beautiful - God’s great gift to me. It’s mine to live with joy and optimism. I really am in God’s hands. I can find the inner strength to face whatever life throws at me. But I must be real about today and not dream idly of tomorrow. Softness and indulgence bring only sadness. There is joy, freedom and peace of heart to be found where love is genuine and without compromise. It’s a journey to God that’s possible for anyone.

Francis believed passionately in the radical goodness to be found in each one of us: a potential for good that’s greater than any tendency to evil. This ‘humanism’ of Francis encourages me to believe in a full blossoming of my life, both natural and supernatural. This is the way of ‘Salesian holiness’. He had no time for a ‘gloom and doom’ feel about life. ‘Nourish yourself with joy’ he would say. Preachers who taught otherwise were ‘traitors of humanity’.

Fire in the heart

Francis, like Jeremiah, had a prophet’s heart that couldn’t say ‘No’ to God. This strong, apostolic zeal coupled with gentle, pastoral love were the perfect model for Don Bosco’s ‘Salesians’ who were to win the hearts of the young. Strength that is gentle; gentleness that is strong. Only kindness can win hearts: kindness that pays the price of unlimited availability, patience and self-denial.

Circle of Love

Jesus came to reveal ‘the loving-kindness of the heart of our God’. Francis and Don Bosco knew that all starts from him and all leads back to him. Love is the beginning, love is the end, love is the way.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Don Bosco: Builder

6. Don Bosco: Builder

Don Bosco has left us some substantial monuments in the great Churches which he built during his lifetime: the Church of St Francis de Sales in the Oratory (1852), that of St John the Evangelist, Turin (1882), on which our Salesian Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea (1894) was based and the crowning glories of the Basilicas of Mary Help of Christians, Turin (1868) and that of the Sacred Heart in Rome (1887), beside Termini Station.

Yet all these lead us back to the first of Don Bosco's permanent buildings, the Pinardi shed, that miserable 'lean-to' where Don Bosco founded the first permanent home for his wandering oratory in 1846 and which remains at the heart of all the Salesian buildings that have followed. It actually served at various times as a chapel, a schoolroom, a workshop, a dining room and some of the original youngsters who Don Bosco took in actually slept there.

For Don Bosco all his buildings reflected his vision of what it was to be a Salesian House. It was a home, a playground, a chapel and a school. Don Bosco's dream of gathering the poor and abandoned together needed a real place to house them. Poor and ramshackle though it was, it represents his extraordinary faith in God's guidance. Though he was a penniless priest, effectively dismissed from his job by the Baroness Barolo, he could take on the rent and gradually the financial burden of buying that property at Valdocco in 1851.

As for many people that first step on the property ladder shaped Don Bosco's life and outlook. What he always looked for in buying property was a 'zona popolare', in other words a place where plenty of ordinary people lived. Not for Don Bosco the desert solitude of the monks or the prestigious ex-palaces of others, he preferred to be near the market in Turin at the Porta Palazzo and near the railway stations at Porta Dora and Porta Susa and the and all the early Salesian houses followed that same pattern.

He was down to earth and practical enough to realize that if he wanted to work for young people who were poor and abandoned then he had to attract benefactors and cooperators who would be impressed by his practicality and thrift. At the same time, Don Bosco always insisted that his work began with a simple 'Hail Mary’ and at the centre of what he offered his youngsters were the two pillars that sustained the church, the Holy Eucharist and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Being a catechist was a role he never gave up and through sharing his faith, symbolized in the Churches he built, he brought many young people to a fuller and happier life. The Pinardi chapel was dedicated to the Resurrection advisedly because what Don Bosco wanted to bring his students was real life lived to the full.

The Churches of St Francis de Sales and St John the Evangelist represented the growth of the Salesian work in Turin itself. The Basilica of Mary Help Christians represented the growing numbers of his Religious foundations and the world wide growth of the Salesians. In Rome the Basilica of the Sacred Heart represented his outreach to the newly united Italy, sited as it was in the newly developing area near the Termini station in Castro Praetorio.

Always these churches were only part of a grand design which involved a playground, an oratory, a school, and a home for the young. Don Bosco wanted above all to be at the heart of a family where things were happening, so today maybe he would have built his houses near the airports.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Don Bosco: Founder

5. Don Bosco: Founder

On 8th December 1841, four months after his priestly Ordination, Don Bosco met an orphan called Bartholomew Garelli who was sheltering from the cold in Church. After spending some time with him, Don Bosco invited him to return the following Sunday with some of his friends. So began the special youth club or Oratory which met every Sunday and Feast day. There were games, religious instruction, access to the Sacraments and Mass. The biggest problem was finding somewhere for the large group of boys to meet. Their rough appearance and boundless energy frightened people and they spent a number of years wandering from location to location.

In April of 1846, Don Bosco acquired the Pinardi shed and the surrounding land. The Oratory at last had a permanent home, situated in the Valdocco district of Turin. The educative side of things became more systematic. In 1847 he opened a hostel for the poorest, homeless boys. Between 1847 and 1862 his work became more organised, with a school, night classes and workshops based on a deep spiritual and caring formation for the boys. He also took on the running of two other Oratories around the city. In all this work, Don Bosco was helped by friends, priestly and lay, who volunteered their time to help with the boys.

In 1857, Don Bosco had a meeting with Interior Minister Ratazzi, anti-clerical government minister, but admirer of Don Bosco’s work. He suggested to Don Bosco that he should be thinking of founding a society to carry on his work! This had been in Don Bosco’s mind for a while, and after a few false starts, he realised his best chance was to train his older pupils who loved him and would be prepared to work for him. On January 26th 1854, the project for a religious order took its first proper steps. Don Bosco gathered four young men, including Michael Rua and John Cagliero, and bound them by promise to live good lives and practice charity to all. Formal vows might come later. Don Bosco called them “Salesians” after St Francis De Sales whom he admired greatly. Over the next five years, there were regular meetings. Some of the young men donned the clerical habit and took vows.

On December 13th 1859 the Salesian Congregation was finally born. Eighteen young men signed the first official document and act of the Salesian Society. A Superior Chapter was elected and began the function of governing and expanding the new Society.

During this period of expansion, it crossed Don Bosco’s mind a number of times that perhaps a congregation of women was needed to do the same kind of work with girls. Fr Dominic Pestarino, pastor of the village of Mornese, had in his parish a pious union of women known as the “Daughters of Mary Immaculate”, who wanted to live a more dedicated life and help to care for young girls. One of the leading lights of this group was an impressive young woman called Mary Domenica Mazzarello, whom Fr Pestarino had been guiding spiritually for a number of years. In 1862 Fr Pestarino visited the Oratory and was impressed by Don Bosco. In 1864 Don Bosco came to Mornese and Mary met him for the first time. It would seem each was struck by the other.

Another three years passed before, in 1867, Don Bosco met the Daughters of Mary Immaculate as a group and shared his vision with them. In 1871, after consulting his General Council, Don Bosco decided to found a congregation of women to work for girls. On August 5th 1872 Mary Mazzarello and her group pronounced their vows as Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, with Mary as the Superior.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Don Bosco: Vocation

4. Don Bosco: Vocation

John Melchior Bosco was born on 16th August 1815 in a little hamlet called “the Becchi” in the Parish of Castelnuovo d’Asti, twenty miles from Turin, Northern Italy. He was the youngest of a family that consisted of his mother and father, his brother Joseph, stepbrother Anthony and his grandmother. They were poor farmers and lived a very hard, frugal life.

When John was two years old, his father died, and it was left to his mother, Margaret, to bring the family up as best she could. She instilled in John a profound love and respect for God and taught him to be honest and hard-working. At the age of nine, John had a special dream that was to guide his future. In this dream, a man of noble appearance and a majestic lady seemed to be telling John of the qualities he would need to work with young people. As he watched wild animals become lambs, he was told to prepare himself to transform young people the same way. This dream was to recur a number of times throughout John’s life almost as a reminder of what he was called to do.

John’s early education was patchy, but he showed he was smart with a great memory. He was also agile and acrobatic. At ten years old he was already a natural leader, and gathered groups of young people to watch his acrobatic show, then listen as he repeated parts of the Sunday sermon. However, because of Anthony’s opposition, he made little progress in his education. Anthony resented John going to school, and hated to see books lying around the house. When Anthony began to be physically violent towards John, his mother decided he had to leave home. She sent him to stay with cousins of hers, the Moglias, who had a farm near Moncucco. John had a happy time with the Moglias, and although his education had stalled somewhat, he found plenty of time to develop his relationship with God, as he worked in the fields.

In November of 1829, Margaret brought John home to the Becchi. Anthony was less resentful and thinking of getting married. A few days later, John met an old priest called Don Calosso as both were making their way home from a parish mission in a nearby Church. Don Calosso was the priest at Murialdo and was impressed by John’s memory and understanding of the sermons he had heard at the mission. He offered to tutor John in Latin every day and John spent as much time as he could with the gentle old man. In Don Calosso John found a father figure and a spiritual guide, who promised to see him all the way to the priesthood. Unfortunately, a year after their meeting, Don Calosso died suddenly after a stroke. John was devastated. Although Don Calosso left him enough money for his education, John felt obliged to hand it over to the old priest’s relatives. Another avenue of learning was now closed.

Finally, in 1831, when John was sixteen, his mother sent him to school in Chieri, where his intelligence soon enabled him to catch up with his lessons. While in Chieri, he lodged with various people from whom he learned a number of trades that he would later teach his boys. At the end of his secondary schooling, he nearly joined the Franciscans, but after advice from friends, he entered the Diocesan Seminary.

Between 1835 and 1841, John studied Philosophy and Theology in preparation for becoming a priest.

On 5th June 1841, in the presence of his proud mother, John was ordained a priest by Archbishop Fransoni and became Don Bosco. His youthful ambition to be a priest had been achieved.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Saint Mary Mazzarello: Foundress

3. Saint Mary Mazzarello: Foundress

Mary Mazzarello had no intention of starting a religious congregation. Young and single by choice, she wanted to do something worthwhile with her life. She became aware of a specific need in her village which she could address. There were a number of girls who were at a loose end, once their meagre schooling was over, and household chores were finished.

With the co-operation of her closest friend, Petronilla, she established sewing classes where the girls could learn something useful for their future life. But that was not all. She also recognised that the girls needed something constructive to fill their leisure time and so she organised a club for them where, as in Don Bosco’s oratory, ‘holiness consisted in being always cheerful’ – games, fun, catechism, outings, were the order of the day on Sundays and holidays.

An experience which she never forgot confirmed her in her mission for the young. One day, when walking in the village she seemed to see a large white building with lots of girls enjoying games in the playground with Sisters playing with them. At the same time she heard a voice saying to her ‘I entrust them to you’. She tried unsuccessfully to put it out of her mind but the image remained. What could it mean?

Slowly a few other like-minded young women joined her and there grew up a small community in all but name. They lived, prayed and worked together - but nuns? No, that was far from their minds - until Don Bosco appeared on the scene. He was thinking of founding a congregation of women to look after girls and young women in a similar way to that adopted by the Salesians for boys. He had looked at some congregations but none just fitted his ideal. Then he met Mary and her companions - here was the answer. A ready-made community living the Salesian dream.

Mary felt a deep spiritual affinity with Don Bosco and in 1872 agreed to be the cornerstone of his new congregation, bringing several of her companions with her.

By divine providence, the nascent community was settled in the large white building Mary had previously seen in vision. It had been built by the villagers for the education of their boys and they were not happy to see it handed over to these new Sisters. Now, amidst adversity and misunderstanding, it became the cradle of the new congregation which was destined to carry the name of the village, Mornese, to the farthest corners of the world.

It fell to Mary as co-foundress to translate the Salesian way into a simple life for women religious, creating the spirit of simplicity, joyfulness, poverty and family-like relationships which came to be known from the place where it all began as the ‘Spirit of Mornese’.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Saint Mary Mazzarello: Vocation

2. Saint Mary Mazzarello: Vocation

Born in 1837, Mary Mazzarello grew up in a hard-working, God-fearing peasant family in northern Italy. She was a normal teenager of her times—intelligent, enterprising, hard working, fun-loving and always in the height of local fashion.

As she grew into young adulthood, she began to sense that God was calling her to belong totally to Himself and she responded by consecrating herself completely to Him. She did not understand immediately what this meant nor how it would unfold. It was a response of unconditional love.

Mary was often impulsive but in the matter of discovering a direction for her life she sought advice from those who knew her well and whose judgement she trusted. Her father was a great source of homespun wisdom and the leader of the apostolic group she had joined was a woman of spiritual insight and intelligence. She confided, above all, in Fr. Pestarino who had guided her for several years and who knew her inside out. Slowly she came to distinguish the way ahead in the events of everyday life.

She weighed up her inclinations and physical strength, took stock of situations around her and considered what she might do to share Christ’s passion for the world.

An event that had a particular bearing on her life and future mission came in the form of illness. When assisting some sick members of her family during the epidemic of typhoid fever that struck her village in 1860, Mary contracted the disease. After several months hovering between life and death she recovered but no longer had the strength to work in the fields and vineyards as she had formerly done.

What was she to do? At twenty-three she had her life before her but lacked skills beyond those acquired in helping her father on the farm. Together with her closest friend, Petronilla, she set about learning dressmaking from the village tailor so as not to be a burden to her family and with the declared aim of setting up sewing classes for the village girls. Once their training was finished, the pair did indeed begin their work for the good of the girls, teaching them a life skill and encouraging them to live their Christian life joyfully.

Hers was not initially a choice for religious life, but one of a life consecrated to God by vow while living and working in her village environment. Associations of young women sharing the same desires and aims as Mary were appearing in several parts of northern Italy at this time and Mary became part of one of them, receiving support from others to live the life she had chosen.

But God had further plans for her. She met Don Bosco and they perceived in each other a shared passion for the good of the young. Here was a woman who experienced his apostolic ideals for the young and who was the perfect choice to become the founding member his new religious congregation of the Salesian Sisters. Mary did not hesitate but once again said her wondering but joyful ‘Yes’ to God—wherever that would lead her.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Salesian Snippets in Scripture

1. Salesian Snippets in Scripture

There are many passages in Scripture which shed light on and provide inspiration for our Salesian way of life and mission. One of my favourites is that incident recounted by St Mark after the disciples have returned from an extended missionary experience. Jesus notices that they are tired and in need of a break, and so proposes a boat trip to a quiet spot. The people guess what is happening and arrive at the destination ahead of them.

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34)

Jesus is aware of the confusion and need of the crowd, and he is moved to the depths of his being by the sight of them. It is a description of him which recurs twelve times in the Gospels, a description which captures one of his most striking characteristics. Compassion is more than a feeling of pity or sympathy; it is a feeling which moves a person to action. Here it prompts Jesus to provide the people firstly with the nourishment of his teaching, and then with a lakeside meal of bread and fishes. Elsewhere his compassion is said to move him to cleanse a leper, to heal the sick and the blind, to bring a young man back to life, and to associate others with him in his ministry.

It is interesting that the crowd’s situation is described in terms of their being like shepherdless sheep, a phrase with echoes of the Old Testament. Through the prophets God promised his troubled people that one day He would provide them with a true shepherd, who would care for them with gentleness and love. For the Evangelists, Jesus is that shepherd. The Fourth Gospel exploits this image with profound insight and sensitivity. Jesus comes that we, the sheep, may have life in all its fullness. As the genuine shepherd he knows his sheep by name, and loves them so much that he lays down his life for them.

Many centuries later a young priest called Don Bosco encountered lots of young people on the streets of Turin who were in great need. They were without a home, without work, without educational possibilities, without religious instruction, without prospects, like sheep without a shepherd. His shepherd’s heart was moved to compassion, and he reached out to them, offering them acceptance, safety and friendship. He offered them a home base, a place of welcome, security and fun. He provided education and professional training, and found jobs for them. He enabled them to experience the compassionate love of God embracing and transforming their lives. And he involved others (including some of them) in his expanding mission, others with compassionate and shepherding hearts, who over the years and across the world feel drawn to respond to the needs of the young in his way, which is the way of Jesus. This has become the Salesian movement.


Thursday, 17 October 2013 18:39

DonBosco UK - Led by a Dream - Discernment

Don Bosco UK - Led by a Dream - Discernment


Listening for the call

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." (Antoine de Saint-Exupy, The Little Prince)

The process of searching for God's will and becoming aware of what God is calling me to do, is called discernment. Sometimes the call can lead a person towards priesthood or religious life. It is important to note at the outset that this is not a scientific process leading to mathematical certainty. You can never be 100% sure of what your call is. It is enough to be confident and willing. There may well be a certain anxiety and doubt about the path God has in mind for the individual. There is an element of mystery and grace which we never fully understand. Having said that, there are certain qualities and hints which enable one to set out on that journey.

The process (for one discerning priesthood or religious life) might involve reflection on some or all of the following:

  1. Listening: to my life - my yearnings, my aptitudes, my gifts, my personality, what gives me life? What am I passionate about? Am I attracted by a life of service and a concern for justice? Am I attracted to a life of prayer and liturgy?
  2. Motivation: what is my real motivation?
  3. Are my temperament and aptitudes suited to the type of life I'm thinking about?
  4. Am I attracted to the spirit and lifestyle of the congregation I'm thinking about?
  5. Can I live a celibate lifestyle in a community, without the more intimate support of a wife/husband and family?

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
(Robert Frost.)

Characteristics of a Salesian Vocation

Some characteristics which might show evidence of a Salesian Vocation:

  1. Ability to live and work in community
  2. Feel drawn towards working with young people
  3. A desire to spread the Gospel of Jesus
  4. Good health and required educational standards
  5. A sense of humour.

Do you feel interested or attracted by what you have just read?

Would you like to know more about the Salesians?

Salesian Vocations

Page 13 of 14


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