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Tuesday, 21 January 2014 15:58

Don Bosco: Founder

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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.

 1 10 26 10 12 C2On 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.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 15:56

Don Bosco: Vocation

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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.

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Tuesday, 21 January 2014 15:55

Saint Mary Mazzarello: Foundress

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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 Mm29meagre 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’.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 15:54

Saint Mary Mazzarello: Vocation

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Girl on a HillBorn 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 or 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.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 15:52

Salesian Snippets in Scripture

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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;

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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 shepherd-less 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.

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