The Salesian Cooperators were founded by Don Bosco in 1876, as one of the first three branches of the Salesian Family. The first Cooperators were the lay people who helped him, the Salesians and the Salesian Sisters in their work with young people. They were people who were willing to do whatever they could, depending on their own skills or circumstances, in whatever time they had free. Some taught catechism to the boys; others planned and led games and activities; others (including some very aristocratic ladies) did the washing and cooking. The better-off bought food and other necessities, or donated money to sustain the work for young people and help it grow.
From the small group of men and women directly 'cooperating' with Don Bosco and St Mary Mazzarello in their work with young people, the Association of Salesian Cooperators has grown to become a worldwide organisation.
Cooperators today come from all backgrounds, united by their commitment to Don Bosco's work for young people and their Catholic faith. Many have long connections with the Salesian Family through their parishes or schools, or have been involved in youth ministry projects, both as participants and animators. Others have come to know Don Bosco's way later in life, but all of them have heard and responded to God's call to incorporate a Salesian approach into the way they live out their faith.
Becoming a Salesian Cooperator is a vocation similar to that of a Salesian or Salesian Sister, but lay people are called to live their mission in a different way. Like SDBs and Sisters, Cooperators receive giudance in discerning their vocation, and continuing formation to support and develop their spiritual lives and their commitment to the wellbeing of the young. They do not make vows, but instead, make a life-long promise to live out their faith inspired by Don Bosco's approach, in all aspects of their family, working and social lives, living as 'Salesians in the world', rather than within religious communities.
In some areas, there are groups of Cooperators who meet regularly to pray together, share the charism, and in good Salesian style, to enjoy each other's company. If there is a nearby group, going along can be helpful to someone who is wondering if they have a vocation to live as a Salesian Cooperator. Otherwise, the Provincial Coordinator arranges guidance in exploring this vocation.
Those who live near Salesian parishes and projects may help as volunteers, but being a Cooperator is not dependent on being physically present in a Salesian work. Cooperators who are not part of a local group meet and share Salesian spirituality at the 'Salesian Family' days organised in the Salesian and Salesian Sisters' provices.
If you feel a strong sympathy with the Salesian charism and feel you may be called to live your life differently, contact Jessica Wilkinson, Province Coordinator, to find out more.