Who is Don Bosco? - Fr Laurence Essery SDB
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Who is Don Bosco? - Fr Laurence Essery SDB

The religious congregation founded by St John Bosco is known officially as ‘The Salesians of Don Bosco’, its members adding the letters SDB to their names. Who was this Don Bosco?

Don Bosco. Photo: Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.comDon Bosco. Photo: Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.com

Giovanni Bosco was the son of a Piedmontese farmer, his mother Margaret Occhiena, who lived in the small hamlet of Becchi with his half-brother Antonio and his brother Giuseppe. His father died when he was only two years old, leaving his saintly, hard-working mother to cope with the farm and the upbringing of the three boys.

At the age of nine, Giovanni had a dream-vision in which his future life was detailed; he was to turn ‘wild animals’ into honest and God-loving citizens. With Mamma Margareta’s encouragement and sacrifices, young Bosco set about an education that would prepare him for the priesthood and the realisation of his dream in 1841.

Under the tutelage of the Torinese saint, Joseph Cafasso, ‘Don Bosco’, as he would be known as a priest, began his apostolate on the streets of Turin and in the city’s prisons.

On Sundays and feast days he would gather together young lads who had come into the city to find work, bring them to Mass and the sacraments and find somewhere where they could relax and enjoy the freedom of friendship and recreation.

Eventually they settled in the district of Valdocco where he acquired a property, which was to become the ‘Oratory’, the centre and focus of his work.

Here he built accommodation for the orphans who had become his family, and where he inspired some of these lads to follow him more intimately by becoming Salesians, co-workers and founding members of the religious congregation to be known as the Salesians of Don Bosco.

The Salesian family continued to grow: with the future saint Maria Domenica Mazzarello Don Bosco founded the congregation of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Association of Salesian Cooperators, the Association of the Devotees of Mary Help of Christians and the Salesian Past Pupils Association.

Where and who are Don Bosco today?

St John Bosco had always dreamt of sending his priests and brothers to the missions. His dream of Salesians in South America and China were realised during and shortly after his death in 1888.

The Sliema Oratory is also well known for its splendid theatre where many an aspiring thespian has graced its stage

Now they are to be found across the world: missionaries from Italy and other countries of Europe where the Salesians had set up schools and oratories, fostering in doing so vocations to the religious life in its many forms.

The Salesians came to Malta shortly after the founder’s death, settling in Sliema at the turn of the century and expanding to Dingli before the beginning of the new millennium.

St Philip house in Senglea was to follow, which provides chaplains for Mcast and has a flourishing oratory.

St Patrick’s School in Sliema opened in 1903 to cater for boys in need of social care, and continues its mission to this day.

Savio College was built with the aim of fostering and nurturing vocations so that many of the present generation of SDBs owe their calling to the guidance they received at Dingli.

The Festive Oratory concept was always fundamental to Don Bosco’s apostolate; Is-Salesjani ta’ tas-Sliema goes back to the early Maltese days of the congregation, to be followed briefly by the oratories in Birkirkara and Luqa, and more recently and more permanently in Dingli and Senglea.

The Sliema Oratory is also well known for its splendid theatre where many an aspiring thespian has graced its stage. Nor was the oratory, to be found not only on the Island of Malta but also in Victoria, where the name of the subsequent development still enjoys the name and patronage of Don Bosco.

In recent years, especially due to the migration issue, care is being offered in the two Sliema residences of the Osanna Pia House and the ‘Dar Mamma Margarita’.

Another of Don Bosco’s practical solutions to the spread of adverse propaganda was the printing press and the sale of religious publications. This aim is realised in Malta at the Salesian Press at St Patrick’s, and the LTN bookshop in Sliema.

As educators, the whole Salesian family, as the name implies, is influenced by the gentle wisdom of St Francis de Sales.

Distilled by Don Bosco into what he called ‘The Preventive System’, their guiding principles are the three concepts of reason, religion and loving kindness, lived and practised under the loving mantle of Our Lady Help Christians, where the dream commenced.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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