Don Bosco or St. John Bosco was born in the year 1815, in a poor farmer's family in
Becchi, a village in Italy. He lost his father at the age of 2 and was raised with much
hardship by his mother. Though he was a bright child, education was expensive and he was
unable to attend school. Yet his zeal for acquiring knowledge and learning urged him to
study while he tended the cattle in the fields. He worked at many jobs with the aim of
learning and paying his way through to obtain an education.
Pursuing his education and vocation, John Bosco became a Catholic priest, hence he was
now known as Don John Bosco, or better still Don Bosco. As a priest he started his
career by teaching young girls for the Marchioness Barollo, a rich society lady of the
city. Turin, the city where he lived at the time was gradually getting industrialized.
The opportunities for employment had increased tremendously and there was a constant
influx of rural people into the city.
With the adults came the many young boys, eager to work, poor, but with no skill or
training of any sort. This often led to the open exploitation of these boys in the
‘sweathouses’. Don Bosco was touched by their lives, the conditions they worked in and
the lack of facilities that they endured. He chose to dedicate his life to these
children. His early experience of poverty equipped him with an understanding of the poor
and the hardships they had to suffer. What really attracted the young to Don Bosco was
his friendliness : “It is not sufficient to love the young; they must know that they are
loved”, he would say to anyone having difficulty working with the young. And this was
the basis of Don Bosco mission. It is only when the young feel loved that they can grow.
He truly loved them: “Here in your midst I feel completely at home; my life, l feel is
to be spent here amongst you”. These were no mere idle words and his dedication to the
young was admirable. Often he had to pay a high price for his efforts; he was chased
away from every quarter of the city, was suspected of subversive political activity and
his fellow priests thinking he was mentally ill wanted to lock him up in a madhouse.
'Circumstances' led him to buy a field with a shed attached to it so that the young
could have a place where they could meet, make new friends and be themselves. Always
short of money but never short of ideas, the ‘Oratorio’ as it was called was soon
overflowing with young boys and a new extension was added to the house to accommodate
the growing numbers.
With the idea of empowering the children, Don Bosco started small trades such as
tailoring, shoemaking, binding, printing etc., at this shelter home so that with a skill
in hand they could bargain and get a better job later. It was a roaring success.
Hundreds of young people benefited and many came forward to help him, especially the
boys (and their parents) who had learnt from him and were now independent.
The success of this venture prompted him to replicate his efforts in several
institutions in Italy and later all over the developed and developing world especially
to South America, Africa, China and India among others, to respond to the needs of
similar marginalized children. His team of dedicated and trained priests carried this
message with them as the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Over time these small practical trades that Don Bosco initiated to empower the most
vulnerable of the society became institutionalized as schools and technical
institutions. The charism and commitment to the young and their holistic development
continues to touch the lives of many marginalized children and youth through Salesian
initiatives the world over. At Shelter Don Bosco, this is reflected in the many happy
faces of the street children and other young people who have felt this special LOVE.