Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life


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The first document contained in this part (no. 225) is the oldest text of the rule that we have. It was written in beautiful handwriting by cleric Michael Rua between 1858 and 1859, beginning from an earlier draft by Don Bosco which has not been preserved. From this draft came all the other constitutional drafts up to the definitive document in 187437. To draw it up Don Bosco, who had no experience of consecrated life, had recourse to constitutions of other religious institutes.

The text, divided into nine articlesorigin; purpose; form; vow of obedience; poverty; chastity; internal government; other superiors; admissionand introduced by a preface and a historical outline on the origins of the Congregation, is still at the stage of being a draft and incomplete, the result in part of experience and in part of literary elaboration. Nevertheless it already presents a range of important choices attributable to Don Bosco himself. In particular the vows, common life and form of government take on their specifically Salesian character in the way they have been formulated, in terms that go beyond simple rules and reflect the urgent spiritual needs of the founder. Coming together in a congregation is motivated by three things: the imitation of Christ the “divine saviour”, the exercise of the Christian virtue of charity and the need to renew society by taking care of the young, especially the poorest of them, and the “ordinary people”.

The theme of charity, “understood as participation in divine grace and the extension of Christ's salvific work”, is what best distinguishes the relationship between Salesians and the beneficiaries of their work. It is charity, “theologically understood and psychologically enriched, that gives a particular meaning to the classic evangelical virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience”38. But the most interesting aspect is the function assigned to the Oratory and the “home attached”: consecration of Salesian religious is in function of the oratorian mission, that is, the boys to be gathered together and instructed in religion, to be given some art or trade, “ as was actually done in the house attached to the Oratory of St Francis de Sales in this city”. In a word, other than models of reference, the charismatic feature emerges in this tendency of Don Bosco to give what is done at the Oratory a legal status39.

The second document (no. 226) is the Italian translation of the Rules or Constitutions of the Society of St Francis de Sales, published in 1875. The edition here, compared with the Latin text approved by Rome (1874), has some special features to it: certain legal clauses are rendered less clearly; the chapter on the novitiate, made up of thirteen articles, is reduced to only seven; the 9th and 10th articles of Chap XI (De acceptione)not contracting even indifferent habits; for the glory of God and the salvation of souls being ready to put up with things like heat, cold, hunger, thirst are transferred to Chap. XIII (Pietatis exercitia), as concluding articles, 12 and 13; an article on setting aside the Rector Major (deposing him!) in case of unworthiness is eliminated40. But the most important modifications concern economic matters, formulations which effectively sanction the almost complete autonomy in the matter from any competent civil and ecclesiastical authority; it is a legal exegesis that Don Bosco formulates in a note to Article 3 of Chap. VII on Internal Government of the Society: “The Salesian Society owns nothing as a moral entity, so except in the case where it is legally approved by some government, it would not be bound by this article. For the same reason each Salesian may exercise the civil rights of purchase, sale, etc., without recourse to the Holy See.

The third document (no. 227), Rules or Constitutions for the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians aggregated to the Salesian Society (1885), is the definitive draft, the last one revised by the Founder, and in force until 190641. The text was preceded by a letter of presentation by Don Bosco (cf. no. 48) and an Introduction, substantially the same as the item To the Salesians, which we do not include here. The document was written up on the basis of the rules for the Daughters of the Immaculate at Mornese, the Salesian Constitutions, the rules of the Sisters of St Anne (founded by Marquis Tancredi and Marchioness Giulia di Barolo). However, the religious profile that emerges is unmistakable: all-embracing and sober, permeated by intense apostolic energy, a marked educational charity, humanism which is unmistakably Salesian and a truly feminine and affectionate spiritual touch - as can easily be seen, for example, in the intense and beautiful Chapter XIII, dedicated to the Essential virtues proposed for study by the novices and for practice by the professed.

225. First draft of the rules of the Salesian Congregation (1858/1859)

Critical ed in Giovanni Bosco, Costituzioni della Società di S. Francesco di Sales [1858]-1875. Critical texts by Francesco Motto. (= Istituto Storico Salesiano – Fonti, Serie prima, 1). Roma, LAS 1982, pp. 58-172.

Congregation of St Francis de Sales

At all times it has been the special concern of the ministers of the church to promote, to the best of their power, the spiritual welfare of the young. The good or evil moral condition of society will depend on whether young people receive a good or a bad education. Our Divine Savior himself has shown us the truth of this by his deeds. For in fulfilling his divine mission on earth, with a love of predilection he invited children to come close to him: “Sinite parvulos venire ad me” [Mk 10:14]. The Supreme Pontiffs, following in the footsteps of the Eternal Pontiff, our Divine Savior, whose vicars on earth they are, have at all times promoted the good education of the young, by the spoken and written word and consequently they have favoured and supported those institutes that are dedicated to this area of the sacred ministry.

At the present time, however, this need is felt with far greater urgency. Parental neglect, the abusive power of the press, and the proselytising efforts of heretics, demand that we unite in fighting for the Lord’s cause, under the banner of the faith. Our efforts must aim at safeguarding the faith and the moral life of that category of young people whose eternal salvation is more at risk precisely because of their poverty. This is the specific purpose of the Congregation of St. Francis de Sales, first established in Turin in 1841.
Origin of this Congregation

As far back as the year 1841, Fr John Bosco, working in association with other priests, began to gather together in suitable premises, the most abandoned young people from the city of Turin, in order to entertain them with games and at the same time break the bread of the Divine Word to them. Everything he did was done with the consent of the ecclesiastical authority. God blessed these humble beginnings, and the number of young people that attended grew so large that in the year 1844 His Grace Archbishop [Louis] Fransoni gave permission to dedicate a building for use as a kind of church, granting at the same time faculties to hold there such services as are necessary for the observance of Sundays and holidays and for the instruction of the young people who attended in ever increasing numbers.

There the Archbishop came on several occasions to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Likewise, in the year 1846 he permitted the young people who attended this institution to be admitted to [first] Holy Communion and to fulfil their Easter duty there. He also permitted [priests] to sing Holy Mass [celebrate solemn Mass, as in parish churches] and to hold triduums and novenas as the occasion demanded. This was the practice at the Oratory named after St. Francis de Sales up to the year 1847. Meanwhile the number of youngsters was rising steadily, and the church then in use could no longer accommodate them. Thus it was that, in that year, again with the permission of the ecclesiastical authority, a second oratory, under the patronage of St Aloysius Gonzaga, having the same purpose as the first, was established in another part of the city

And as with time the premises at these two institutions also proved inadequate, in the year 1849 a third oratory, under the patronage of the Holy Guardian Angel, was established in yet another part of the city.

By then the political climate had deteriorated to the point that [the Catholic] religion faced the gravest difficulties and dangers. In this situation, the ecclesiastical superior most graciously approved the regulations of these oratories, and appointed Fr Bosco their Director-in-Chief, granting to him all the faculties that would be needed or might be helpful for the task.

Bishops in many parts have adopted the very same regulations and have made an effort to introduce these festive oratories into their dioceses. But, an urgent need arose in connection with the care of the [youngsters in these] oratories. Numerous young people somewhat more advanced in age, could not receive proper [religious] instruction merely by attending the Sunday catechism. This made it necessary to open day and evening classes, with catechetical instruction [especially for them]. Furthermore, many of these youngsters found themselves in a situation of dire poverty and neglect. Hence they were received into a home [set up for them]. By this means they were removed from dangers, they received proper religious instruction, and they were started on a trade.

This is still the practice at present, especially in Turin, in the home attached to the Oratory of St Francis de Sales, in which the youngsters given shelter number about two hundred. This is likewise the practice in Genoa, in the Work for Little Artisans, so called, where Fr Francis Montebruno is director and where the youngsters given shelter are forty in number. This is also the practice in the city of Alessandria, where the work is for the duration entrusted to the care of [our] Cleric Angelo Savio, and where the youngsters given shelter are 30.

When, in addition to the youngsters that gather in the festive oratories, one considers those that attend day and evening school, and those that are given shelter, one realises how the Lord’s harvest has increased. Hence in order to maintain unity in spirit and discipline, on which the success of oratory work depends, as far back as 1844 a number of priests banded together to form a kind of congregation, while helping one another by mutual example and instruction.

They did not bind themselves by any formal vow; they merely made a simple promise to devote themselves solely to such work as would, in their superior’s judgement, redound to the glory of God and to the benefit of their souls. They regarded Fr John Bosco as their superior. And although no vows were made, nevertheless the rules that are here presented were [already] observed in practice. Fifteen people at present profess these rules: 5 priests. 8 clerics, and 2 laymen.
Purpose of this Congregation

1. It is the purpose of this society to gather together members, priests, clerics and laymen too, for the purpose of aspiring to perfection through the imitation of the virtues of our Divine Saviour, inasmuch as that is possible.

2. Jesus Christ began to do and to teach; likewise shall the members begin by perfecting themselves through the practice of interior and exterior virtues and through the acquisition of knowledge; and then shall they go to work for the benefit of their neighbour.

3. The first exercise of charity shall be to gather together poor and abandoned young people in order to instruct them in the holy Catholic religion, especially on Sundays and holy days, as is presently done in this city of Turin in the three oratories of St Francis de Sales, of St Aloysius Gonzaga and of the holy Guardian Angel.

4. Furthermore, some young people are found that are so abandoned that unless they are given shelter every care would be expended on them in vain; to this end, as for as possible, houses of shelter shall be opened in which, with the means which Divine Providence will provide, lodging, food and clothing shall be supplied to them. Then, while they are instructed in the truths of the faith, they shall also be started on some trade or work, as is presently done in the house attached to the Oratory of St Francis de Sales in this city.

5. The need to uphold the Catholic religion also among adults of the lower classes is keenly felt, especially in rural settlements—hence the members shall endeavour to give retreats, spread good books, using all the means that charity will prompt, so that, both through the spoken and the written word, a barrier may be erected against impiety and heresy, which in so many ways attempt to make inroads among simple and uneducated people. At present this is done by giving occasional spiritual retreats and by the publication of the Catholic Readings.

Form of the Congregation

1. All the members lead the common life bound only by fraternal charity and by the simple vows, which bind them [together] so that they form one heart and one soul, in order to love and serve God.

2. No one on entering the congregation, even after making his vows, shall forfeit his civil right; therefore he retains possession of his goods, the power of succession and of receiving inheritances, legacies and gifts.

3. For as long as one remains in the congregation, however, the fruit of these goods shall be given over either to the congregation or to relatives or to some other person.

4. Clerics and priests, even after making their vows, retain possession of their patrimonies or simple benefices; but they may neither administer them nor, specifically, enjoy the fruits thereof.

5. The administration of patrimonies, benefices and of anything whatever that is brought into the Congregation or that is in the possession of an individual member pertains to the Superior of the house. He shall, administer them personally or through others, and receive their annual fruits for as long as that member remains in the Congregation.

6. Every priest will also hand over the stipend for the Mass to the superior; the others - clerics or laymen - will give him any monies that might be given them in any way whatsoever, so it can be used for the common good.

7. Likewise whoever wishes to draw up a will [for the benefit of] the Congregation can leave the good he owns to whomsoever he chooses.

8. Whoever dies intestate shall be succeeded by his rightful heir(s).

9. The vows bind the individual for as long as he remains in the Congregation. Those who either leave of their own free will or are dismissed from the Congregation in consequence of a prudent decision by the superiors, are by that very fact regarded as released from their vows.

10. Let each one endeavour to persevere in his vocation until death. Should anyone, however, leave the Congregation he shall not be entitled to claim any compensation for the time he has remained therein nor to take with him any goods except those that the Superior of the house will judge to be appropriate.

11. If it should happen that a new House is to be established elsewhere, an agreement regarding matters spiritual and temporal should be reached with the bishop of the diocese in which the prospective House is to be opened.

12. The members who are assigned to open a new House shall not be less than two in number, and of these at least one shall be a priest. Each House shall be independently responsible for the administration of its own goods, but always within the limits laid down by the Superior.

13. It is the Superior’s prerogative to admit candidates to the novitiate, to accept novices for profession or to dismiss them, as he may think best in the Lord. But he shall not dismiss anyone from the house without first consulting the Superiors [of the community] to which [the individual] belongs.

14. The obligations which each member takes upon himself by the profession of vows do not bind under pain of sin, except when the natural, divine or ecclesiastical law may be violated, or when [the matter is] expressly commanded by the Superior under [the vow of) holy obedience.
The vow of obedience

1. The prophet David would beseech God that He would give him light to do His holy will. Our Divine Redeemer, moreover, has assured us that He came not to do His own will, but that of His heavenly Father. It is in order that we may be sure of doing the holy will of God that we make the vow of obedience.

2. This vow binds us not to apply ourselves except to those things which each one’s superior judges to be conducive to the greater glory of God and the welfare of our own soul.

3. In particular, it extends to observance of the rules contained in the draft regulations for the house: as have been practised for many years in the house attached to the Oratory of St Francis de Sales.

4. The virtue of obedience gives us the assurance that we are doing God’s will. As the Savior says, “Whoever listens to you, listens to Me; and whoever rejects you rejects Me.”

5. Let each one then look on his superior as a father, and obey him unreservedly, promptly, cheerfully, and humbly.

6. Let no one be anxious to ask for any particular thing or to refuse it. But when one thinks that a particular thing is harmful or necessary, let him respectfully mention the fact to his superior and accept his decision with resignation as from the Lord.

7. Let everyone place great confidence in his superior and let no secret of the heart be kept from him. Let him openly manifest his conscience to him whenever he should be asked or he himself feels a need to do so.

8. Let everyone obey without any sort of resistance, either in deed, or in word, or in heart. The more repugnant the thing commanded is to him who does it, the greater will be his merit before God for having obeyed.

9. No one may send out mail without the permission of his superior, or of his superior’s delegate. Likewise, incoming letters will be handed over to the superior who may read them if he so judges fit.

Vow of poverty

1. The essence of the vow of poverty [as practised] in our congregation lies in leading the common life regarding food and clothing, and in not keeping anything under lock and key without the superior’s special permission..

2. It is part of this vow [that the members should strive] to keep the[ir] rooms in the simplest possible style, seeking to adorn the heart with virtue, and not to ornament either the[ir] person or the walls of their rooms.

3. Let no one, either in the House or out of it, keep any money in his possession or deposited with others, for any reason whatsoever.

4. When a member needs to travel, of the superior sends him to open or run a house or go out for ministry, the Superior shall provide whatever is necessary.

5. It is forbidden to lend money or things either to those in the house. Not only is it forbidden to do these things with outsiders, but not even with people in the house without the permission of the superiors.

6. Offerings given to members must be handed in to the Superior who will give it to the procurator of the house to be placed in the coffers of the Congregation.

The vow of chastity

1. Whoever deals with abandoned young people must certainly try to enrich himself with every virtue. But the angelic virtue, the virtue so dear to the Son of God, the virtue of chastity, must be cultivated to an outstanding degree.

2. Whoever is unsure of preserving this virtue in deed, word, thoughts, should not join this Congregation because he would be exposed to risks at every step. Words and even nonchalant glances [are] understood badly by boys who have already been the victim of human passions.

3. Therefore the greatest caution [must be had] in speaking with or dealing with boys of almost any age or circumstance.

4. Avoid conversations with individuals of the other sex and lay people wherever you foresee that this virtue would be at risk.

5. No one should visit the home of acquaintances without the express permission of the superior who will always appoint a companion [to go with him].

6. Effective ways of guarding this virtue are the exact practice of the advice of one's confessor, modesty and mortification of all the bodily senses, frequent visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, frequent brief prayers to Mary, St Francis de Sales, St Aloysius Gonzaga, who are the principle protectors of this Congregation.

Internal Government of the Congregation

1. The Congregation will be governed by a Chapter made up of a Rector, Prefect, Bursar, Spiritual Director or Catechist and two Councillors.

2. The Rector holds office for life; it is up to him to accept postulants or otherwise. He assigns each one his tasks be they spiritual or temporal.

3. The Rector will appoint a Vicar from amongst the individuals of the Congregation and will designate him by name and surname on a sheet of sealed paper, keeping it secret and under lock and key. On the envelope he shall write: temporary Rector.

4. The Vicar will take the place of the Rector at his death until his successor is definitively elected.

5. For one to be elected Rector he must have spent at least six years in the Congregation, and have completed his thirtieth year of age. He will have been exemplary in the mind of all the members. Should he have all the other gifts to an outstanding degree the bishop [ordinary] can lower the age [limit] to 26 years.

6. The Rector will not be definitively elected until approved by the ecclesiastical superior.

7. The election of the successor to the deceased Rector will happen thus: eight days after the Rector's death the Prefect, Bursar, Spiritual Director and two councillors will meet with the Vicar and the two oldest members of the Congregation. If time and place permit the Rectors of all the other houses will also be invited. Having recited the De profundis in suffrage for the deceased Rector, and called on the assistance of the Holy Spirit with the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, they will commence the voting. Whoever gains two thirds of the votes will be the new Rector.

The other superiors

1. The roles of the other superiors of the house will be given out by the Rector in accordance with the draft regulations for the boys who are given shelter.

2. The Spiritual Director, however, will take special care of the novices and will take the greatest care to see that they learn and practise the spirit of charity and zeal which should animate one who wishes to dedicate his entire life to the welfare of abandoned youth.

3. It is also the special task of the [Spiritual] Director to watch over the conduct of the Rector with the strict obligation of advising him if he should neglect to observe the rules of the Congregation.

4. But it is also the special concern of the [Spiritual] Director to watch over the moral conduct of all the members.

5. The Prefect, Bursar, Spiritual Director will by elected by majority vote of the superiors. The two councillors will be chosen by the Rector alone.

6. When a member is sent to run a house he has the authority of the Director, but his authority is limited to the house of which he is the Director. On the death of the Rector he too is invited to cast his vote in the election of the future Rector.

7. Each of the superiors with the exception of the Rector, will be in office for three years and can be re-elected.


1. Once someone who wishes to enter the Congregation has made his request, the Spiritual Director will collect the necessary information which he will pass on to the Rector.

2. The Rector will then present him or otherwise for admission as he thinks best in the Lord. But when he is proposed to the Chapter he will only be accepted if he obtains a simple majority of votes.

3. The trial period for being admitted to vows will be one year. No one can take vows unless he has completed his sixteenth year.

4. The vows will be renewed twice. They will be taken for three years on each occasion After six years each one is free to continue for a further three years or to make them in perpetuity, meaning he obliges himself to fulfil his vows for the rest of his life.

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