Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life

Keeping the memory of deceased confreres


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233. Keeping the memory of deceased confreres

Critical ed. in E(m) IV, pp. 381-382.

[Turin, January 1875]
To Salesian confreres,

1874, my beloved sons, was a very memorable one for us. His Holiness Pius IX currently reigning, after having granted us great favours on April 3, deigned then to definitively approve our humble Congregation. While of course this glorious event filled us all with true joy it was soon gravely saddened by another series of events. In fact on the 13th of the same month God called Fr Provera to himself, then Fr Pestarino, and then cleric Ghione and Fr Gisueppe Cagliero and all this in the space of just four months.

We have lost four workers for the Gospel in these dear confreres, all perpetually professed, all who very much loved the Salesian Congregation, faithfully observed our Constitutions, and were truly zealous in working for the greater glory of God.

So it should not surprise us that these losses were felt so hard in our Society. But God who is so infinitely good and who knows what can be to our greatest benefit judged that they were already worthy of himself. One can say of them that they lived only a short time but worked as much as if they had lived a very long time: Brevi vivens tempore, explevit tempora multa [Ws 4:13]. And we have well-founded reason to believe that these confreres, ceasing to work amongst us here on earth, have become our protectors with God in Heaven.

We therefore believe it is appropriate to offer some indications on the life of each of them so their memory may be preserved amongst us.

What we do for them, with the Lord’s help, we hope will be done for confreres already called to eternal life in times past and for those whom God will be pleased to call in the future. We do this for three reasons in particular:

1. Because other religious orders and ecclesiastical congregations usually do this.

2. So that those who lived amongst us and practised the same rules in exemplary fashion may be an encouragement to us to follow them in promoting what is good and fleeing from what is evil.

3. So that by preserving their names and their main actions we may more easily be reminded to lift up our prayers to God for the eternal repose of their souls, should they still not yet have been welcomed into the bosom of divine mercy.

We certainly must not serve the Lord so that the memory of our actions will be preserved amongst men, but so that our names, as the Saviour says, may be written in the book of life. This notwithstanding, we must recognise that just as our bad works can cause scandal to others after our death, so can our good deeds be a source of edification.

Therefore while we are reading this brief collection of information concerning our confreres let us not cease to lift up our prayers to God for them and for all the confreres who have been called to the other life since the beginning of the Congregation.

Over this current year (1875) we should demonstrate our indelible gratitude by raising up constant supplication to the Divine Majesty for the holy Church and especially for the preservation of the precious days of our Supreme Pontiff, our outstanding benefactor, from whom we have so often been filled with spiritual and temporal benefits. He deigned to give definitive approval to our Constitutions, so we may be faithful in observing them; he has granted us many favours. Let us try to show ourselves worthy by using them for the greater glory of God and the good of souls.

May God bless you all my dear sons, and pray for me too. I am most affectionately yours in Jesus Christ,
Fr John Bosco
234. Ways of cultivating vocations and preserving the spirit of piety

Critical Ed. in E(m) V, pp. 41-44.

Turin, 12 January 1876
My dear sons in Jesus Christ,

Having completed my visit to our Houses, I feel the need to spend some time with you, my dear sons, on matters that could be for the greater glory of God and to the advantage of our Congregation.

Before anything else I am happy to be able to reassure you that I have been very happy with the material and moral progress, both in what refers to internal administration and in our external social relationships. There is work being done, the Constitutions of the Society are observed, discipline is being maintained, people are frequenting the holy Sacraments, the spirit of piety is being fostered and vocations cultivated amongst those with the good fortune to show signs of being called to the ecclesiastical state. Thanks be to God for all this. It is to his goodness and mercy that we owe the little good we are achieving amongst us.

I also have the consolation of sharing with you how our Society is growing day by day. The year just finished a number of new houses were opened; others will be opened this year, 1876. Personnel is growing in number and in approach, but as soon as someone becomes suitable to take up a responsibility, Divine Providence immediately presents an opportunity to put him to work.

What can we say of the requests to open houses in so many places? In many cities in Italy, France, England; in North, Central and South America and especially in the Empire of Brazil and in the Argentine Republic; in Algeria, Africa, Egypt, in Palestine, India, Japan, China, Australia there are millions and millions of reasonable beings still buried in the darkness of error, but from the brink of perdition they raise their voices and cry: “Lord, send us workers of the Gospel who can come and bring us the light of truth and point out the only way that can lead to salvation.” A few of our confreres, as you well know, have already given ear to these moving voices and have left for the Argentine Republic, where they have gone amongst the savage tribes of Patagonia; but in all the letters written on their journey and from their places of mission the same voice resounds: “Send us workers.” Amongst other things they note how the Archdiocese of Rio Janeiro, Brazil, has two million inhabitants with very few priests and just five seminarians in the seminary.

My dear sons, I am distressed when I reflect on the abundant harvest that presents itself at any time and anywhere, and that we have to leave unharvested because of lack of workers. However let us not lose courage, and for now apply ourselves seriously to work and with prayer and virtue prepare a new army for Jesus Christ. We will achieve this especially by cultivating religious vocations; and if needs be in time we will even offer ourselves for those sacrifices that God deigns to ask of us for our salvation and that of others. Meanwhile, in the desire to come to matters which will be helpful in cultivating religious vocations and be effective for preserving the spirit of piety amongst Salesians and the boys entrusted to us, I am recommending some things that experience has taught me as being very necessary.

1. In every House, and especially in the Oratory of St Francis de Sales, let each one take great care to foster small groups such as the Altar Servers, Sodalities of the Blessed Sacrament, St Aloysius, Mary Help of Christians and the Immaculate Conception. Let no one be afraid of speaking about them, recommending them, encouraging them and pointing out their purpose, origin, and the indulgences and the other advantages that can be gained. I believe that these groups called be called the key to piety, preserver of morals, support of ecclesiastical and religious vocations.

2. Be careful of relationships, friendships or ordinary or particular conversations whether in writing, talking, through books or gifts of any kind. Taking someone's hand, caresses on the face, kisses, walking arm in arm or with your arms around someone else's neck are all strictly prohibited, not only amongst yourselves and yourselves and your pupils, I say, but including amongst the pupils themselves. Let's keep our thoughts firmly fixed on what St Jerome says: “affection for no one or equal affection for everyone.”

3. Keep away from the world and its maxims. The root of sorrows and disorder are our relationships with the world we have abandoned and which wants to attract us back to it again. Many who seemed to be models of virtue while living in the religious house, once they went elsewhere, with family or friends, soon lost their good will and after returning to the Order could no longer recover [their former stance], and some have even gone as far as losing their vocation. Therefore never go back to the family except for serious reasons and when there are serious reasons never go without due permission and, as far as is possible, accompanied by a confrere chosen by the superior. Taking on commissions, recommendations, business affairs, buying or selling for others are things to be constantly avoided because they can be ruinous for vocations and morality.

4. In the evening after prayers, let each one retire immediately for rest. Stopping to take a walk, chat or finish work, is dangerous for spiritual and also bodily health. I know that in some places, thanks be to God not in our houses, they were forced to lament painful abuses and when they sought the reason for them, they were found to be conversations begun or continued at the time we are talking about.

Punctuality in taking rest is tied in with getting up promptly in the mornings, something I equally insist on. Believe it, my dear sons, fatal experience tells us that spending longer in bed in the mornings without need for it was always found to be a very dangerous thing. On the other hand getting up promptly, as well as being the principle for having a good day, could also be called an ongoing good example for everyone. In this regard I could not fail to warmly recommend that Superiors act in such a way that everyone, especially Coadjutors and service personnel, are given time to be at holy Mass every morning, the opportunity to receive holy Communion frequently and go to the Sacrament of Penance regularly, according to our Constitutions.

This letter that I am addressing to everyone in general I would like you to consider also as written for each of you in particular, and that its every word be spoken, repeated a thousand times in everyone's hearing, so it will never be forgotten.

But I hope, out of the affection you have for me, and for the commitment you show to your duties, especially by putting into practice the advice of your father and spiritual friend, you will give me the great consolation of not only being faithful to these recommendations, but even more will interpret them in ways that can best contribute to the greater glory of God and of our Congregation.

And with such persuasion I ask God to bless you all and grant you good health and the precious gift of perseverance in doing good. And finally, pray for me. I remain yours always, in Jesus Christ our Lord,

Your affectionate friend,

Fr John Bosco
235. Strenna to confreres and boys

Critical ed. in E IV, p. 195.

Turin, 28 December1882
Dear Director at the House in …

We are at the end of the year and the beginning of a new one.

I encourage you to warmly thank everyone who has written to me and prayed for me over these days.

I am asking God to give everyone health and the grace of a happy life.

My strenna, then, is:

1. For the director. Charity and kindness with everyone.

2. For confreres of the Congregation. Exact observance of the vows by which we have consecrated ourselves to the Lord.

3. For all the youngsters. Frequent confession and devout communion.

4. Tell everyone from me that I recommend they tell me completely and separately what they want me to do to help them save their souls, which was and will be the object of all my concerns to the end of my life.

May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ always remain with us.

Your most affectionate friend,
Fr John Bosco

236. We have put our hand to the plough: be firm

Critical ed. in Lettere circolari di DB, pp. 20-2253.

Turin, 6 January 1884

My dear and beloved sons,

I experience great consolation every time I hear words of homage and affection from you, my dear sons and my good daughters. But the affectionate expressions of Season's Greetings and Happy New Year which you have given me personally or by letter, reasonably demands a special thanks from me in answer to the filial affection you have shown me.

First of all let me tell you that I am very pleased with you, with your solicitude in every kind of work, even taking on heavy work in order to promote the greater glory of God in our houses and amongst the boys and girls Divine providence entrusts to us every day, so that we may lead them along the path of virtue and honour on the way to Heaven. You have thanked me an many ways and with different expressions for what I have done for you. You have offered yourselves to work courageously with me and to share the labours, the glory and honour on earth, in order to obtain the great reward that God has prepared for us all in Heaven. You also told me that you desire nothing except to know that which I think best for you and which you would carefully listen to and practise. I am also pleased with these precious words. As a father I simply reply that I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and that the best thing you can do for me is to help me save your souls.

You know well, my beloved sons that I have accepted you in the Congregation and that I have always taken great care of your spiritual well-being in order to assure your eternal salvation. Therefore if you help me in this great undertaking you do what my paternal heart expects from you. You can easily guess, then, the things you must practise in order to succeed in this great project. Observe the Rule, the Rule that holy Mother Church destined to be your guide, for the good of your soul and for the spiritual and temporal advantage of your pupils. We have read and studied this Rule, and now it forms the object of our promises and the vows with which we have consecrated ourselves to the Lord.

Therefore I recommend with all my heart that not one of you let words of regret escape you, or worse still, of sorrow for being consecrated to the Lord. This would be an act of deepest ingratitude. All that we have either in the spiritual or temporal order belongs to God. Therefore when we consecrate ourselves to him by our religious profession, we do nothing more than offer to God what he himself has so to say lent us, but which is his absolute property. Moreover by withdrawing from the observance of our vows, we commit theft against God, and before his eyes we take back, we despise, we profane that which we have offered him and which we have placed in his holy hands. Some of you may say: "But the observance of our Rule is burdensome. The observance of the Rule is burdensome to those who observe it unwillingly, to those who transgress it. But to the diligent, who love the good of their soul, this observance becomes, as the Divine Saviour says: “Jugum meum suave est, et onus meum leve.”

And then, my dear sons, do we wish to go to Heaven in a carriage? We became religious not to enjoy ourselves but to suffer and to earn merit for the next life. We consecrated ourselves to God not to command but to obey; not to attach ourselves to creatures but to practise charity towards our neighbour, moved solely by the love of God; not to live a comfortable life but to be poor with Jesus Christ, to suffer with Jesus Christ on earth, to be made worthy of his glory in Heaven.

Courage then, dear and beloved sons and daughters; we have put our hand to the plough - be firm; let no one of you turn back to admire the false and treacherous world. Let us go on. It will cost us fatigue, hunger, suffering, thirst and perhaps even death. We shall always answer: "If the greatness of the reward delights us, the fatigue we must bear to merit it should not dishearten us: Si delectat magnitudo praemiorum, non deterreat certamen laborum.”

There is one other thing I believe I should mention. Our confreres are writing to me from everywhere. I would be very happy to give everyone due answer. But that not being possible, I will try to send out letters more often; letters that, while they make it easier for me to open my heart, could also serve as an answer, even a guide for those who for holy reasons are living in distant lands and therefore cannot be around to hear the voice of the father who loves them so much in Jesus Christ.

The grace of Our Lord and the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary be always with you, and help you to persevere in the Divine service until the last moment of your life. Amen.

Affectionately yours in Jesus Christ,

Fr John Bosco
237. Attitudes and virtues of a Daughter of Mary Help of Christians

Critical ed. in Cronistoria. by Giselda Capetti. Vol. 5. Ultimi anni sotto lo sguardo del Fondatore (1885-1888). Roma, Istituto FMA 1978, pp. 91-94.

Turin, 24 May 1886

Most beloved Daughters in Jesus Christ,

While we are celebrating the most solemn Feast of Mary Help of Christians in Turin today, with an extraordinary gathering of people who have come from all parts as children to the feet of their most tender Mother, it is very consoling for me to turn my thoughts also to you and to the Institute that bears her name. Yes, I have also remembered the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians this morning at holy Mass, and I have prayed for them.

Among others I have asked the grace that you remain faithful to your holy vocation, that you should be religious with a love of perfection and holiness; that by the practice of the Christian and religious virtues, by an edifying and exemplary life, you should give honour to Jesus Christ your Heavenly Spouse and honour to Mary, most loving Mother. I hope that you have also prayed for me and that Mary Help of Christians will hear our prayers and obtain for us from God the grace of living in the holy fear of God, of saving our own soul and that of many others.

Meanwhile I announce to you that this year finishes the six year term since the election of the members of the Superior Chapter of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. Therefore according to Chapter VII of the Constitutions, new elections will be held.

Please God this will take place toward the middle of August on a day within the Octave of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady into Heaven. For this reason I invite all the superiors who can, to be at the Mother House of Nizza Monferrato, where the elections will probably take place before the 15th of the appointed month.

Since the good of the whole Institute and the glory of God depends in large measure upon a good Chapter, and above all on a wise Superior General, the Sisters eligible to vote need particular enlightenment in their choice and in giving their vote to those who are considered most capable for the important office.

Therefore it is necessary that Our Lord enlighten them and guide them to fulfil this duty according to his holy will, so that great advantage might come from it.

For this reason I recommend that from the day on which this letter is received, every Superior shall have recited or sung in common by the Sisters, the Veni Creator in the morning and in the evening the Ave Maris Stella.

I also exhort every Sister to add special prayer privately, particularly after holy Communion, and to make some acts of virtue or mortification to obtain all the help which is necessary for the superiors.

Besides prayers, the voters should reflect on the present needs of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. It seems to me that the Institute needs Sisters who, formed with the spirit of mortification and sacrifice, greatly desire to work and suffer for Jesus Christ and for the salvation of their neighbour. It needs Sisters who are well persuaded that exact obedience, without comment or complaint, is the way which they must walk with courage in order to reach perfection and holiness quickly. It needs Sisters who know how to master their affections, and how to keep their heart turned to God only, so as to be able to say with St Francis de Sales: “If I knew that one fibre of my heart were not for God I would tear it out.” It needs Sisters who regret neither the world nor its goods, nor the comforts which they have renounced; Sisters who regard it as glory to live in poverty and privation like their Divine Spouse, Jesus, who being rich, made himself poor in order to enrich souls by his grace and make them heirs of paradise; Sisters who have no other ambition on earth than to follow Jesus Christ, humiliated, crowned with thorns and nailed to a cross, in order to surround him exalted in glory among the splendours of the Angels and the Saints.

It needs Sisters of good physical constitution, of good disposition, of a cheerful spirit, desirous above all of becoming saints, not by extraordinary means but by ordinary actions, so that they may be a means of stimulating and encouraging their neighbours and especially youth to the practice of Christian virtues. In short it needs Sisters who are and can make themselves fit instruments for the glory of God, discharging those offices and fulfilling those duties which are proper to the Institute.

Now, to have such Sisters, it is important to have Superiors at the head of the Institute who have sound judgement to test and discern the vocations of young girls before admitting them to Clothing and Profession. It is also important to have superiors who themselves possess and practise those virtues which they have to inculcate in their subjects. It is important that the superiors love all the Sisters impartially like their own sisters, like Daughters of Mary, like spouses of Jesus Christ. To a kind and patient charity, however, they must add that firmness of soul which in due time will prevent abuses and transgressions of the Constitutions without violence and, moreover, without human respect. Superiors should possess a prudent and discrete firmness of soul which, while preserving piety and regular observance, does not endanger the health of the Sisters.

Let each Superior reflect which of her Sisters possess these gifts more or less, and in due time vote for those who, before God and according to her own conscience, seem most suitable for the position they must occupy.

In the hope of being able to be present for the forthcoming General Chapter, I pray God to preserve you all in his holy grace and to grant that all may love him and faithfully serve him—superiors and subjects, the healthy and the sick, in whatever place or occupation obedience assigns you, so that when that day and the hour comes for Our Lord Jesus Christ to call you to eternity, you may be able to reply: “I am ready, O my God; let us go to the enjoyment of that happiness which you have prepared for me in your infinite mercy.”

Pray for me, and believe me in the Lord,

Yours very affectionately,

Fr John Bosco


These brief items of correspondence, written in familiar tone, contain simple advice on spiritual life Don Bosco knew those he wrote to, their character, defects, the circumstances in which they worked. In a practical way he invited them to focus on concrete attitudes essential for nurturing their attachment to their Salesian vocation, constantly keeping their hearts leaning to God and charity.

The holy founder, writing to his Salesians, highlights the primacy of charity He encourages zeal for souls and the good of their neighbour. He urges them to have confidence in their director and obey generously. In particular he emphasises the importance of temperance and sobriety of life, detachment from self and things. He recommends courage in adversity, mutual support, patience and kindness. He asks them to be exemplary, to observe the rules, have a spirit of piety and union with God. He encourages perseverance at the cost of any sacrifice.

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