I was very pleased to receive your letter and I gave your news to the boys who were part of the caravan at Tortona. They were delighted and gave me the pleasant task of thanking you and greeting you. I would certainly like to speak with you at some length, but the things I would like to tell you cannot be entrusted to a letter. If you would like to you can visit me next holidays and I will tell you what I would like to be writing.
As a friend of your soul, I can but give you certain basic reminders. There are three of them, three 'F's. They are:
1. Flee from idleness.
2. Flee companions who indulge in immoral conversations or give you bad advice.
3. Fervent and frequent Confession and Communion.
Please greet your two brothers for me, Emanuele Callori and other Piedmontese there whom you have made known to me. May God bless you and keep you in his holy grace. Pray for me.
I am yours affectionately in the Lord,
Fr John Bosco
197. To the pupils at Mirabello
Critical ed. in E(m) II, pp. 279-281.
Turin, 26 July 1866
To my dear boys at Mirabello.
I had decided to come to you next Sunday, then suddenly demanding reasons have forced otherwise. I am very sorry about this. I had already set my mind on what I wanted to tell you. Patience, God wants us to hold our consolation until after the holidays so then I hope to spend not one day but a week with you.
Meanwhile I think I should wish you happy holidays with some fatherly advice that I feel is necessary for your souls.
1. I thank your director, prefect, teachers, assistants and all the others at the junior seminary for all their courtesies, patience shown me and the prayers for my poor soul. Continue, dear boys; I assure you that I pray for you every day in my Holy Mass.
2. Before leaving each one should clean his conscience with the firm resolution to keep it that way until the return from the holidays, for the week or day established for returning. Don't allow yourself to stay at home for some frivolous reason beyond the established time, unless it is your health that does not allow you to return.
3. Once you arrive home immediately greet your parents, parish priest, teachers and others you should greet on my behalf and on behalf of your superiors. This is a strict duty of gratitude which will please others and will also benefit you.
4. At home make your usual meditation, go to mass, do some daily reading as you do at college. Be just as regular with confession and communion.
Let it be seen by your behaviour with the family that your year at school was not wasted; be models for your relatives and friends in the virtue of obedience, charitably put up with others, make no demands in food, rest, clothing and the like.
6. Let it never be said that you got involved in improper talk or not even listening to such. If you hear someone doing this, imitate our protector St Aloysius: either reprimand the one doing it or immediately leave such a dangerous friend.
7. Try to recount some deed, some example you have read, heard, studied to those who want to listen to you; or read a good book, but avoid bad books as being deadly poison for your souls.
Certainly, my dear boys, there are many other things I would say to you if a brief letter would allow me. I can certainly tell you that when you go elsewhere you will find people who are more learned and far more virtuous than me, but it will be difficult to find someone who seeks what is good for you more than I do.
So remember me each morning when you hear Mass. For my part I will not fail to remember you each day as I am celebrating it. What a great consolation for me, what great fortune for you if you go home and return without losing the Lord's grace! Make sure you rest, be happy, laugh, sing, go for walks and do whatever you like, so long as you do not commit sin.
Happy holidays, my dear boys, and happy return as well. May the Lord's blessing accompany you at every step.
The director of classes will get you to read and also copy this letter for whoever wishes to.
May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ always be with us and may the Holy Virgin Mary assist and help us to persevere on the way to heaven. Amen.
Believe that I am always, with fatherly affection, completely yours in the Lord,
Turin, 26 July 1867
Dear boys at the College in Lanzo,
I have put off writing to you until now, dear boys, because I thought I could personally speak with you before the holidays. But now I see that the demands of my work are going to deprive me of this pleasure, which I will try to satisfy through the pen.
Let me tell you that I am grateful for the offering you made for the church of Mary Help of Christians and the dear letters that you have been pleased to write to me. You cannot imagine how much pleasure it has given me to read each one and it felt I was speaking with each one of you. While reading, my heart was giving the answer that it was not possible to give in writing to each one of you.
Be convinced my dear boys that you have written some beautiful thoughts, but these thoughts find echo in my heart and I hope that your heart and mine will be one in loving and serving the Lord. So be blessed and thanked for your charity and the kindness you have shown me.
1. As much as possible, come back on the day that classes are due to recommence, which I believe is the 16th of August; unless some illness prevents you.
2. Greet your family, parish priest, teachers on my behalf.
3. If you find a virtuous companion in your village try to get him to come back to college with you; for those who don't seem so good do not talk to them about coming to college.
4. While you are home at least go to communion on Sundays. During the week do not omit your meditation every morning.
5. Every morning say an Our Father and a Hail Mary with a Glory be to the Blessed Sacrament so you can join with me as I pray for you every day at Holy Mass that none of you becomes a victim of cholera which is having a terrible impact on nearby towns. And regarding this terrible disease I would advise that if it is in your town do not go there for holidays, so that you do not endanger your life unnecessarily.
Pray to God for me, dear boys and let us pray for one another that we can avoid offending the Lord during our life and be together one day to praise, bless and glory the divine mercies in heaven. Amen.
Your affectionate friend, father, brother,
Fr John Bosco
P.S. Long live the Director, Prefect, Teachers, Assistants and all my dear sons at Lanzo.
199. To Giovanni Turco
Critical ed. in E(m) II, p. 445.
Turin, 23 October 1867
My dear Turco,
Your letter gave me much pleasure and was so much the more pleasing in that you spoke to me with our old confidence, and this for Don Bosco is the dearest thing in the world.
Looking at your letter from just one point of view I thank the Lord that during the most difficult years of your life he helped you to maintain the healthy principles of religion. One could say that the difficult age has passed and that the more you progress in years, the more will the illusions man has about this world vanish and you will be more confirmed than ever in what you have told me - that only religion is steady and can always and in any age make man happy now and in eternity.
With that bit of philosophy behind us I advise you to continue on with your work as a surveyor, and practising your religion especially with frequent confession which is a true balm for you; but do everything possible to be with and console your good father in his current old age which, thanks be to God, seems to be going well.
As I have always prayed for you at Holy Mass in the past, I will do so even more gladly now in the future because you have asked me to. You will also pray for me, that's right isn't it?
I will always find consolation when you write to me.
May God bless you and your father and keep you both ad multos annos with a happy life.
Fr Francesia, Fr Lazzero, Chiapale and many other of your friends greet you. I will always be, in the Lord,
Your most affectionate friend,
Fr John Bosco
200. To Luigi Vaccaneo
Critical ed. in E(m) II, p. 458.
Turin, 11 December 1867
My dear Vaccaneo,
I received you letter and you gave me pleasure by writing to me; I will not fail to pray to the Lord for you at Holy Mass. You pray for me too.
For now God does not want us to live under the same roof; who knows what will happen at another time? May everything be for his greater glory.
There are three things I recommend to you: attention to meditation in the morning; going with more prayerful companions; temperance in eating.
May God bless you and all my boys from the Oratory who are with you; greet them for me, and pray for me. I am with all my heart,
Yours affectionately in Jesus Christ,
Fr John Bosco
201. To Fr Joseph Lazzero and the trade boys' community at
Critical ed. in E(m) IV, p. 208.
Rome, 20 January 1874
My dear Fr Lazzero and dear boys,
Although I have written a letter to all my beloved boys at the Oratory, because the trade students are the apple of my eye, and since I have asked the Holy Father for a special blessing for them, I would like to please you and satisfy my own heart by writing to you.
There is no need to tell you how much affection I have for you. I have given you clear proof of that. Nor do I need you to tell me of your love for me, because you have shown that so often. But what is our mutual affections based on? On money? Not mine, because I spend it on you; not yours because (and don't be offended) you have none. So my affection is based on the desire I have to save your souls. You were all redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and you love me because I try to lead you along the path to eternal salvation. So the good of our souls is the basis of our affection.
But, my dear boys, does each of us really behave in a way that leads to saving our souls, or rather to losing them?
If our Divine Saviour would call each of us at this moment to his divine tribunal to be judged would he find us all ready? Resolutions made and never kept; scandals committed and not amended for; conversations which teach bad things to others are all things we should fear reproach for.
However while Jesus Christ could rightly reproach us for these, I am convinced that many will present with a clean conscience and with their state of soul well-adjusted, and this is my consolation. At any rate my dear friends, take courage; I will not cease praying for you, working for you, thinking of you. Help me with your good will.
Put into practice St Paul's words which I translate here for you: persuade the younger men to be moderate,never forget that it has been established that all must die and that after death we must all present ourselves before the law court of Jesus. Whoever does not suffer with Jesus Christ on earth cannot be crowned with glory with him in Heaven. Flee sin as your greatest enemy, and flee the source of sin, the immoral talk which is the ruin of good behaviour. In what you do and say,etc. etc.
Fr Lazzero can tell you the rest. Meanwhile my dear friends, I recommend myself to your charity. Pray for me especially, and for members of the St Joseph Sodality. May the most fervent amongst you make a holy Communion for my intentions.
May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with us always and help us persevere in doing good until death. Amen.
Your affectionate friend,
Fr J. Bosco
202. To the Salesians and pupils at Lanzo Torinese
Critical ed. in E(m) IV, pp. 385-386.
Turin, vigil of the Epiphany [5 January] 1875
To my dear boys, the director, teachers, assistants, prefect, catechist, pupils and others at the college in Lanzo.
May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ always remain with us. Amen.
Up until now, my beloved boys, I have not been able to satisfy the keen desire of my heart to visit you. An uninterrupted series of complicated affairs and some minor health problems, have prevented this.
Just the same I want to say something that you will find it hard to believe: many times a day I think of you and every morning at Holy Mass I pray for each of you in particular to the Lord. For your part you also give clear signs that you remember me.
Oh! What pleasure it gave me to read your greetings; with what pleasure I read the name, surname of each pupil, each class, from the first to the last at the college. I seemed to be in your midst and in my heart I often said: Long live my boys at Lanzo!
I begin then by thanking you all from my heart for the Christian and filial greetings you sent me and I ask God to bless you a hundredfold, you and all your relatives and friends. Yes. May God give you all many years of happy life.
But since I want to give you a particular greeting I ask heaven to give you health, study, good morals.
Health. This is a precious gift from heaven so look after it. Beware of excess, perspiring too much, getting overtired, moving too quickly from hot to cold. These are the ordinary sources of illness.
Study. You are in college to learn things with which in due time you can earn a living. Whatever be your situation, your vocation, your future state is something you must achieve so that should you no longer receive support from home, you can still be able to earn an honest crust. Let it never be said that we live off others' sweat.
Good morals. The bond that holds health and study together, the platform on which they are based, is good morals. Believe me my dear boys, I am telling you a great truth. If you maintain good moral conduct you will progress in studies, in health; you will be loved by your superiors, your companions, relatives, friends, patriotic people, and if you want me to say so, you will be loved and respected even by wrong-doers. Everyone will compete to have you with them, praise you, be good to you. But give me people who do not have good morals - oh what an ugly thing. They will be lazy and they will be known as donkeys. They will use improper language and will be known as scandalous types to be kept away from. If they are known at college everyone dislikes them and sings a Te Deum on the happy day they return home. And at home? Generally despised. The family and town dislike them, no one supports them, everyone avoids their company. Their soul? Alive they are unhappy, and when they die since all they have sown is bad they only have sad fruits to reap.
So courage, dear boys, look for and try to study, preserve and promote three great treasures: health, study good morals.
One more thing. I hear a voice from afar crying out: “O young man, O pupil at Lanzo, come and save us!” These are the voices of so many souls looking for a kindly hand, one which will pull them back from the brink of perdition and set them on the way to salvation. I am telling you this because a few of you are called to a sacred career of winning over souls.
Take courage; there are many of them waiting for you. Remember St Augustine's words: “Animam salvasti, animam tuam praedestinasti.”
Finally, boys, I recommend your director to you. I know that his health is not so good; pray for him, console him with your good behaviour, be good to him, be boundless in your confidence in him. These will be of great comfort to him and of great benefit to yourselves.
While I assure you that every day I pray for you at Holy Mass, I recommend myself to your good prayers also, so that I may not have the misfortune of preaching to save others and then lose my own poor soul. Ne cum aliis praedicaverim, ipse reprobus efficiar [1Cor 9,27].
May God bless you all. I am, in Jesus Christ,
Your most affectionate friend,
Fr John Bosco
N.B. Fr Director is asked to explain these things in case they are not well understood.
203. To young seminarian Antonio Massara
ASC A1720724 Copie semplici; ed. in E III, p. 390.
Turin, 26 September 1878
My dear friend in Jesus Christ,
Your neat writing shows your good will and invites me to speak to you with confidence. God is great, God is merciful. We sometimes do not think about him, but he thinks about us and when he sees us running away he places his hands on our shoulders and stops us to bring us back to him. Is that not true? May the Lord be blessed in everything and his decrees adored. When your health allows you to take up your studies again, I will not be far from advising you to push on ahead as far as priesthood. If you would like a life in common and would like to come with me, I will list you amongst my dear and beloved sons.
Meanwhile prayer, work, mortification, frequent confession and communion, will help you conquer the old enemy of your soul. Other matters cannot be entrusted to a letter.
Goodbye my dear friend and may God bless you.
Pray for me, your ever affectionate friend in Jesus Christ,
Fr John Bosco
204. To Fr Giovanni Branda and the trade school boys at Valdocco
ASC A000206 Conichetta 1878-1879, Quad. 14, ms by Giulio Barberis, pp. 104-106;
ed. in E III, pp. 435-436.
Marseilles January 1879
My dear Fr Branda,
I am always thinking of my poor working boys and praying for them. If only I could visit them I would be amongst them to speak with and console them often during the day. But I would like to demonstrate with deeds that I remember them in a special way. So tell them that the greetings they gave me at Christmas and New Year were very pleasing and I thank them with all my heart. I have heard good news about them and I bless the Lord who gives them good will and the grace to be virtuous.
I find myself here in the house in Lyon where there are already around sixty boys who little by little will become true followers of the working boys at the Oratory. Indeed some of them have shown that they are committed to being better than them in obedience and piety. I have told them that they won't succeed! Let's see!
Meanwhile tell everyone that I heartily recommend that they go frequently to confession and communion; but let both these sacraments be received with due dispositions so that each time we can see progress in some virtue. God willing I could say that every working boy that every working boy is a model and good example to the others! That depends on you my dear boys, to give me this great consolation.
I know that you pray for me and I attribute the improvement in my sight to your prayers; continue them. I thank you and may God reward you.
The gift that I ask is a holy communion for my intentions.
May God bless you, dear Fr Branda, bless all the assistants, workers, all the boys and grant them the great grace of being one heart and soul in loving and serving God on earth then one day being able to praise and enjoy him forever in heaven.
I am, in Jesus Christ,
Your most affectionate friend,
Fr John Bosco
205. To pupils in 4th and 5th secondary at Borgo San Martino
ASC A1920601 Copie semplici;ed. in E III, pp. 476-477.
Turin, 17 June 1879
My dear sons,
I would have liked to have replied before now to some of the letters written by your dear teacher and some of you. Not being able to do so for each one in particular, I am writing a letter to you all, reserving the opportunity to speak to each one privately on the coming feast of St Aloysius.
You know then that men in this world must walk on the path to Heaven in one of two states: ecclesiastical or secular. For the secular state each one must choose the studies, employment, profession that allows him to fulfil his duties as a good Christian and which will also please his parents. For the ecclesiastical state we have to follow the rules established by our Divine Saviour: renouncing comfort, worldly glory, earthly enjoyment to give oneself to God's service, and so assure oneself of the everlasting joys of Heaven.
In making this choice each one should listen to the opinion of his confessor and then without worrying either about superiors or inferiors, parents or friends, resolve to do what will facilitate the way to salvation and console you most at the moment of your death. The young man who enters the ecclesiastical state with this intention, has the moral certainty of doing great good to his own soul and the soul of his neighbour.
In the ecclesiastical state there are many branches which spread out from one point and tend to the same centre, who is God. Secular priest, religious priest, priest in the foreign missions are three fields in which labourers of the Gospel are called to work and promote the glory of God. One must choose what one has most at heart, most adapted to one's physical and moral strength, acceptingadvice from pious, learned and prudent people.
At this point I should deal with the many difficulties that refer to the world that would like to have all young people at its service, while God would like them all for himself. Nevertheless I will try to respond verbally or better explain the difficulties which each one could face in making one of these very important decisions.
The basis of a happy life for a young man is frequent communion and reading the prayer to Mary Most Holy every Saturday, for his state in life, as described in The Companion of Youth.
May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be always with you and grant you the precious gift of persevering in doing good. I recommend you to the Lord every day. Please pray for me.
I am affectionately yours in Jesus Christ.
Fr John Bosco
3. SODALITIES AND SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIPS Christian education of youth in popular works with a markedly missionary character like the Oratories on the outskirts of Turin, frequented by boys who were mostly abandoned and uneducated, required processes that were gradual and geared to each one's possibilities. The Companion of Youth offered a complete but essential proposal adapted to everyone. Starting with this, Don Bosco used the sacrament of penance,personal chats, suggestions of optional and practical devotions and offered books to read and meditate on. He set up personalised processes which were more adapted to youngsters who were more capable of greater moral and ascetic effort.
Mindful of his fruitful experiences as a boy, like the Society for a Good Time,which he had led while he was attending school in Chieri, he was concerned with promoting amongst the boys at the Oratory and house an organised set of sodalities and free friendly societies with a clear spiritual and apostolic purpose, to encourage amongst the more sensitive and well-disposed boys to develop a holistic and virtuous Christian lifestyle, guiding them to act as a leaven in their youthful community.
The founding of the St Aloysius Sodality (April 12, 1847) was the result of a process of consolidation of the festive Oratory and testifies to a shift towards a more systematic formation aimed at “encouraging piety through stable and uniform practice”, and encouraging members “to give good example in and outside of church; avoid improper conversations and frequent the sacraments.”12
The Immaculate Conception Sodality, which came into being through Dominic Savio's initiative with some of his friends in June 185613, is a further development of Don Bosco's spiritual proposal. It was made up of a choice group of young students in view of a vocation to priesthood and decidedly leaning towards Christian perfection and apostolic activity amongst their companions. This Sodality's regulations contain “an entire programme of spiritual pedagogy perfectly in tune with the Regulations for the students of the house”14.
The ever clearer awareness of the centrality of the Eucharist for nurturing interior life inspired the founding of the Blessed Sacrament Sodality (1858). Later on the St Joseph Sodality (1859) came into being to nurture devotion and spiritual commitment amongst the trade students and the working boys and to foster Salesian lay vocations.
Don Bosco's best disciples were forged in these spiritual 'upper rooms' which were true “schools of practical faith and charity.”15 From the regulations of the St Aloysius Gonzaga, Immaculate Conception and Blessed Sacrament Sodalities included here, it is possible to see the moral and spiritual quality of Don Bosco's educational approach and the fervent atmosphere that he was able to infuse amongst his boys.