St. John Bosco, popularly known as Don Bosco, was born in Italy, near Turin on 16th August 1815. His early life was one of poverty and want, especially after the death of his father, when John was just 2 years old. Through his own trust in God, the extraordinary abilities he possessed and through the support of his mother and friends he was able to overcome the initial difficulties.
God showed him in extraordinary ways the path he was to follow. He managed to pursue his elementary studies and later seminary studies, while even working as part-time employee. He was ordained a priest on 5th June 1841.
As a young priest, his heart was moved to see the plight of youngsters who were unemployed, who roamed the streets and who finally ended up in juvenile centers. They came to the city from the countryside looking for jobs as a result of industrialization. He began to meet them on Sundays and later on even on weekdays at their workplace. He set up boarding schools and workshops to train these youngsters. He trained some of his youngsters who would later on become his own collaborators.
In the year 1859, he officially began the society of St. Francis of Sales, now called “The Salesians of Don Bosco”. It received official recognition from the church in 1869. Don Bosco also founded a congregation for the sisters: “The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians” or commonly known as “Salesian Sisters”. Finally he also founded a movement for lay people: “The Salesian Co-operators”.
Don Bosco called his educative system: ‘The Preventive System’. It is based on:
- An educative relationship built on Reason
- An encounter with the young that invites them to a religious experience
- A relational approach that approaches issues with loving kindness and partnership.
This heritage has been handed down to the Salesians as the three principles of Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness.
At the time of his death on 31st January 1888, The Salesians of Don Bosco numbered 1,049 with 58 institutions. The Salesian Sisters numbered 579 with 54 institutions.
Now, the Salesians of Don Bosco are present in 132 countries, with about 15,000 priests and brothers serving young people, especially those in need. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, The Salesians of Don Bosco are present in 38 countries.