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The saint who ever consoles me
| January 21, 2013 • by Antoinette Bosco


On the last day of January, we celebrate the feast day of a 19th century Italian saint who first came up with the idea of a “boys’ town” to help adolescents see their worthiness because of their origin and destiny as sons of God. Even as a poor teenage farm boy, he was trying to get the attention of boys like himself, who lived in poverty and with hopelessness, hoping he could convince them not to turn to meanness and crime. Unusually strong and brilliant, he became a juggler, a magician and an acrobat and used these great talents to get the attention of these troubled boys. The price of admission to these shows was a prayer.

His name was John Bosco, and he went on to live his whole life helping the ragged, abused and abandoned young people he met to find hope and joy. He became a priest and established schools and ministries for young ones. He ultimately founded the Salesians, a religious order with a mission to teach and care for the young ones.

Because my married name was Bosco, I became very interested in this saint. When my second son was born, I named him John Dominic. The Dominic was for St. Dominc Savio, the pupil of John Bosco’s who died at age 15, only three years after coming to the boys’ town to learn from the priest he revered. He was proclaimed a saint by Pope Pius XII in 1954.

I remember a summer day when my John was 15. I was at the kitchen sink washing vegetables. He came up behind me, lifted me by my bent elbows and said, laughing, “Mom, you better pray you raised me right.” He was referring to his strength—so like his patron saint’s—that I always told him had to be used for the good of others. I laughed back and said, “I did, I named you after St. John Bosco.”

Born in poverty, raised by a mother who was ever concerned about his spiritual care, this boy John—brilliant, strong, a tightrope walker, a juggler, even a magician—also had a phenomenal memory. He was known to be able to repeat the sermons he heard at Mass, word for word. He could accomplish just about anything he chose to try, like playing the violin, tailoring, blacksmithing, woodworking, making cold drinks, liqueurs and pastries. With his tremendous skills, he could have been successful at any number of worldly vocations. But he was being called by a different voice, and he knew it. He entered the seminary.

On Trinity Sunday, June 5, 1841, John Bosco was ordained a priest in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy, and became known as Don Bosco, which then was the traditional manner of addressing priests. He did not know at that moment what his life work would be, but four months after his ordination, something happened that definitely changed his life. He met an orphan who was trying to keep warm inside the church, while the sacristan was shouting to him to get out. Don Bosco rebuked the man, and then started talking to the boy, whose name was Bartholomew Garelli, inviting him to come back on Sunday with some of his pals. He did, and the street boys began to come back every week, more and more of them each week. That was the beginning of what became the “Oratory of Saint Francis De Sales,” where pupils could be trained by the new religious order Don Bosco founded, the
Salesians, named for a saint he so loved, St. Francis de Sales.

As a writer, I must also admit that my tremendous admiration for Don Bosco was also inspired because he was a book-lover. In fact, he obtained printing presses for his students, and taught his boys to run them, publishing, as was written, “beautifully crafted” books. He emphasized, “How many souls have been saved by good books; how many have been preserved from error; and how many have been encouraged to do good…”

Fast forward to August, 1993: My son John and his wife Nancy had recently bought a new home in Montana, and called to tell me they were taking a trip to Colorado. I said have-a-good time and I’ll talk to you at the end of the week. Somehow I was restless and decided to take a slow trip through Vermont to visit family members in Albany, NY. Driving through a small town, I saw a library having a book sale. I stopped, of course. Then my foot felt a book that had fallen on the ground. It was a book written for young people back in 1954—“St. John Bosco and the Children’s Saint Dominic Savio,” by Catherine Beebe. That day, August 16, was the birth date of St. John Bosco!

Of course I bought the book to give to my son. But three days later I received the news from a sheriff in Montana that my son John and his wife had never left Montana. They had been murdered by an intruder as they slept in their bed.

In a strange way, that book, discovered so “coincidentally,” consoled me. I felt St. John Bosco had gotten in touch with me to tell me he was with my son John, his namesake. I give special thanks every year to St. John Bosco on his feast day, January 31.