St. John Bosco

Born : 16 August, 1815

Died : 31 January 1888

Declared Venerable by Pius X : 21 July 1907

Beatification by Pope Pius XI : 2 June 1929

Canonization by Pope Pius XI : 1 April 1934

Declared ‘Father and Teacher of Youth’ by Pope John Paul II : 31 January 1988




Early Years And Eventual Priesthood

John Bosco was born in the evening of 16 August 1815 in a little cabin at Becchi, a hill side hamlet near Castelnuovo d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy, to a family of peasant farmers. He was the youngest son of Francesco Bosco and Margherita Occhiena. He had two older brothers, Antonio and Giuseppe. The Boscos of Becchis were farmhands of the Moglian Family. His father, Francis Bosco, died when John was just two, and Margaret Occhiena found herself bringing up Anthony, Joseph and John alone.

With firm kindness and unbounded faith Margaret, wise educator that she was, made her family into a domestic church.

In 1825, when he was nine, Bosco had the first of a series of dreams which would play an influential role in his outlook and work. This first dream “left a profound impression on him for the rest of his life”, according to his own memoirs. Bosco apparently saw a multitude of very poor boys who play and blaspheme, and a man, who “appeared, nobly attired, with a manly and imposing bearing”. The man said to him : “You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness. So begin right now to show them that sin is ugly and virtue beautiful”. While still a lad, John began to do magic tricks, learned with hard effort, for his friends, and he alternated this with work and prayer.

The elderly Fr. Joseph Cafasso, who identified some natural talent in John Bosco and supported in his initial schooling and then studies for the priesthood, studies that cost him effort. He had to leave home because of his brother Antonio ‘s opposition, as he wanted John to work in the fields.

As a seminarian at Chieri, he thought up the idea of the ‘Cheerful Society, which gathered boys from around the town. In June 1841 he was ordained priest. His spiritual director, Fr. Cafasso, advised him to complete his studies at the Ecclesiastical Institute. Meanwhile Don Bosco gathered his first boys around him, and organised a festive oratory, initially on the move but then stabilised at Valdocco. Margaret, by now elderly, accepted to come to Turin and help him, and become ‘Mamma Margaret’ for the boys.

Preventive System

Don Bosco began to give a place to boys without a home to go to. He taught them to work, and to love the Lord; he sang, played and prayed with them. With the first boys came his first helpers. Thus he developed his famous educational method, the Preventive System. “Be with the boys, prevent sin through reason, religion and loving kindness. Become saints and educators of saints. Our boys must know they are loved”.

Over time the first helpers, with the help of Pope Pius IX, became a Congregation called “Society of St. Francis de Sales”, aimed at the salvation of the young, fighting all forms of poverty and taking as its own the motto : “Give me souls, take away the rest”.

Young Dominic Savio is the first fruit of the Preventive System. Mary Help of Christians, who always supported Don Bosco in his work, obtained many graces for him, even extraordinary ones, as well as the funds necessary for his enterprises. She helped him build the Basilica which bears her name.

Salesian Sisters And Salesian Cooperators

With the help of Mary Mazzarello and a group of girls in the hill town of Mornese. In 1871, he founded a group of religious sisters to do for girls what the Salesians were doing for boys. They were called the “Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.” In 1874, he founded yet another group, the “Salesian Cooperators.” These were mostly lay people who would work for young people like the Daughters and the Salesians, but would not join a religious order.

Don Bosco died at the age of 72, on 31 January 1888. Today the Salesian Family is throughout the world.

Life of Don Bosco in Pictorial format









Places to Remember in Don Bosco’s Life

The Becchi House

Mamma Margaret inherited this shed that was purchased by her husband Francis three months before his death. It had four rooms, two on the ground floor and two above for herself, her mother-in-law and her three sons.




The Staircase and Entrance to the Upper Floor

The staircase leading to the bedrooms of Mamma Margaret and the boys, perhaps it was here that Johnny had his dream at the age of nine.




The Shrine of Mary Help of Christians

The shrine was built (in 1915) where the little house of Anthony Bosco, the elder brother of Don Bosco lived to commemorate the centenary of Don Bosco’s birth of Don Bosco and the institution of the feast of Mary Help of Christians by Pius VII in 1815.



Don Bosco’s Study Room

Don Bosco spent time reading and correcting proofs here when he came to spend some quiet time with his brother. This is the desk at which he worked and the sofa on which he rested occasionally.




The Church Santa Maria Della Scala

It is among the most beautiful churches and one that Don Bosco most often visited and where he prayed before the altar of Our Lady of Grace and came to a decision about his future.




The Rooms of Don Bosco

This is the room that heard for the first time the word “Salesians” because Don Bosco loved St. Francis de Sales. It was built in 1853 and on 26th January 1854 Don Bosco gathered Rua, Cagliero, Rocchietti, Artiglia and told them about the congregation he would found.



The Room where Don Bosco died

The sofa and reading desk where Don Bosco spent the last few months of his life; here he rested, prayed and worked; his swollen legs would scarcely let him walk. He spent his time dictating to his secretary, recalling the early days of the Oratory.



The Monument to Don Bosco

This monument of love and gratitude in the piazza in front of the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians depicts the work of the Salesians and was erected by the pupils and past pupils of Don Bosco.




The Writing Desk of Don Bosco

The writing desk, inkwell, the pen rack and oil lamp used by Don Bosco. These articles along with the books he referred to are still kept on the desk. Don Bosco spent many a long night at that desk.




The Private Chapel

This is one of the two altars in the rooms of Don Bosco in the room where Don Bosco during the last years of his life. This is not the original position of the altar. It was placed in Don Bosco’s bedroom when he was unable to go down to celebrate Mass in the Basilica.



The Ceremonial Casket


This was the ceremonial casket in which Don Bosco’s remains were returned to Turin from Valsalice in a triumphant procession for his canonization.




The Altar of the Ecstasy

In December 1878 while he was celebrating Mass at this altar helped by two boys, Evasio Garrone and Giovanni Franchini (both Salesian priests later) they saw Don Bosco’s face illuminated and his feet leaving the ground and rising into the air.



The Confessional

Think of the hundreds of hours that Don Bosco sat in this confessional hearing the confessions of his boys. Sometimes even whole nights and even falling asleep and rising to find his penitent still waiting for absolution.




Don Bosco’s robes






The Chapel and the Main Altar at the Pinardi Chapel

The Chapel is dedicated to the Risen Saviour hence the mosaic above the main altar. The plaque (in Italian reads: “The Oratory started by Don Bosco in the church of St. Francis of Assisi on 8th December 1841 moved successively to the Refuge of the Marchioness Barolo, to Molini by the Dora, to St. Peter In Chains, to the Moretta house and to the Filippi field after which it was providentially led by Mary Help of Christians to its permanent setting which was the poor Pinardi shed: This humble beginning of the mother-house of the Salesian Society and for six years the unique and poor chapel that Don Bosco blessed and occupied on 12th April 1846 the Feast of the Resurrection.

This place is built on the site of the old shed where for many years Don Bosco sat with his boys. In memory and in homage – this chapel was restored and dedicated to Glorious Risen Christ on 31 January 1928, marking the 40th anniversary of the death of Don Bosco.



The Main Altar of the Church dedicated to St. Francis de Sales

The first stone of this church was laid on 20th July 1851 and it was consecrated on 20th June 1852. It would remain at the heart of the newly born Salesian Congregation. Mamma Margaret dropped in every day to spend a few moments praying her Rosary.

It was in this church that Dominic Savio, in 1854 consecrated himself to the Virgin Mary and many youngsters to this day have made this prayer their own. “Mary I give you my heart…”

In 1860, Michael Rua celebrated his first mass in this church, assisted by Don Bosco himself.

It was in this same church, behind the main altar that Dominic Savio stood in an ecstasy which lasted more than six hours.

The Basilica of Mary Help of Christians

The Basilica of Mary Help of Christians is the heart of Valdocco and of the Salesian Family. It is the mother Church of the Salesian Congregation and from here, for the first time in 1875 the first Missionaries left for the New World and every year since then.



Valdocco-Santuario The Picture of Lorenzone

As you enter the Basilica your eyes are immediately drawn to this imposing picture. It was conceived by Don Bosco and executed by the artist Tommaso Lorenzone. He worked at it for three years.




Don Bosco’s Altar

The vestments he is dressed in were gifted by Pope Benedict XV. His hands and face were carved in wax by the sculptor Cellini.

The Altar of St. Dominic Savio


At the right of the sanctuary of the main altar are the mortal remains of St. Dominic Savio. Notice the many votive scapulars that are placed at the feet of the marble statue in the foreground.




The Panoramic View of the Basilica


The majesty and the richness of the Basilica seen in this image fits in some way the description that Don Bosco gave to the architect Spezia.