Bl. Basil Moreau Confraternity of Teachers

January 2022

St. John Paul’s reflections on St. John Bosco’s Work
Reading I



2. John Bosco died at Turin on 31 January 1888. The almost 73 years of his life were accompanied by deep and complex political, social and cultural changes: revolutionary movements, wars and a migration of people from the countryside to the towns, all factors with an emphatic effect on the life of the people, especially of the poorer classes. Close-packed as they were on the outskirts of the towns, the poor in general and the younger ones in particular became victims of exploitation or unemployment: in their human, moral, religious and occupational development they were insufficiently followed up and frequently given no attention at all. Sensitive as they were to every change, the young frequently became insecure and bewildered. Traditional methods of education became disjointed and ineffective in the face of this rootless mass of people, and efforts were made for various motives by philanthropists, educators and ecclesiastics to meet the new needs. One of these who came to the fore in Turin through his clear Christian inspiration, courageous initiatives and the rapid and widespread extension of his work was Don Bosco.

3. He felt within himself that he had received a special vocation and that in the carrying out of his mission he was assisted and almost led by the hand by the Lord and the motherly intervention of the Virgin Mary. His response was such that the Church has officially proposed him to the faithful as a model of holiness. When on Easter Sunday of 1934, at the close of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, my Predecessor Pius XI of undying memory, inscribed him on the roll of Saints, he pronounced an unforgettable eulogy in his praise.

Young John, whose father had died when he was very young, was brought up with profound human and Christian insight by his mother, and was endowed by Providence with gifts which from his early years made him the generous and conscientious friend of his companions. His boyhood years were a sign of an extraordinary mission of education that was to follow. As a priest in Turin then in a phase of rapid development, he came into contact with young people in prison and with other dramatic human situations.

He had the happy intuition of a real and attentive student of the Church’s history, and from his knowledge of such situations and the experience of other apostles, especially St Philip Neri and St Charles Borromeo, he conceived the idea of the “Oratory”, a name particularly dear to him in its connotations. The Oratory was to characterise all his work, and he would shape it in line with his original idea and adapt it to the environment, to his boys and to their needs. As principal protector and model for his collaborators he chose St Francis de Sales, the saint so zealous in many directions, because of the great human kindness he displayed especially in dealing with others.

4. The “Work of the Oratories” began in 1841 with a “simple catechism lesson” and subsequently spread in response to pressing needs and situations: hostels for the reception of those with nowhere to go, workshops and schools of arts and trades to enable them to find work and make an honest living, schools for humanities and open to vocational ideals, a healthy press, and recreational initiatives and methods in line with the period (theatre, band, singing, autumn outings).

The happy expression: “That you are young is enough to make me love you very much” was the watchword and, even before that, the fundamental educational option of the Saint: “I have promised God that I would give of myself to my last breath”.l1 And indeed he carried out for them a striking series of activities by his words, writings, institutes, journeys, meetings with civil and religious personalities; for them, above all else, he showed an attentive concern for each one individually, so that in his fatherly love the boys might see a sign of a higher love still.

In this letter I want especially to consider in Don Bosco the fact that he realised his personal holiness through an educative commitment lived with zeal and an apostolic heart, and that at the same time he knew how to propose holiness as the practical objective of his pedagogy.


6. The youth situation at the present day, a hundred years after the saint’s death, has changed a great deal and presents a whole variety of different conditions and aspects, as is well known to educators and pastors. And yet today too there remain those same questions, which occupied the mind of the priest John Bosco from the beginning of his ministry in his desire to understand and his determination to work. Who are these young people? What are they looking for? Where are they going to? What are they in need of? These were difficult questions to answer at the time as they still are at the present day, but they are unavoidable and every educator must face up to them.

7. Aware of being the people of whom God is the father and educator, according to the explicit teaching of Sacred Scripture (cf. Deut 1,31; 8,5; 32,10-12; Hos 11,14; Is 1,3; Jer 3,14-15; Prov 3,1112; Heb 12,5-11; Rev 3,19), the Church, an “expert in humanity”, has also every right to call herself an “expert in education”. Evidence of this is the long and glorious two thousand years of history written by parents and families, priests and laity-men and women, religious institutions and ecclesial movements, which in educational service have given expression to their own particular charism as an extension of the divine education which has its summit in Christ. Thanks to the work of so many educators and pastors and of numerous Orders and religious Institutes, which have promoted institutions of inestimable human and cultural value, the history of the Church is identified in no small degree with the history of the education of peoples. Indeed, as Vatican II declared, the Church’s concern for education is in obedience to the “mandate she received from her divine founder to announce the mystery of salvation to all men and to renew all things in Christ”.

MEDITATION – Dr. Andrew Seeley

“Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matthew 13:52

St. John Paul presents St. John Bosco as just such a trained scribe, one who, formed by the history of the Church, asked searching questions of the needs of his times, and developed new approaches out of Catholic tradition.

As Catholic educators, we can gain so much direction from this short passage. John Paul reminds us that teaching is an intimate part of our own road to holiness, and that the more we grow in holiness, the more we will help ourselves and our students to keep our eyes on the real prize of all life’s endeavors. Confident in the Church’s expertise in education, we should ourselves turn to the Church’s wisdom about the constant needs of men and learn from her historical experience in addressing the circumstances proper to each age. We should pray for loving insight into the needs of those souls entrusted to us, and the prudent courage to draw on new and old for their sake. And, as St. John Bosco availed himself of the heavenly patronage of St. Francis de Sales, we should prayerfully seek the patronage of some saint that will help us with our work.


Do I have confidence that the Church is an expert in education? Have the Church’s teaching and history informed my work with students? Have I allowed theoretical ideas of education blind me to the needs of my particular students?


St. John Paul, whom God blessed with so much insight into His “Beauty, ever ancient, ever new”, help me to not be afraid to pour myself out for my students, and obtain for me graces to see and address the needs of my students.

Please also offer one Mass and one Rosary sometime this month for the intentions of the members of the Confraternity.