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  • Writer's pictureDavid OMalley

December 8th Don Bosco's Foundation Day

The Church of St Francis of Assisi Turin December 8th 1841

In Chapter 28 of Don Bosco’s Memoirs of the Oratory, he recounts what he calls the ‘humorous incident’ with which he begins his priestly work for the young.

Hardly had I registered at the Church of St Francis, when I met at once a crowd of boys who followed me in the streets and the squares and even into the sacristy of the church attached to the institute. But I could not take direct care of them since I had no premises. A humorous incident opened the way to put into action my project for the hoys who roamed the streets of the city, especially those released from prison. On the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (8 December 1841), I was vesting to celebrate holy Mass at the appointed time. Joseph Comotti, the sacristan, seeing a boy in a corner, asked him to come and serve my Mass. "I don't know how," he answered, completely embarrassed. And thus with this chance encounter, Don Bosco tells us the way opened for him to put into action his project.

A couple of things are worth noting, the sacristan, suspecting the boy of being up to no good, drives him out with blows from a feather duster, Don Bosco intervenes and claims that the boy is his friend.

Then begins his introductory questions,

"My good friend, what's your name?"

"My name's Bartholomew Garelli."

"Where are you from?" "Asti."

"Is your father alive?" "No, my father's dead."

"And your mother?" "My mother's dead too."

"How old are you? "I'm sixteen."

"Can you read and write?"

"I don't know anything."

"Have you made your first communion?" "Not yet."

"Have you ever been to confession?" "Yes, when I was small."

"Are you going to catechism classes now?" "I don't dare."

"Why?" "Because the other boys are smaller than I am, and they know their catechism. As big as I am, I don't know anything, so I'm ashamed to go."

"If I were to teach you catechism on your own, would you come?"

According to a later tradition Don Bosco asked him if he could sing, he said ‘No’, then Don Bosco asked him if he could whistle which as a builder he knew how to do really well.

What we see is in essence Don Bosco’s approach to education…

Firstly, ’not by force but by loving kindness’…

Then secondly ‘Find out and build upon what young people feel confident doing’.

For Don Bosco this humorous incident leads him to develop those three fundamental values in his work: Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness.

Fr W J Dickson SDB

A Prayer at briefing

Lord, help us to listen to the young people we work with, hear their deepest needs and respond with reason, with faith and kindness.

May we recognise the ways that young people may be calling out our deepest gifts and have the courage to respond as Don Bosco did in his times.

We ask this through Mary, the mother of the church and the help of all peoples on this her feast day. AMEN

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