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The Nineteenth Century Apostle of the Little Ones   By:

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An article published in THE CATHOLIC WORLD in 1903, about Don Bosco. Today, he is better known as Saint John Bosco, the patron saint of young people.

[Illustration: Don Bosco and Bartholomew Garelli.]

WHEN one man in his lifetime has cared for, trained, and sent out into the world, as useful and law abiding citizens, ten million children, then the attention of people may well be drawn to him again and again, for it is the lives of such men that keep the heart of the world from despair.

He who was to have such wonderful sympathy and even more wonderful influence on neglected and unfortunate childhood and youth, began his life as a poor, hardworking boy, even as St. Vincent de Paul did in his day. Giovanni Bosco was his name, and he was the son of humble peasants and herded his father's sheep until he was fifteen years old. Then a kindly priest discovered the boy's unusual gifts of mind and heart, and taught him the elements of Latin and Greek. After that Giovanni was sent to the seminary at Chieri, where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1841. Full of zeal to fit himself for his work as a shepherd of souls, he went to Turin and entered an institute for the training of priests in practical work.

It is notable that his first experience was in visiting prisons. Here his heart and mind were touched by the spectacle of the many youthful criminals he met, and he was constantly thinking how to reclaim them and, even more important, how to prevent them from entering upon criminal ways at all.

It was on the 8th of December, in 1841, that Don Bosco found, in a most humble occurrence, the occasion which showed him the mission for which God had destined him. It was, as so often happens, but a simple thing; but, when we are open to the guidance of the Divine Will, the simplest things may have the greatest import. There was no boy to serve his Mass, and a street boy, who happened to look into the sacristy, was asked by the sexton to do so.

"I do not know how," said the boy.

"Never mind," said the sexton; "I'll show you what to do."

"But I never was at Mass before."

"Stupid creature!" said the sexton, angry now, "what are you doing here then?" And he boxed the boy's ears so hard that the little fellow went off crying. At this Don Bosco turned around and reproved the astonished sexton for his crossness.

"But what difference does that make to your reverence?"

"It makes a great deal of difference to me, for that boy is my friend. Call him back at once; I must talk to him."

The sexton did so and the poor boy came back; Don Bosco asked him kindly if he had never heard Mass before, and he said "No."

"Then," said Don Bosco, "stay for this Mass which I am going to celebrate, and when it is over I shall talk to you a little while, if you will wait."

The boy, whose heart had been won by Don Bosco's kindly manner, gladly agreed to stay.

After Mass, Don Bosco said to him: "What is your name, my little friend?"

"Bartolomeo Garelli."

"Where are you from?"


"Is your father still living?"

"No, he is dead."

"And your mother?"

"She is dead too."

"How old are you?"

"I am fifteen years old."

"Can you read and write?"

"I don't know anything at all."

"Did you make your first Communion?"

"No, not yet."

"Did you ever go to confession?"

"I did when I was very little."

"Why don't you go to Sunday school?"

"I am ashamed because the other boys are all younger than I am and know so much more, and I always have such old clothes."

"If I were to teach you all by yourself, would you like to come?"

"Oh I would be very glad to come, if no one would box my ears for coming."

"You need not be afraid of any one. You are my friend now; no one else will have anything to say to you. When shall we begin?"

"Whenever it pleases you, father."

"Very well, we will begin at once."

Don Bosco found that the boy did not even know how to make the sign of the cross. Yet this poor, untaught child of the street became the corner stone, so to say, of Don Bosco's life work... Continue reading book >>

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