SAINT JOHN BOSCO
John Bosco was born on August 16th 1815 in Northern Italy. His Father died when John was only two. All through boyhood, poverty stared him in the face. His desire was to study to be a priest, but disappointment met him at every turn. His older brother Joseph was helpful, but his stepbrother, Anthony, some ten years older than John, opposed any chance the boy had to study.
An old retired priest met young John returning with his mother, Margaret, from a village service. Fr. Colosso was impressed by the boy's brilliant memory. He volunteered to tutor John privately. All went well for a few months, until the priest died. At the age of twelve, John went to live and work on a farm in a nearby village. At 15 he left for the town of Chieri, where he attended school. After school he took on every job he could find, learning a number of trades: tailor, carpenter, blacksmith, waiter - anything for a little money to buy food or clothing. In 1835 he entered the seminary. Six years later he was ordained a priest.
Don Bosco's work with young people began on December 8th, 1841 while he was vesting for Mass. He heard a commotion in the sacristy, where the sacristan was beating a poorly dressed boy with his cane, and driving him out of the church. The boy's name was Bartholomew Garelli, a 16-year-old orphan who was working as a bricklayer. Three days later Bartholomew brought eight of his encounter Don Bosco's work for young people began.
But like all beginnings, it was hard and painful. He and his boys wandered about looking for a place to hold the catechism lessons, Mass and confessions, and for a space to play. The work was misunderstood by the local clergy and looked upon with scepticism by the local police. There were harsh words and even insults at times. But Don Bosco never lost faith and kept his dream alive. He received much encouragement from Fr. John Borel who helped him in his work and from Fr. Joseph Cafasso, his friend and confessor. The dream that Bosco had as a nine year old - where a beautiful lady showed him the way of kindness as a means of reaching out to youth - kept coming back to reassure him.
Don Bosco's first permanent school was broken down shed in Valdocco, Turin's underdeveloped tenement district. Today there stands the Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians, a Youth Centre (The Oratory), a boarding school, a technical school and a publishing house. Don Bosco's dream was coming true. The name "Don Bosco" became famous throughout Italy.
On the advice of Pope Pius IX, Don Bosco drew up the Constitutions of his Society, and on 18th December 1859 eighteen young men - once his boys - became the first members of the Salesian Society. Don Bosco called them "Salesians" after St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, whom he always admired for his kindness and religious zeal.
In 1872 Don Bosco, together with Maria Mazzarello, founded the Salesian Sisters, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. In 1876 he formed an association of lay people who shared his concern for youth. These are the Salesian Cooperators, who are Salesians, single, married, lay or clerical.
Don Bosco lived 72 full years of hard labour for God and young perople. Even in his last days, though almost blind, bowed with fatigue, and scarcely able to walk, he kept in close touch with all his Salesians. He advised, directed and encouraged them.
On 31 January 1888 Don Bosco died. His last words were characteristic of his whole life: "Tell my boys I shall be waiting for them in Paradise!" On Easter Sunday 1934 Pius XI declared Don Bosco a saint.
Behind Don Bosco comes a long line of Salesians, who whether priest, brothers, sisters or cooperators, spend their lives in service of Jesus Christ as friends, ministers and educators of the young. Today the Salesians serve young in 108 countries. The Salesians came to Australia in 1923 when they took care of the Pallottine Mission in the Kimberleys.
SAINT MARIA DOMENICA MAZZARELLO
Maria Mazzarello was born in the last century in a small village called Mornese, in Northern Italy. She was the first of ten children, seven of whom reached adulthood. Maria learnt from a young age how to be a caring and efficient person in the home to her young sisters and brothers.
When she was seventeen years of age she joined a group of young women who helped the parish curate, Fr. Dominico Pestarino, in various activities of the parish: catechism lessons to youth, assistance to the sick, meeting with parents, organisation of leisure activities for youth.
Through these experiences Maria was empowered to be a leader amongst those she encountered in her everyday life.
At the age of twenty-three she was stricken with typhoid fever and nearly died. From this point on, the physical strength she always possessed was gone forever. While not losing her love for life, this period was one of confusion and frustration. She was not sure what she could do in life without her former energy and vigour. With her closest friend, Petronilla Mazzarello (no relation) she decided to start a professional school for girls in her locality. Maria's motivation for initiating this venture was to assist youth to be able to earn their own living in society and develop Christian values that would be lived out throughout life.
Maria's work expanded when a gentleman presented himself with two young girls. They had just lost their mother and he asked Maria to take care of them while he looked for employment. With this incident Maria started the first educational boarding school which would multiply as the years went on. While the professional classes and boarding facilities developed, on Sundays Maria gathered any of the girls around the district and offered them the opportunity to play and pray together. The day was filled with games, amusements and prayer meetings.
In 1864 Don Bosco came to Mornese when Maria was twenty-seven years old. He saw the great work Maria and her friends were doing for youth and was very impressed with what he saw. He himself had been thinking of founding a religious congregation of women who would work for girls as he and his friends were doing for boys.
Over a period of eight years the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians was formed and Maria Mazzarello became the first Salesian Sister and leader of the new congregation. She dedicated herself to children, adolescents and youth. With other religious women Maria founded houses in Italy and France. She saw, with much pain in her heart and with much love for them, Sisters whom she had known in their youth, leave for missions in South America.
Weakened by the typhoid Maria had contracted when young, and weakened too by her hard work, Maria's health began to deteriorate. Finally on May 14th, 1881, she was called to enjoy God's presence forever in heaven. Maria Mazzarello was just 44 years old.
On June 24th 1951, Maria Mazzarello was proclaimed a Saint by Pope Pius XII. Today the Daughters of Mary help of Christians (Salesian Sisters) work for young people in all continents of the world and number about 15,000 sisters.
Maria Mazzarello is a model of humanity, simplicity and joy. She was a simple peasant girl who knew that we are at our best as human beings when we are helping others and are close to God.