St. John Bosco

It was certainly providential that when our little school was started some 25 years ago it was put under the patronage of St John Bosco, “the father and teacher of youth”. Since we are celebrating his feast day this week, on the 31st, let us say a word about his preventive method of education for which he is well known and that every parent needs to put in practice.

The full text in the hand of Don Bosco can be found here:

As a young priest, St John Bosco saw that many were using a ‘repressive system’ in the education of the youth, that is, “making the law known to the subjects, and afterwards watching to discover the transgressors of these laws and inflicting, when necessary, the punishment deserved”. When he himself started to work with street boys, he won them over by his own kindness, gentleness, speaking to them “in the language of the heart”.  Thus the whole preventive system is based on charity: “having once succeeded in gaining the confidence of his pupils (the educator) can subsequently exercise a great influence over them, and counsel them, advise and even correct them, whatever position they may occupy in the world later on”.

The word ‘preventive’ here means that the educator will ensure a constant presence, “a strictest vigilance” to prevent as much as it is humanly possible any occasion of sin around the children from the moment they wake up in the  morning until they fall asleep at night. When a child knows he is being watched, it is much easier for him to be good and to avoid evil. Is it not a fact of experience that we usually hide to do bad things?

Don Bosco wanted his boys to be brought up in an atmosphere of joy: “Let the boys have full liberty to jump, run and make as much noise as they please. Gymnastics, music, theatricals and outings are most efficacious means of obtaining discipline and of benefiting spiritual and bodily health. (…) Do anything you like, the great friend of youth, St Philip Neri used to say,as long as you do not sin.”

Don Bosco also knew very well that “unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Ps. 126:1). Therefore he counted very much on the power of the sacraments in the education of the youth: “Frequent confession and communion and daily Mass are the pillars which must support the edifice of education”. As a logical consequence, he urged the reception of Holy Communion at an early age, and then frequently: “Avoid as a plague the opinion that the first communion should be deferred to a late age, when generally the Devil has already gained possession of a boy’s heart, with incalculable prejudice to his innocence”.

Such principles certainly influenced St Pius X (he had met Don Bosco when he was bishop of Mantua) later on who lowered the age for Holy Communion precisely to prevent children from losing their baptismal innocence before receiving the sacraments:

“It happened that children in their innocence were forced away from the embrace of Christ and deprived of the food of their interior life; and from this it also happened that in their youth, destitute of this strong help, surrounded by so many temptations, they lost their innocence and fell into vicious habits even before tasting of the Sacred Mysteries.” (Quam singulari)

Don Bosco was also convinced that the preventive method was a key element in fostering vocations.