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  • Writer's picturePeter Kennedy

St. John Bosco: Patron of Catholic School Teachers

st. john bosco

St. John Bosco, sometimes called Don Bosco, is a saint often revered as a patron of Catholic school teachers.  It is fortuitous then, that we celebrate his feast day during Catholic Schools week.  He was a priest known for developing trade schools of sorts for poor children, teaching them basic skills such as reading and writing, but also skills such as printing, sewing, and shoemaking so that they might eventually find good careers such as typesetters, tailors, and cobblers. All of this was done in the context of Catholic schools with time for prayer and especially time to play!

I first became interested in John Bosco after reading about his educational philosophy.  His thoughts on the subject were unique for his time, a time when harsh discipline and obedience were the primary tools of education. Don Bosco developed what he called his preventative method of education which had three primary concerns: reason, religion, and loving kindness.  He stated that the educator should seek to make themself loved by the children, take the young where they are, believe in their capacity for good, and actually enjoy being in their company.  Far from lording over his students, he sought to have a genuine relationship with them and encouraged that for all of his teachers.  This meant that he would teach them, pray with them, eat with them, and even play with them.  One can almost certainly imagine some bitter disciplinarian scowling at the thought!

The purpose of this method though was not to just make friends with his students but rather to make it almost impossible for his students to sin.  John Bosco was concerned first and foremost for the children’s souls. It was by this method that he would utilize reason, so that they might understand why certain things were right and wrong, he introduced religion so that the students might learn the habit of living what is good and pleasing to God, he used kindness as a way to encourage the children to ask for help in overcoming difficult sins.  But Fr. Bosco didn’t just do this in the classroom.  He played with the children so that they might learn to play like Christians, he ate with them so that they would learn to eat like Christians, he prayed and worshiped with them so that they might pray as Christians, incorporating their faith into every element of their lives.

bosco confessor

One of my favorite stories about this goodly priest, involves a time in 1849 when the priest was away from his school on a pilgrimage to the town of Turin in Italy.  While he was away, one of his teenage students became deathly sick.  He called out for Don Bosco to hear his last confession but, as the priest was away, his mother called for another.  Upon his return home, Don Bosco heard of the boys passing and went immediately to his home where the physician had certified his death and his mother had dressed him and prepared him for his funeral.  Don Bosco sent the mourners from the home aside from the mother and an aunt.  He then knelt to pray by the boy’s side and commanded him to rise.  To his mother’s shock the boy got up and immediately related to Don Bosco that he had been surrounded by demons because he had been afraid to confess everything to the other priest and had not repented for his worst sins.  Don Bosco sent the others from the room and heard the boy’s confession.  He then invited all of the mourners back into the home and asked the boy in front of everyone, if he would like to remain here or go to heaven.  The boy looked sadly at his mother and replied, “I would like to go to heaven.”  He lay down, and breathed his last.

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