Giovanni Melchior Bosco, later known as Don Bosco, was born in poor family northern Italy in 1815. His father died when he was very young, and young Giovanni worked as a shepherd until he could enter the seminary in 1835. Six years later he was ordained a priest and sent to work in the industrial city of Turin. He soon found himself caring for hundreds of homeless young boys in the city. He set to work to provide a welcoming home for them, along with education and training.
Traditional clergy accused him of stealing young people from their parishes. Others thought he was building a revolutionary army. Some thought him a loose cannon; others accused him of taking money from old ladies. Meanwhile Don Bosco’s own mother came to help him, bringing a warm love that the boys had not before experienced. By 1868 he was building a huge church and had gathered many friends and followers. In 1869 some fifty priests and teachers joined him in forming a religious community that was formally approved in 1874.
This was the beginning of the Salesians of Don Bosco, as they are known throughout the world. He wanted his communities to be warm and welcoming, a place where friendships are discovered and shared, and a living expression of Christ’s love for all. He argued that giving children a chance to play was just as important as giving them an education. In his mind, young people should never be punished.
When Don Bosco died in 1888 there were already 250 Salesian houses around the world, caring for 130,000 children and young people. Pope Pius XI, when he was young, had known Don Bosco and supported him being declared a saint, which happened in 1934. Today there are more than 15,000 Salesians in 131 countries around the world, and there are 17 Salesian provinces in the Asian region.