Saint John Bosco (16 August 1815 – 31 January 1888), born Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco, also called Don Bosco, was an Italian Catholic priest and educator, who put into practice the convictions of his religion, dedicating his life to the upliftment and education of poor youngsters, and employing teaching methods based on love rather than punishment. He placed his works under the protection of Francis de Sales; the chief organization he founded was therefore known as the Society of St Francis de Sales, or, popularly, as the Salesian Society or the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Don Bosco was of the opinion that young people make mistakes not out of malice but due to lack of guidance and thoughtlessness. If punishments are inflicted harshly they do not forget them easily and seek to take revenge. Therefore, if possible, it is better not to have recourse to punishments. But if punishment becomes inevitable they should be done privately, with love, prudence and patience. However, certain punishments like striking someone, pulling someone’s ears, making someone kneel and other such punishments are to be avoided absolutely.
Don Bosco held that humans are created in the image and likeness of God. Because of this among all material beings humans alone intelligence and will and thus the capacity to love one another and to relate to God. Therefore they have a dignity and worth which other material things do not have. This is to be manifested in the way we deal with the young: “Let us treat young people as we would treat Jesus if he were a pupil in one of our schools.
Don Bosco said that his educational system, “places the pupils in the impossibility of committing faults.” Prevention has two functions: positively, it offers support to the young person to grow by offering a healthy atmosphere; defensively, it protects the young from falling into situations of risk. “Preventive activity to be educational must include: foreseeing the youngster’s psychological moment; allowing calculated and responsible risks; and trust in youthful idealism and sense of responsibility.” When practiced in this way prevention will offer the young person adequate opportunity to make free decisions while at the same time protecting them from damaging experiences, which especially at their age of psychological development, can become insurmountable obstacles for their growth.
Assistance has two meanings in the writings of Don Bosco: meeting all the real needs of young people like food, clothing, shelter and lodging, a job, education, good use of free time; and educator’s vigilance and ‘presence’ to the young. So assistance is ‘presence’ and ‘availability’ of the educator to the young person “for everything that was needed, in any particular educational situation. Obviously this includes ‘supervision’ when needed, especially in a boarding school setting.” Don Bosco placed great emphasis on the presence of the educator with the pupils especially during recreation.
One of the secrets of the good running of the oratory mentioned by Don Bosco was: “happiness, singing, music and great freedom in amusements.” Don Caviglia, an authority on Don Bosco says, “Don Bosco was able to see the part of joy in formation and in the life of sanctity, and wanted that gaiety and good humour should reign among his people. Servite Domino in laetitia (Serve the Lord in
Don Bosco maintained that “it is not possible to educate youngsters if they have no trust in their superiors.” Only if the pupils trust the educator will they open themselves to him/her. Trust is gained by eliminating whatever alienates the pupils from the educator. The educator can do this by going to the pupils first, adapting to their tastes and becoming one like them.
“Familiarity for Don Bosco meant family-style relationships and a home-like way of living and working together. Its result is the family spirit.” Don Bosco, except in official documents, preferred to refer to his institutions as house, this house, the house of the oratory, etc. He wanted his institutions to be like a home and the people living and working/studying there to relate to one another as members of a family: “Every youngster who comes to a house of ours should regard his companions as brothers, and his superiors as those who take the place of his parents.” To speak of the educator-pupil relationship in terms of father-son relationship was quite common.
Don Bosco used to adivse the directors of Salesian institutions: “Try to make yourself loved rather than feared” The love that he had in mind was a spiritually mature, impartial, generous, selfless and self-sacrificing love. In the Letter from Rome (1884) he mentions love 27 times (The letter has 3,693 words). The youngsters must be made to feel that they are loved. He says: “The youngsters should not only be
Don Bosco based his educational method on the Catholic faith tradition and believed that faith in Jesus Christ and commitment to the Church were needed not only for spiritual growth but also for one’s human, psychological, and intellectual growth. He also placed lot of importance on religious practices. However, once (February 1878) he explained his educational method to Minister of the Interior Francesco Crispi, without making any reference to religion.