January 31: Juan Bosco (John Bosco), Priest, 1888

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About this Commemoration

Giovanni Bosco was born near Turin, Italy. His father died when he was two leaving his mother to provide marginal subsistence for the family. He showed a remarkably sweet and kind disposition, which put him at odds with many of the rough boys with whom he grew up. When he was nine, he received a vision. Christ and the Blessed Virgin encouraged him to be kind, obedient and hard-working and a great future would be shown him. Don Bosco always counted this as the beginning of his vocation.

Giovanni was fascinated by the traveling circuses which visited his region and went about learning to juggle, walk a tightrope and do magic tricks. He put on local “shows” which drew both children and adults. The “price” of admission to these exhibitions was time spent at the end of the show saying prayers together. With help from some patrons who recognized his intelligence and talent, he attended seminary and when ordained took an appointment as chaplain to a girls boarding school.

Don Bosco was not satisfied ministering only to well-to-do young women. In time, every Sunday and feast day the  campus filled up with ragamuffin boys who came for catechism, basic schooling and supervised play. The raucous  energy of the boys scandalized the school and Don Bosco was fired. In 1846 he was able to open an orphanage and put the new work under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales. With the help of an assistant priest and some  seminarians he had groomed from among his boys, he formed the Salesian Order. This order, grudgingly admired by secular   politicians, was recognized by the Pope and grew to include women religious, lay brothers, and dedicated laity, operating orphanages, vocational schools and nighttime primary schools for working people.

Don Bosco summed up his theory of education: “Every education teaches a philosophy by suggestion, implication, atmosphere. Every part has a connection with every other part. If it does not combine to convey some general view of life, it is not education at all.”


i Compassionate God, who didst call Juan Bosco to be a teacher and father to the young: Fill us with love like his, that  we may give ourselves completely to thy service and to the salvation of all; through thy Son Jesus Christ, who liveth  and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

ii Compassionate God, you called Juan Bosco to be a teacher and father to the young: Fill us with love like his, that we may give ourselves completely to your service and to the salvation of all; through your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Isaiah 59:14–16

Philippians 4:4–9

Mark 13:10–16



Preface of  a Saint (1)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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14 thoughts on “January 31: Juan Bosco (John Bosco), Priest, 1888

  1. Title: Why is Juan Bosco translated to John Bosco? The use of parentheses is not standard in HWHM either. People don’t know that Juan = John in English?

    Collect. This collect, too, is weak and could be re-written perhaps adding ‘teacher, priest, and father’ in the process.

    Hebrew Reading: This reading does not seem to fit.
    Gospel: Why are verses 10-12 included?

    Bio. He needs a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement; and a ‘He died in 1888.’statement.
    1st paragraph: ‘… at odds with many of the rough boys …’ That is an odd way to characterize them. ‘Rough boys’?
    3rd paragraph: ‘… filled up with ragamuffin boys …’ ‘Ragamuffin boys’? Really? It sounds like Charles Dickens. Honestly, when was the last time you used ragamuffin to describe anyone?

    • Oops. That comment, above, is from me not Nigel.
      I assist Nigel in posting his comments and I forgot to change to my name.
      Note: I wish I knew how to edit/correct posts on this blog (as do others).

  2. Putting on my “casual reader” of these writings, my first comment is what is Fr. Bosco’s name? Juan, John, Giovanni, Don … these all seem to be used interchangeably and without explanation. Raised confusing to the hearers of this text at MP.

    He also needs a better attribution than “priest.” Perhaps educator, teacher, founder of Salesian Order, something that indicates why he is being honored other than he was ordained.

    I agree with Michael about “at odds with many of the rough boys” and “ragamuffin” … I stumbled over these images also.

  3. He was an Italian, named Giovanni. I understand translating this into English, “John,” but why use the Spanish word (Juan) in the collect?

  4. IMO, this doesn’t have the substance (“gravitas”) for HWHM. It’s a Bing Crosby update of The Bells of St Mary’s. Everybody loves children (even W C Fields, if I remember correctly) and what we have here is a thin description of a sentimental plot — a stereotype — Mary Poppins in a collar. The recurring name changes in the write-up may well belie poor description or poor communication of identity — a Daddy Daycare priest. The collect, and I know I harp a lot on collect deficiencies, but in this case I think it’s probably so poor because we’re given nothing of substance to work with. I’m reluctant, in any case, to include the word “father” in the collect’s summary of his role with children — I doubt Church Insurance would want clergy confusing their role with that of surrogate parents. I don’t like two separate commemorations on any one day, but this one would divert attention from Shoemaker — which would be a travesty, in my opinion. (I haven’t checked the Lessons, so no comment there, but without detail, I do feel some sentences in the bio alert us to parts of the story, but don’t convey the story.) The closing quote doesn’t add a lot. “Seminarians he had groomed from among his boys” sounds prissy, a la “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” There’s no year of birth. The details about his circus skills are not connected to anything specific — as relevant as whether he liked to fly kites or collect lightning bugs.

    • If we want a commemoration that deals with THE CHURCH’S attention to children, I have heard of The Rev. Kermit Castallanos, who ministered in Episcopal parishes in NYC and LA, and had a grace-filled presence in Ticondaroga NY (his summer home). One such source, a now retired UM pastor, speaks first hand of what would now be called a “latch-key” childhood that was profoundly enriched, even transformed, by his outstanding ministry — with many such children, not just her. Another source is the former rector of Ticindaroga — again, a witness to a person clearly a marvelous man of God and minister of Christ. I believe Fr Castallanos (I may be spelling his name wrong) was representative of an awareness of children and of working class families (possibly more urban than rural or suburban — I’m not positive) in the church in mid-twentieth century. That, to me, would seem more inspiring (and real) than Don/Juan/John/Giovanni Bosco.

  5. I am not a fan of Roman Catholic sentimentalism. John Bosco an his cultus is the ne plus ultra of Roman sentimentality. His inclusion in HWHM is neither necessary or advisable. Fr. Shoemaker who is commemorated on the same day deserves to stand alone.

  6. Fr. Bosco is a worthy saint, indeed, but he belongs in his own denomination’s calendar, not in ours. Despite the title, HWHM is the calendar of the Protestant Episcopal Church, not a dictionary of saints and other nice people. My preference is for no post-Reformation Roman Catholics (especially not apostate Anglicans!) in our calendar, as it suggests that we read about other denominations’ saints instead of producing our own. Besides, the Rev. Shoemaker deserves a date of his own, and by the time the next General Convention approves him, he’ll have been dead for fifty years (at least as the Romans count).

    • Steve has an important point. We have guidelines for adding people ad infinitum, but we lack and need SOME boundaries. It might not be specifically the ones Steve suggests, but I agree 100% with the implication that we need boundaries for HWHM and as of now we don’t have ANY.

  7. Too bad there has to be competition here. About Sam Shoemaker’s date: Andrea, can you tell us why the commemoration isn’t October 31, the day he died? There are two very worthy people being commemorated October 31, but I don’t think they should be bumped, either. –About Bosco: the biography reminded me of the Bing Crosby film _Going My Way_, and I liked it. It was based on a real person. I taught for 18 years in the poorest school district in my state and I think anyone who can reach tough kids should be listened to and in some cases held up for special honor. I really admired the teachers who could reach those kids through tough love, discipline, fun (like the stunts Bosco did), etc. I liked Bosco’s theory of education: “Every education teaches a philosophy by suggestion, implication, atmosphere. Every part has a connection with every other part. If it does not combine to convey some general view of life, it is not education at all.”

  8. I guess I’m really being argumentative here, but is it sentimentality that causes us to admire teachers who are able to make a difference in children’s lives? Sam Shoemaker made a difference in the lives of young adults, usually well educated. Part of his mission was to the “Golf Club set” in Pittsburgh, as someone said. The young couples to whom he made Christ real still talk today about what that meant to them, and how it changed their lives. He also made Christ real to business people of many denominations in Pittsburgh, and he also worked with non-Christians in making Pittsburgh a vital community. Giovanni Bosco’ mission was to poor children in Italy. Because of his caring and day to day teaching he changed their lives. Is an emotional response to that simply “sentimentality”?

  9. The title should be changed. This Italian saint was named Giovanni, as the bio shows. Both the English “John” and the Spanish “Juan” are common, as is “Don Bosco”. The title could show the Italian only, with the alternates in the text of the bio, but since most of those who will read the bio will understand English, that could be a reasonable choice, with the Italian and Spanish versions shown in the text. Listing him as “Don Bosco” would also work. But let’s have just one name in the title!

    Once again, we have a subtitle which merely shows his clerical status, the least important descriptive word. I suggest “Educator and Founder of the Salesian Order”.

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “on August 16, 1815,” after “born”.

    Line 7, second paragraph: substitute “. After ordination, he obtained” for “and when ordained took”.

    Add a fifth paragraph: “Don Bosco died in Turin on January 31, 1888, He was canonized by Pope Pius Xl in 1934.”

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