On Saturday, January 31, St John Bosco Church in Woodley celebrated the bicentenary of its patron saint in a special feast day service conducted to a packed congregation.
Don Bosco, as he was known before his canonisation in 1934, was a pioneer educationalist and social worker among the dispossessed street children of Turin. As a 10-year-old in 1825, he was called in a dream to befriend unruly and blaspheming children, not with punishment but with love.
The “Preventive System of Education” he went on to develop as a priest was based on the three pillars of reason, religion and kindness. Education, he maintained, was a “matter of the heart”.
In his feast day sermon, Father Bonaventure Ndong called parishioners to follow the example of St John Bosco when speaking of the huge responsibility shouldered by those responsible for raising and guiding children.
“The words we choose,” he said, “the tone of voice we use to speak to them, and the actions our children see us take, relate to them the authority Jesus has over us.”
As a relic of the saint was placed on the altar for veneration, a line of people proceeded up the aisle with gifts symbolising all the church ministries – from altar servers, choir and Eucharistic Ministers through the Parish Council committees to cleaners, flower arrangers and caterers.
One of St John Bosco’s protégés – also to become a saint – was a boy named Dominic Savio.
It is no coincidence then that his name was chosen for the primary school which lies adjacent to the church.
Dead at the age of only 14, St Dominic is the youngest non-martyr to be canonised in the Catholic Church.
Fired by the conscious decision to make himself a saint, Dominic at one stage misguidedly subjected himself to a series of severe penances.
It was John Bosco who guided him towards realism – to cheerfulness, hard work, play and companionship. He showed him – as two centuries later his influence should now show others – what Dominic’s biographer has called “the heroism of the ordinary and the sanctity of common sense.”