Don Bosco


Don Bosco’s Memoirs of the Oratory


Many a time I have been urged to write my memoirs concerning the Oratory of Saint Francis de Sales. Though I could not readily say no to the authority of the one who advised me to do this, I found it hard actually to set about the task because it meant too often speaking about myself. But now there has been added the command of a person of supreme authority, an authority that brooks no further delay.

Therefore I am now putting into writing those confidential details that may somehow serve as a light or be of use to the work which Divine Providence has entrusted to the Society of Saint Francis de Sales. But I must say at the outset that I am writing these for my beloved Salesian sons; I forbid that these things he made public during my lifetime or after my death.

Now, what purpose can this chronicle serve? It will be a record to help people overcome problems that may come in the future by learning from the past. It will serve to make known how God himself has always been our guide. It will give my sons some entertainment to be able to read: about their father’s adventures. Doubtless they will be read much more avidly when I have been called by God to render my account, when I am no longer amongst them.

Should they come upon experiences related maybe with complacency or the appearance of vainglory, let them indulge me a little. A father delights in speaking of his exploits to his dear children. It is always to be hoped that the sons will draw from these adventures, small and great, some spiritual and temporal advantage.

I have chosen to divide my account into ten-year periods, because each decade saw a notable development of our work. So, my dear children, when you read these memoirs after my death, remember that you had a loving father who left these memoirs as a pledge of fatherly affection before he abandoned this world. And remembering that, pray for the happy repose of my soul.

 First ten years Father’s death – Family difficulties – The widowed mother

I was born on the day dedicated to Mary Assumed into Heaven in 1815 in Murialdo near Castelnuovo d’Asti. My mother’s name was Margaret Occhiena and she was from Capriglio; my father’s name was Francis. They were farmers who made their living by hard work and thrifty use of what little they had. My good father, almost entirely by the sweat of his brow, supported my grandmother, in her seventies and a prey to frequent illnesses; three youngsters; and a pair of farm helpers. Of the three children, the oldest was Anthony, born of his first wife; the second was Joseph; and the youngest was me, John.

I was not yet two years old when the merciful Lord hit us with a sad bereavement. My dearly loved father died unexpectedly. He was strong and healthy, still young and actively interested in promoting a good Christian upbringing for his offspring. One day he came home from work covered in sweat and imprudently went down into a cold cellar. That night he developed a high temperature, the first sign of a serious illness. Every effort to cure him proved vain. Within a few days he was at death’s door. Strengthened by all the comforts of religion, he recommended to my mother confidence in God, then died, aged only thirty-four, on 12 May 1817.

I do not know how I reacted on that sad occasion. One thing only do I remember, and it is my earliest memory. We were all going out from the room where he had died, and I insisted on staying behind.


My grieving mother addressed me, “Come, John, come with me,”

“If papa’s not coming, 1 don’t want to come,” I answered.

“My poor son,” my mother replied, “come with me; you no longer have a father.” Having said this, she broke down and started crying as she took me by the hand and led me away. I began crying too because she was crying. At that age I could not really understand what a tragedy had fallen on us in our father’s death.

This event threw the whole family into difficulty. Five people had to be supported. The crops failed that year because of a drought[and that was our only source of income. The prices of foodstuffs soared. Wheat was as much as four francs a bushel, corn or maize two and a half francs. Some people who lived at that time have assured me that beggars hesitated to ask for even a little bran to put in broth of chickpeas or beans for nourishment. People were found dead in the fields, their mouths stuffed with grass, with which they had tried to quell their ravenous hunger.

My mother often used to tell me that she fed the family until she exhausted all her food. She then gave money to a neighbour, Bernard Cavallo, to go looking for food to buy. That friend went round to various markets but was unable to buy anything, even at exorbitant prices. After two days he came in the evening bringing back nothing but the money he had been given. We were all in a panic. We had eaten practically nothing the whole day, and the night would have been difficult to face.

My mother, not allowing herself to be discouraged, went round to the neighbours to try to borrow some food. She did not find anyone able to help. “My dying husband,” she told us, “said I must have confidence in God. Let’s kneel then and pray.” After a brief prayer she got up and said, “Drastic circumstances demand drastic means.” Then she went to the stable and, helped by Mr Cavallo, she killed a calf. Part of that calf was immediately cooked and the worst of the family’s hunger satisfied. In the days that followed, cereals bought at a very high price from more distant places enabled us to survive.

Anyone can imagine how much my mother worked and suffered in that disastrous year. Thecritical lack of wheat supplies was overcome by constant hard work, by continuous thrift, by attention to the smallest details and by occasional providential help. My mother often told me of these events, and my relatives and friends confirmed them.

When that terrible scarcity was over and matters at home had improved, a convenient arrangement was proposed to my mother. However she repeated again and again, “God gave me a husband and God has taken him away. With his death the Lord put three sons under my care. I would be a cruel mother to abandon them when they needed me most.”

On being told that her sons could be entrusted to a good guardian who would look after them well, she merely replied, “A guardian could only be their friend, but I am a mother to these sons of mine. All the gold in the world could never make me abandon them.”

Her greatest care was given to instructing her sons in their religion, making them value obedience, and keeping them busy with tasks suited to their age. When I was still very small, she herself taught me to pray. As soon as I was old enough to join my brothers, she made me kneel with them morning and evening. We would all recite our prayers together, including the rosary. I remember well how she herself prepared me for my first confession. She took me to church, made her own confession first, then presented me to the confessor. Afterwards, she helped me to make my thanksgiving. She continued to do this until I reached the age when she judged me able to use the sacrament well on my own.

I had reached my ninth year. My mother wanted to send me to school, butshefelt very uneasy because of the distance. The distance to Castelnuovo from where we lived was more than three miles; my brother Anthony was opposed to my boarding there. A compromise was eventually agreed upon. During the winter season I would attend school at the nearby village of Capriglio. In this way I was able to learn the basic elements of reading and writing.My teacher was a devout priest called Joseph Delacqua. He was very attentive to my needs, seeing to my instruction and even more to my Christian education. During the summer months I went along with what my brother wanted by working in the fields.

A Dream

It was at that age that I had a dream. All my life this remained deeply impressed on my mind. In this dream I seemed to be near my home in a fairly large yard. A crowd of children were playing there. Some were laughing, some were playing games, and quite a few were swearing. When I heard these evil words, I jumped immediately amongst them and tried to stop them by using my words and my fists.

At that moment a dignified man appeared, a nobly dressed adult. He wore a white cloak, and his face shone so that I could not look directly at him. He called me by name, told me to take charge of these children, and added these words: “You will have to win these friends of yours not by blows but by gentleness and love. Start right away to teach them the ugliness of sin and the value of virtue.” Confused and frightened, I replied that I was a poor, ignorant child. I was unable to talk to those youngsters about religion. At that moment the kids stopped their fighting, shouting, and swearing; they gathered round the man who was speaking.


Hardly knowing what I was saying, I asked, “Who are you, ordering me to do the impossible?”

“Precisely because it seems impossible to you, you must make it possible through obedience and the acquisition of knowledge.”

“Where, by what means, can I acquire knowledge?”

“I will give you a teacher. Under her guidance you can become wise. Without her, all wisdom is foolishness.”

“But who are you that speak so?”

“I am the son of the woman whom your mother has taught you to greet three times a day.”

— original source: —

  1. onen mark okello says:

    i have stayed in the don bosco institution of uganda bombo but i have never felt the love as i got from the institution i belive don bosco still lives among us and he is our great mentor


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