Don Bosco

Presentation of the volume: 'Salesian Sources'

Presentation of the book: "Salesian Sources"

Francesco Motto, sdb

  1. The Second Vatican Council invited religious to return to the sources in order to be faithful to the charism.
  2. The GC21 (1978) decided the foundation of the Salesian Historical Institute (ISS) which, since 1982, has as its first objective that of "making the documents of the rich heritage left by DB and developed by its continuators available in ideally technically valid forms ".
  3. The GC26 (2008), that of the "Returning to Don Bosco" invited the Rector Major to publish a collection of the "main Salesian sources ". 
  4. Among the "principal Salesian sources ", the writings of Don Bosco were chosen and among them above all, but not only how we will feel, those  relating to the Oratory and to the Salesian Work.
  5. For a large part of them we were able to take advantage of the texts offered by the critical editions edited by the ISS ( Epistolario, Memoirs of the Oratory, Historical notes, SDB FMA Constitutions, Spiritual Testament, Pedagogical-spiritual writings ...), for which they are guaranteed to be l ' authenticity that' originality . They are words of DB or his words collected by well-identified authoritative witnesses. Without this preventive work the volume would have been a much more difficult undertaking.
  6. The volume is divided into four parts , each with its own identity indicated by the same titles. In the presentation of the single parts the sections that are part of them are indicated and in each of them the criteria for selecting the texts contained in it are specified.    


1. Don Bosco in his context

To understand "the being and work" of Don Bosco, the first effort to do is to place it within the historical context in which he lived. From it he inherited conceptions, mentalities, habits, historical legacies and aspirations, which he then passed on to Salesian work. Think only of its pre-understandings, such as adherence to principles of faith and to an undisputed tradition of Christian life and practice, the inviolability of religion and the papacy, the incompatibility of Christian justice with every rebellion against legitimate authority, the " morality "of which every writing must be imbued, the providential reading of human history ...   

  1. The years of formation (1815-1845)
  2. A two-year breakthrough (1848-1849)
  3. The decisive start of the Salesian Work in the decade of preparation for the unification of Italy (1850-1860)
  4. The growth of the Salesian Work beyond Turin in the decade of the fulfillment of national unity (1861-1870). National, European and South American development in the 70s and 80s.
2. Sections considered (1844-1888)
2.1 Da Casa Pinardi ... alla Patagonia 
  1. Start, expansion and consolidation of the Valdocco Opera
  2. Es national and international geographical expansion of the Salesian Work
2.2. Don Bosco Fondatore: I. SDB II. ADMA III. FMA IV. CCSS
2.3. Don Bosco between the Holy See, the Kingdom of Italy and the Archbishop of Turin
  1. Confidential letters to the pope about the political situation (1858-1867, 1873)
  2. Indications for the choice of the new bishops at the vacant seats (1867-1877 )
  3. Interventions for the question of episcopal "temporality" (1872-1874)
  4. Difficult relations with the Archbishop of Turin (1872-1882)
2.4. The missionary initiative
  1. Sources prior to missionary expedition III. A project in development
2.5. Looking for economic resources
  1. Appeals to public charity
  2.  Appeals to private charity
3. Hermeneutical effort: beyond the text


For a valid interpretation of a text, simple linguistic understanding is not enough; it is necessary to realize the different literary genre : chronicle, narrative, biographical, autobiographical, juridical, apologetic, hagiographic, dramatic, uplifting, homiletic, confidential, didactic, scholastic, compilatory, allegorical ... Furthermore, linguistic concepts and expressions are always related to the environment he produced them, to cultural customs, to the spiritual attitudes of the time. The same word can indicate different contents at different times and places.


The intention of the editor should be considered : text for private use or for printing, for single recipient or multiple recipients, addressed to authorities or not, for educational purposes or in defense of his own work, to inform or to train, provoked or not. ..


Other factors not to be overlooked:
- the existence or not of previous editorial phases: a text written currenti calamo has different value from a very re-elaborated one (see the apparatus in the critical editions)
- a very personal text is different from an incorporating citations of others ... ;
- the way in which DB offers it: as certain, possible, doubtful ...;
- the moment and the conditions in which he writes: in real time or late, as a young priest or elderly founder in time of budget, in periods of success or in moments of crisis, in full force or in times of illness, fatigue…


The fundamental characteristic of DB's writings must be kept in mind: the effort to express oneself with the greatest simplicity, without pretense, neither speculative nor literary. In his writings and in the speeches intended for the formation of the SDBs, complex pages of doctrine, profound analyzes of a sociological nature or psychological introspection should not be sought. DB prefers to propose reflections born from personal experience, to codify an educational system lived by himself and a winning result.

3.5. Obviously others before us have read, contextualized, analyzed and interpreted these writings. Wisdom dictates that the bibliography indicated at the bottom of the page and at the end of the volume, as well as the complete critical editions of the individual texts, form part of a small library available in the case of need. This also serves to consider the alter pars (eg the letters of Gastaldi versus DB which are not included in the volume).

4. Beyond the writings

DB's writings are not the only way to get to know his person and his work. They are not exempt from limits, which are overcome by the study of DB's personal experience. The writings illuminate the vital experience in progress, and this allows us to correctly interpret the former.     

5. For the ways of reading the volume and editorial criteria:

see. pp. LVII-LXI.

Second part: A characteristic style of education

José Manuel Prellezo, sdb

In my speech I will try to highlight some points and themes developed in the general introduction of the volume and in the specific introduction of the second part. The subsequent intervention of Fr Giraudo on the theme of spirituality - very close, in Don Bosco's writings and practice, to the pedagogical-educational one - will complete the overall picture. 
1. I begin with a statement that may appear to be strong: "Don Bosco's demanding contact with official scientific and academic pedagogy never seems to have been seriously verified, even if relations were real, even cordial and friendly, with some contemporary theorists of pedagogy ”.
In other words: Don Bosco is not an educational theorist, a "pedagogist", in the precise sense of the term. But, if this is true, it is also true that he is the author of appreciated pedagogical writings, initiator of institutes destined to the education of youth, promoter of valid educational initiatives, which have aroused, and continue to arouse even today, the attention of educators and scholars of pedagogical issues, not only in historical perspective.

2. From these considerations it emerges that the figure of "Don Bosco the educator" appears, I would say, more relevant, attractive and popular than that of "Don Bosco the writer". However, it must be reiterated that the bibliographical and editorial production of the founder of the Salesian Society is rather conspicuous; and it can be added - on the basis of accredited studies - that "there is no writing written by him in the light that he has no relation whatsoever with youth and popular education, whatever his character may be: historical, apologetic, didactic, catechetical, religious, hagiographic, biographical, normative ”.

3. However in the second part of the volume - entitled Writings and testimonies on education and school - only essays and documents have been included that directly develop topics concerning education or certain themes closely connected with educational or scholastic questions. In general, these are writings written and signed by Don Bosco. In some cases, however, we are faced with narrations or oral stories, handed down by authoritative testimonies, and acknowledged or endorsed by Don Bosco himself. This second part is divided into three sections: 1) Narrative documents (Don Bosco talks about his educational experience); 2) Insights, reflections and educational ideas; 3) Regulations and programs.

4. At this point, however, I must point out that in the mentioned second part of the volume not all the publications have been included in which there are signs, though significant, on education.
In fact, in order to avoid irrelevant repetitions, some essays and documents - above all different personal letters to young people and educators - were placed in the first, third or fourth part of the volume, bearing in mind that, in addition to the pedagogical considerations, our author reserves also, in those writings, particular attention to definite historical questions and religious-spiritual themes.

5. In reality, Don Bosco has not come to elaborate a systematic pedagogical work carried out in theoretical terms. Nevertheless - open to the pedagogical context and sensitive to the needs of his time - he reflected in his writings and consciously experimented in his educational work among young people, valid and coherent elements that allowed him to mold, as a whole, an educational proposal articulate and unitary, unmistakably his.
His proposal identifies "doctrinal nuclei" of considerable "practical effectiveness". List some of the most relevant and well-known:

  1. predilection for the young of the popular classes;
  2. preventive attention;
  3. pedagogical optimism;
  4. integral education, summarized in the expression: "good Christians and honest citizens";
  5. "Reason religion loving-kindness": basic trinomial of the preventive system;
  6. assistance: understood as a positive and stimulating presence among the boys;
  7. educators: seen as "fathers, teachers and friends" of young educators;
  8. educational environment: welcoming, family, joyful. 

6. I did not want to make an index of general and abstract formulas. On the contrary, it is a matter of principles and guidelines that Don Bosco has been able to put into practice with a personal style: first, in meetings with needy young people on the Turin streets or in open institutions such as festive oratories; then, in ever more complete and complex works - internal gymnasium schools, hospices, colleges, arts and crafts workshops ... -, appreciated by contemporaries, who have had extraordinary development up to the present day.

7. In summary. The development of the educational ideas and educational works of Don Bosco was not the simple result of his wisely exploited organizational and circumstances. It was also the fruit of a lived pedagogy, "coherent in its essential principles" and "flexible in its progress and in its applications in the context of changing historical situations". We are not even faced with a pure abstract rumination, but before the "powerful spring of an educational relationship and a complex system of works": a characteristic style of education.

In this perspective, Don Bosco's preventive system is discovered and outlined - in its broadest sense - as a project that is necessarily open to integrations and theoretical, historical and methodological developments that enrich and render it ever more current, without distorting its essential original lines.


Part Three: Spirituality (pp. 603-979)

Part Four: Biographical and autobiographical writings (pp. 981-1308)

Aldo Giraudo, sdb

Two other parts complete the volume of Salesian sources. The third is entitled Writings and testimonies of Don Bosco on the spiritual life ; the fourth: Biographical and autobiographical writings . The latter includes the lives of Luigi Comollo, Domenico Savio, Michele Magone, Francesco Besucco and the Memoirs of the Oratory .

Selection criteria

1. As mentioned by Fr Prellezo, it is very difficult (sometimes impossible) to divide the writings of pedagogical-educational nature of Don Bosco from those that are more markedly pastoral and spiritual. Don Bosco has a plenary Christian vision of education: for him the religious fact is an essential part of a formative process that involves the whole boy. It is for this reason that he wanted to use the trinomial "Reason, Religion, Loving Kindness" to describe his "system", both when he presents it from the point of view of the educational relationship, the method and the means, and when he presents the educational goals : "Good Christian and honest citizen". Therefore, in the subdivision of the texts we followed an empirical criterion, that is to consider the prevalent emphasis. On the one hand, the writings in which attention is given to the educational fact; on the other hand, the most explicitly centered writings on religious and spiritual themes. This is the reason that led us to insert a fourth part with the lives of the three young people (Domenico Savio, Michele Magone and Francesco Besucco), and theMemories of the Oratory , which are both testimonies of spirituality and narrative pedagogy, a manifesto of Christian education.

2. Secondly, with regard to the third part relating to spiritual life, faced with the quantity of materials, we were forced to make an exemplary choice by selecting them or based on the importance that the documents had in Don Bosco's formative practice and of the Salesians (for example the Provided Youth , reprinted hundreds of times and used until the time of the Second Vatican Council), or in consideration of the issues addressed, so as to provide a complete picture of the spiritual and ascetic elements dear to Don Bosco, without too many repetitions.


The third part ( Writings and testimonies of Don Bosco on the spiritual life ), which includes 120 documents (nos. 184-304) is divided into 6 sections:
1. Orientations of spiritual life for young people (Il Giovane provided , a selection of letters to young people with spiritual counsels, Company Regulations, a choice of sermons, good nights and dreams);
2. Addresses of spiritual life for the Salesians and the FMA (The introduction to the Constitutions; the primitive constitutional documents SDB and FMA; a selection of circular letters; a choice of personal letters; some conferences and dreams told to the Salesians);
3. Guidelines for a consistent Christianity and action, which includes an illustrative choice of "spiritual" texts of Don Bosco addressed to Christians in general or to cooperators (both lay and ecclesiastical);
4. The Marian dimension of Salesian spirituality (some texts that illustrate the "Mariology" of Don Bosco);
5. The reference models of Don Bosco (Saint Joseph Cafasso and Saint Philip Neri presented by Don Bosco)
6. The spiritual testament (texts taken from the notebook called "Spiritual Testament")
In the fourth part, in addition to the three Lives (Savio, Magone and Besucco) and the Memoirs of the Oratory, we decided to include Don Bosco's first book, the life of Luigi Comollo, in the second edition (1854), the one read by Domenico Savio, indicating in italics the many texts inserted by Don Bosco with respect to the first edition, to show the maturation of Don Bosco's formative thought and practice in his first ten years of spiritual conduction for young people.

Don Bosco's spirituality

The third paragraph of the general introduction seeks to place Don Bosco in the context of the spirituality of his time to outline the characteristic features (pp. Xxxviii-lvii).
1. First of all, reference is made to the factors that strongly influenced nineteenth-century religiosity: the romantic sensibility and the reflection that historical events had on the minds of Catholics. These are indispensable factors for understanding Don Bosco's mentality and the reason for some of his spiritual choices and emphases. However, they are not enough on their own to fully explain the qualifying traits of his charisma, which make him one of the most significant figures in the landscape of sanctity and spirituality of the nineteenth century. How enough - to understand his spiritual proposal - simply to identify the sources or authors of reference (Saint Alphonsus, Saint Francis of Sales, Saint Vincent, Saint Philip Neri or the Jesuit literature). It is also necessary to consider other aspects, such as his personality and his story,

2. Determining to understand the spiritual proposal made to young people is the vision he has of Christianity as a following of Christ in the concrete fabric of daily life and human history, starting from the baptismal decision of a radical gift of self to God, loved above all thing, and of detachment from sin and from turning in on oneself. Only under these conditions can God take possession of the heart and work with sanctifying grace. In function of this movement of conversion, of delivery, of following and sanctification, all the other factors dear to him should be considered, such as the central role of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist, Marian devotion, the exercise of virtues, especially of operative charity, the asceticism of duties, the apostolate, the fervor in piety and in prayer, the perfective tension.

3. Equally important for understanding his spiritual and operative vision of Salesian religious and committed laymen, and the consequent ascetic-apostolic emphasis, is the consideration of the shepherd model in which he was formed in the years of the ecclesiastical boarding school: all consecrated to his mission, forgetful of himself, sober and sacrificed, animated by ardent charity, tireless and creative, constantly immersed in the midst of his flock as father, teacher and brother. Don Bosco adds to us his deeply human traits, such as joy and love for life, the capacity for friendship, affectionate relationality, the personalized care of individual children, the taste for beautiful things and joy. But also a vision of the future characterized by hope, universality, ardent industriousness and the desire for eternity.