Braido points out that this longer title, “Piano di Regolamento per l’Oratorio maschile di S. Francesco di Sales in Torino nella regione di Valdocco” appeared on the manuscript of the Regulations proper, and was struck through and transferred to the page containing the Introduction (when the Introduction and Historical Outline were added in 1854). At this time the shorter title (Regolamento primitivo dell’Oratorio di San Francesco di Sales) took its place. From these titles it would seem therefore that the Regulations were drawn up by Don Bosco only with the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in view.
Critical ed. in Pietro Braido, Don Bosco per i giovani: L’“Oratorio”, una “Congregazione degli Oratori”. Documenti (Piccola Biblioteca dell’ISS, 9). Roma, LAS 1988, pp. 9-56
Ut filios Dei, qui erant dispersi, congregaret in unum. Joan. c. 11 v. 52.
It seems to me that the words of the Holy Gospel, which tell us that our divine Saviour come down from heaven to earth to gather together all the children of God scattered all over the world, could be applied literally to the young people of our times. These young people, the most vulnerable yet most valuable portion of human society, on whom we base our hopes for a happy future, are not of their nature depraved. These young people, the most vulnerable yet most valuable portion of human society, on whom we base our hopes for a happy future, are not of their nature depraved, were it not for carelessness on the part of parents, idleness, mixing in bad company, which happens especially on Sundays and other Holy Days, it would be so easy to inculcate in their young hearts the principles of order, good behaviour, respect and religion. For if it so happens that they are ruined at that young age, it is due more to their thoughtlessness than to ingrained malice.
These young people have a real need of some kind person who will take care of them, work with them, guide them in virtue and keep them away from vice.
The problem lies in finding ways of gathering them, being able to speak to them, and of instructing them in the moral life.
The Son of God was sent for this purpose, and his holy religion alone can achieve it. This religion is of itself eternal and unchangeable, and has been, and will always be, the teacher of people. But the law it contains is so perfect that it can adapt to changing times and suit people’s different characters. The oratories are regarded as being amongst the most fitting means for instilling the spirit of religion in hearts that are uncultivated and abandoned. These oratories are gatherings in which young people, after they have attended church services, are entertained with pleasant and wholesome recreation.
The support which the civic and Church authorities have given me, the zeal shown by many worthy people who have given me material aid, or have helped directly with the work, are a clear sign of the Lord’s blessing and of the public’s appreciation.
It is now time to set out a regulatory framework that might serve as a plan for a proper organisation of this part of the sacred ministry, and as a guideline for the numerous priests and lay people who work in it with such dedication and charitable concern.
I have often begun [to draft such a framework], but have always given up on account of the innumerable difficulties I had to overcome. Now, to ensure the preservation of unity of spirit and uniformity of discipline, as well as to comply with the wish of persons in authority who have counselled me to do so, I have decided to complete this work, no matter what the outcome may be.
But I wish it understood from the start that it is not my purpose to lay down law or precept for anyone. My one aim is to set out what we do in the Boys’ Oratory of St Francis de Sales at Valdocco, and the way it is being done.
Some expressions found herein may lead some people into thinking that I am seeking my own honour and glory. Let them not think so; let them rather put it all down to my commitment to write [about the oratory] as things actually developed and as they are even at the present day.
When I dedicated myself to this part of the sacred ministry, I fully intended to consecrate every effort of mine to the greater glory of God and to the good of souls. My resolve was to work to make these young people good citizens for this earth, so that they might be one day worthy inhabitants of heaven. May God help me and enable me to continue in this endeavour to my last breath. So be it.
This Oratory, a gathering of young people on Sundays and holy days, began in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. For many years during the summertime, the Rev. Fr Cafasso used to teach catechism every Sunday to bricklayers’ boys in a little room attached to the sacristy of the aforementioned church. The heavy workload this priest had taken on caused him to interrupt this work which he loved so much. I took it up towards the end of 1841, and I began by gathering two young adults in that same place who were in serious need of religious instruction. These were joined by others, and during 1842 the number went up to twenty, and sometimes twenty-five. From these beginnings I learned two very important truths: first, that in general young people are not bad in themselves but more often than not they become such through contact with evil companions; second, that even these bad youngsters, if separated one from the other, are susceptible to great moral change.
In 1843 the catechism classes continued on the same footing and the number increased to fifty, the most that the place assigned to me could accommodate. All the while, while visiting the prisons of Turin, I was able to verify that the poor unfortunates committed to that place of punishment are generally poor young men who come into the city from far away either because they need to find work, or encouraged by some rascally companion. These young people are left to themselves particularly on Sundays and Holy days and spend the little money they earn during the week on games [of chance] or on sweetmeats. This is the beginning of many vices; in no time at all, these young people, who were good, are found to be at risk themselves and putting others at risk. Nor can the prisons better them in any way, because while detained there they learn more refined ways of doing evil so that when they are released they become worse.
I turned therefore to this class of youngster as the most abandoned and at risk; and during the week, either with promises or with little gifts, I tried to win over more pupils. I succeeded, and their number increased greatly, so that, when larger premises were placed at my disposal in the summer of 1844, I found myself at times with some eighty youths around me. I experienced great happiness at seeing myself surrounded by pupils who behaved as I wanted, all of them started on a job, and whose conduct both on weekdays and Sundays I could some how vouch for. As I looked over them, I could visualise one of them returned to parents from whom he had run away, another placed with an employer, and all of them well on the way to learning their religion.
But the community life characteristic of a place like the Pastoral Institute of St Francis of Assisi (Convitto), the silence and good order required by the services conducted in that public and very well attended church, got in the way of my plans. And even though the well-deserving, late-lamented Dr Guala1 encouraged me to persevere, nevertheless I clearly perceived the need for new premises. Because religious instruction occupies the young people for only a certain period of time, after which they need some outlet: hikes, games.
Providence arranged that in late October 1844 I should be appointed to The Refuge (Rifugio) as spiritual director. I invited my boys to come and visit me at my new residence and the following Sunday they gathered there in much larger numbers than usual. My room served both as oratory and playground. What a sight! No chair, table or anything else in the room could escape the attack of that friendly invasion.
Meanwhile, I and the Rev. Dr Borel, who from then on became the Oratory’s staunchest supporter, had chosen a room that was intended as dining room and common room for the priests working at the Refuge, and that seemed big enough for our purposes. We adapted it as a chapel. The Archbishop gave his kind approval, and on the day of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1844), the chapel we had long hoped for was blessed, with the faculty of celebrating the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and of giving Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.
The news of a chapel destined exclusively for the young, the liturgical services prepared especially for them, a bit of open space to romp around in, proved to be powerful attractions, so that our church, which began to be called ‘Oratory’ at that time, became quickly overcrowded. We made do as well as we could. Catechism classes were held in every corner: in rooms, kitchen and corridors.
Things were moving along when an occurrence (or better, Divine Providence acting with hidden purposes) turned our oratory upside down. On August 10, 1845 the Little Hospital of St. Philomena2 was opened and the premises we had been using for nine months had to be given over to other uses. Another meeting place had to be found. Following a formal request, the Mayor of the city allowed us to go to St Martin’s chapel near the Molazzi or city Mills. So on Sunday we announced the change of place. The boys were partly sad at having to leave a place they had come to like as their very own and partly anxious about something new but they readied themselves to go. You would have seen one carrying a chair, another a bench, some carrying a picture or statue, others the vestments or altar cloths or cruets. Some of the more playful ones would have stilts or bocce balls or throwing discs, but they were all keen to see the new oratory.
Two months went by peacefully there, although we could not do things perfectly since we couldn’t celebrate Mass or have Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, nor was it all that easy to have recreation. But that period of calm was a prelude to a storm that would put the Oratory to a more severe trial. Word got around that these gatherings of youngsters were dangerous and that at any moment they could move from having recreation to creating a riot. What kind of riot could ignorant, penniless boys with weapons cause! They were only gathering to learn catechism; they would have trembled even at hearing a crow flutter! But despite this the rumours kept growing and a report was sent to the mayor in which I was described as the head of the gang, and that they were making an intolerable racket at the mills, a disturbance that nobody could put up with; damage was being done to the walls, benches and even the paving in the courtyard. I had quite something to say about the fact that these claims had no substance but it was all in vain. An order was issued that we had to immediately evacuate the locale we had been previously given.
I then asked if we could go to the Holy Cross cenotaph church, known as St Peter in Chains. Permission was given. We happily went off there but it was just a single festive occasion, because new reports were written and sent to the mayor in which our gatherings were described as acts of insubordination and we were soon prohibited from setting foot there ever again.
I make no mention of the names of individuals who sent these acrimonious reports off to the City [authorities]; I merely observe (God forbid that I take any delight in it) that one person lived just one more day and the other just three days after having made their report. This was something that made a deep impression on the youngsters who were aware of the fact
What could be done? I found myself with a heap of materials for the church and for games, a crowd of youngsters that followed me everywhere and not an inch of ground where we could go to.
Afraid that my children would stop coming, I hid all my worries and on Sundays took them off one day to Sassi, another to the Madonna di Campagna (Our Lady of the Fields), and another to the Mount of the Capuchins. The number of boys grew rather than diminishing. In the meantime, as the winter was drawing near, and the weather no longer favoured excursions into the countryside, I and Dr [John] Borel rented three rooms in the Moretta3 house, a building not far distant from the present site of the Oratory in Valdocco. During that winter our activities were limited to simple catechism lessons on the evening of each Sunday and holy day.
At this time the gossip that had already been making the rounds for some time, that the oratories were a deliberate way of getting young people away from their own parishes in order to instruct them in suspect principles, grew more insistent. This allegation was based on the fact that I allowed my young people every kind of recreation as long as they did not sin or do anything that could be regarded as reprehensible conduct. In response to the allegation , I pointed out that my purpose was to gather together only those young people who did not belong to any parish. As a matter of fact most of the youngsters were from out of town and did not even know which parish they belonged to. But the more I tried to explain the truth of the matter, the more sinister was the cast thrown upon it.
Furthermore, certain events took place that forced us to leave the Moretta house, so that in March 1846 I had to lease a small grass field from the Filippi brothers, at the location where the pig-iron foundry is at present. And there I was under the wide and starry sky, in the middle of a field bordered by a sorry-looking hedgerow that kept out only those who did not want to come in. There I was with some three hundred young men who found their heaven on earth in that oratory—an oratory the roof and the walls of which were nothing but sky.
To make matters worse, the Vicar of the City, Marquis Cavour4, informed but prejudiced against these weekend gatherings, sent for me. He briefly reported what was being rumoured about the oratory and then said to me: “My good Father, let me give you a sound piece of advice. Get rid of those villains, because these gatherings are dangerous.” I replied: “All I am trying to do is to better the lot of these poor boys. If the City would care to provide any kind of premises for me I have every hope of being able to very much lessen the number of troublemakers, and at the same time, the numbers of those who go to prison."
“You are fooling yourself my good priest; these efforts are all in vain. Where will you get the money? I cannot allow such gatherings."
The results we have had convince me that these efforts are not in vain: the money is in the Lord’s hands, and sometimes he uses the most paltry of instruments to carry out his work …"
"I cannot allow such gatherings."
“Don’t grant them for me, Sir, but grant it for the good of these boys who will end up badly left to their own devices.”
“I am not here to argue; this is a disorder and I want to put a stop to it. You do know that without permission no assembly is allowed.”
“My assemblies have no political aim; they are merely to teach catechism to poor boys and I do this with the Archbishop’s permission.”
“The Archbishop has been informed of these matters?”
“He is informed and I have never put a foot out of place without asking him for his advice and consent.”
“But I cannot allow these assemblies.”
“I do believe, Sir, that you would not want to prohibit me from teaching catechism, which has the Archbishop’s permission.”
The Archbishop had knowledge of everything and urged me to be patient and have courage. In the meantime I was forced to resign from the Refuge in order to be able to attend more directly to the care of my boys, and as a result I was without employment and without means of support. Every project of mine was given a sinister interpretation. I was physically exhausted with my health undermined, to the point that the word was put around that I had become insane.
Failing to make others understand my plans I sought to mark time, because I was deeply convinced that events would prove me right in what I was doing. Furthermore, I wanted so much to have a suitable site that in my mind I imagined this to be already a fact. This was the reason why even my dearest friends thought that I was out of my mind. And my co-workers abandoned me entirely, since I would not give in to them and desist from my undertaking,.
Dr Borel went along with my ideas. However, since no other course seemed open to us, he thought we should pick a dozen of the younger children and teach them their catechism privately, and wait of a better opportunity to go forward with our plans.
“No,” I replied “This is not the way. This is the Lord’s work; he began it, and he has to bring it to completion.”
“But meanwhile,” he insisted, “Where will we gather our boys?”
“In the Oratory."
“But where is this Oratory?”
“I see it there already: I see a church, a house, and an enclosed playground. It is there, and I see it.”
“But where are these things?”
“I do not know where they are, but I see them.”
I insisted because of my lively wish to have these things. I was thoroughly convinced that God would provide them.
Dr Borel felt sorry for me in that condition, and he too reluctantly expressed doubts about my sanity. Father Cafasso kept telling me not to take any decision for the duration. The Archbishop however was inclined to agree that I should stay with the work.
All the while Marquis Cavour firmly held to the position that these gatherings, which he claimed were dangerous, should stop. But not wanting to take a decision that might displease the Archbishop, he with his office staff (the equivalent of our city council) arranged for a meeting at the Archbishop’s palace. The Archbishop later confided to me that it looked like the last judgement. The discussion was brief, but the verdict was that such gatherings must absolutely stop.
Fortunately Count Provana di Collegno at the time was serving in the Vicar’s Council as Head of the Accounting Department. He had always encouraged me and supported my work financially both from his own private purse and on behalf of His Majesty King Charles Albert. This Sovereign of grateful memory, appreciated the work of the oratory and would send financial help in times of special need. Through Count Collegno he often expressed to me his satisfaction with our special priestly ministry. He placed our ministry on a par with the work of the foreign missions and would have liked to see such gatherings of young people at risk held in every city of the realm.
When he learned of my predicament he sent me 300 francs through the same Count, with words of encouragement. He also let the Vicar’s office know that he wished such Sunday gatherings of young people to continue. The Vicar was to take care to prevent any disorder that might arise. The Vicar obeyed and took steps to that effect. He ordered a number of archers, a kind of security guard, to attend our meetings and report.
They were there for catechism classes, sermons, singing practice and recreation, and reported everything in detail to the Vicar. By and by his attitude changed for the better, and so did the situation at the Oratory.
It was a Sunday evening on the fifteenth of March, a memorable day for our Oratory, when seeing such a huge number of boys playing and seeing myself alone in their midst, my health and strength at an end, without knowing where I could go now that the field we had rented was to be put to other use, I became so emotional that I burst into tears. “My God,” I began saying, raising my eyes to heaven, “Why don’t you let me know where you want me to gather these dear boys of mine? Oh please let me know, tell me what I must do!”
These were the kinds of words that were churning in my heart when at that moment a certain Soave Pancrazio came to me saying that there was a Mr Pinardi who had a place I could rent which would be very suitable for my purpose. I went immediately. It was a shed. We spoke about it, agreed on a rental price and on how we could turn the place into a chapel. It all took just a few minutes. I ran back quickly to my boys, called them together and overwhelmed with happiness began to shout: “Courage boys, we have an Oratory. We will have a church, a sacristy, a place for school and for recreation.”
This news was greeted with enthusiasm. And on Easter Sunday in April we carried all the equipment for church and recreation there and the new chapel was inaugurated. A little later other rooms in the same Pinardi house were rented where we started the Sunday and evening classes. Chev. Gonella5, an outstanding benefactor of this Oratory, was so pleased with these classes that he set out to introduce them at St Pelagia’s. The city itself took the evening schools into consideration and opened them in various suburbs around the city where today it is easy for any worker who so desires to get basic education. Since the things that followed this period are well known to everyone, I limit myself to noting them briefly.
1846. One Sunday in April the current church was blessed and given faculties for celebrating Mass, teaching catechism, preaching and having Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Sunday and evening classes made good progress teaching reading, writing, singing, bible history, arithmetic and Italian. Oratory pupils put on public demonstrations of what they were learning.
In November, I took up residence in the Home attached to the Oratory. Many priests, including Frs Vola, Carpano, Trivero6 took part in things at the Oratory.
1847. The St Aloysius sodality was set up 7 with the approval of the ecclesiastical authorities. A statue of the Saint was arranged for and the six Sundays leading up to the feast of St Aloysius were grandly celebrated. On the feast day itself the Archbishop came to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to a large group of boys and we enacted a comedy with singing and music.
Additional rooms were were rented thanks to which a number of evening classes were added. We took in two poor young orphaned boys, without a trade and ignorant of religion. This is how the Home began and it continued to grow.
Given the large number of boys that were coming to the Oratory and because the church and the enclosure at Valdocco had become too small, a new Oratory was opened at Porta Nuova in the Vaglietti, now the Turvano house, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception under the title of St Aloysius Gonzaga, and Fr Giacinto Carpano was put in charge. This new Oratory began using the same rules and had the same aim as the one at Valdocco; soon it too was filled with boys.
1848. The number of boys taken in as boarders had increased to fifteen. Following a number of problems that had arisen because we were preparing the boys for admission to Holy Communion, the Archbishop formally gave faculties for preparations for Confirmation and Communion and for fulfilling the Easter duties in the chapel at the Oratory.
The first Retreats were held for a selected group of boys at the Home attached to the Oratory and we saw excellent results. The City council sent a commission to visit the Oratories and after sending a letter expressing their satisfaction they offered a subsidy of 600 francs. The Institute for the Education of the Poor (Mendacità) also came to the aid of the Oratories with a temporary subsidy. We made a solemn procession to Our Lady of Consolation (The Consolata) for Communion in May in honour of Our Blessed Lady. We had already done that for two years, but without the procession. The pictures of the Stations of the Cross were blessed and together we made a visit to the Altar of Repose on Holy Thursday; then in the evening that day for the first time we held the ceremony of the lavabo (Washing of the feet).
This same year piano and organ lessons began, and the boys began to go out to sing Mass and Vespers with church choirs in Turin, Carignano, Chieri, Rivoli etc.
1849. The entire Pinardi house, the area in front and behind the house was rented; The church had been extended by at least half. The number of boys in the Home was now thirty. The Pope fled Rome and went to Gaeta in the Kingdom of Naples and the boys at the Oratory took up a collection which deeply moved the Holy Father and he had Cardinal Antonelli write a letter of thanks and sent his blessing on the boys at the Oratory. Then from Gaeta he sent a packet of 60 dozen rosaries for the boys at the Oratory and these were distributed with much celebration on July 20. See the booklet printed on that occasion.
Because of the war, Fr Cocchi closed the Guardian Angel Oratory and it remained closed for a year and was then entrusted to us. Fr Vola was asked to run it.
The Senate and the Ministry sent a commission to visit the Oratories and their report and discussion was favourable. See the Piedmontese Gazzetta of March 29, 1849.
Savio Ascanio was the first young man in the Oratory to receive the clerical habit8.
1850. We bought the Pinardi house and the house attached to it. The number of boys living in was now fifty. The number of boys coming to the Oratory of St Francis de Sales was extraordinary so we planned a new church and on 20 July Cav. Cotta9 laid the foundation stone and Canon Moreno10 blessed it amidst a huge crowd of people. The the acts of this function are in writing.
The Bishop of Biella in a circular of his recommended the building of the new church and collected a thousand francs. Since were lacked money to continue the church we organised a lottery which was held the following year and was very favourably received. We collected three thousand three hundred items which, deducting expenses, produced a net result of 26 thousand francs11.
On the first of June the Mutual Aid Society began. The statutes can be seen in the printed booklet12.
1851. On June 20, the Feast of Our Lady of Consolation, the new church was blessed with much pomp, many distinguished people were in attendance and there was much joy, and the first sacred ceremonies were held there. The attached poem gives a hint of how much was done on that day: ’Come augel di ramo in ramo’ etc.
Various purchases were made for the church; the St Aloysius altar was bought. The choir loft was built.
1852. The explosion at the powder mill on April 26 the year before rocked the Home at the Oratory and damaged it considerably, so this year we built a new construction workshop. It was close to being finished (December 2) when it almost completely collapsed causing much fear and damage. Nobody, fortunately, was injured.
Mr Michael Scanagatti 13 offered a set of elegant candelabra for the main altar. The bell tower was built. Since there was no further space for evening classes, some were held in the new church. The old church was turned into a dormitory and study and classrooms.
Fr Cafasso had the current pulpit built.
1853. Building started on the part of the house which had collapsed: it was completed, furnished and by October was being lived in. The new area meant that the dormitories and refectory for the boys who were living in could be better organised. By now there were 65 of them.
Count Cays,  the prior of the St Aloysius sodality bought a bell which was blessed by the parish priest of Borgo Dora. He provided the current Baldacchino.
For the first time we held the Forty Hours and the Octave for the Easter festivities.
We rented out the entire Belleza house in order to get rid of the disturbances from this tavern and all the people of suspect behaviour who went there.
1854. Because of the financial crisis this year no new works were undertaken. We simply finished off some of the most essential things. Count Cays16 was re-elected as prior of the St Aloysius sodality and provided a long new frieze17 which ran the length of the church cornice.
The lack of food, work which exposed many young people to danger in body and soul meant that we took in many more boys and their number increased to eighty six.
1 Luigi Fortunato Guala (1775-1848), teacher and theologian, rector of the church of St Francis of Assisi, and founder of the Pastoral Institute (Convitto ecclesiastico).
2 Don Bosco was taken on by Marchioness Barolo as chaplain at the Little Hospital ten months before the opening, which took place in August 1845.
3 A two-storey building belonging to Fr John Baptist Moretta (1777-1847).
4 See doc. no. 1.
5 Andrea Gonella (1770-1851), banker and textile industrialist. Also his son Marco (1822-1886) would be a great friend and benefactor of Don Bosco's.
6 Fr Giacinto Carpano (1821-1894) and Fr Giuseppe Trivero (1816-1894) were already helping out with spiritual and material assistance of young migrants.
7 See doc. nos. 4 and 206.
8 Ascanio Savio (1832-1902), received the cassock on November 1, 1848; he then left Don Bosco and joined the Oblates of the Virgin Mary.
9 Giuseppe Cotta (1785-1868), banker and member of important city institutions. Senator from 1848, in the three years from 1849-1852 he was a city councillor.
10 Ottavio Moreno (1777-1852), canon at the cathedral, senator and head of the Royal Apostolic Treasury. He had great respect for Don Bosco's work for which he obtained substantial financial aid.
11 See no. 6.
12 See no. 4.
13 Michele Scanagatti (1803-1879).
14 Giuseppe Luigi Dupré (died 1884) banker, and at the time held many public roles. With other well-known personages on 9 December 1851 he had supported Don Bosco's request to the head of the Finance Department for authorisation to launch a lottery, cf. E(m) I, pp. 136-137.
15 Domenico Fassati Roero, Marquis a great benefactor of Don Bosco's along with his wife Maria de Maistre (1824-1905).
16 Carlo Cays Count of Giletta and Caselette (1813-1882), president of the St Vincent de Paul Conference, member of the subalpine parliament (1857-1860), was widowed, became a Salesian and also a priest (1877).
17 The word he uses is a Piedmontese term for drapery.