RM Resources

Life of Fr Rua






Edited by Aldo Giraudo


Original title: Vie de Don Michel Rua premier successeur de Don Bosco (1837-1910) - © LAS, Rome, 2009.

Translated from the French and Italian by a team involving Julian Fox, Robert Coupe, Mary Treacy, John Dickson, Francois Dufour

Overall revision by Aldo Giraudo based on archival sources


The centenary of the death of Blessed Michael Rua offers us a chance to take stock of the life of Don Bosco's first successor. The Salesian Family owes much to him. What would it have become without Father Michael Rua?

Others in the past have written up his life. Soon after he died, his constant friend, Fr John Baptist Francesia (1838-1930) published a 220 page book, D. Michele Rua, primo successore di Don Bosco (Turin, 1911), its only limitation being, perhaps, its excessive enthusiasm for its chief character. Later, when the Beatification and Canonisation process began, a number of testimonies to his virtues ensued.

Thus, by the beginning of the 1930s, the editor of the Bollettino Salesiano, Angelo Amadei (1868-1945), who had easy access to the Central Archives of the Congregation, began gathering a large number of documents which resulted in a monumental three volume work with a total of 2,388 pages, Il Servo di Dio Michele Rua (Turin, 1931-1934). Amadei had kept himself well informed. For example, he even had recourse to the Salesian Sisters' local chronicles. But in a desire to overlook nothing, he accumulated testimonies and facts, using a purely chronological criterion to link them, year after year, without ever being concerned about constructing a true and proper account. The only exception to his way of proceeding was that he drew up an interesting and detailed moral portrait of Fr Rua based on the years 1898 to 1899. For the rest, it all seems mixed together in a huge hotchpotch: "a bazaar, a muddle", as Fr Ceria said to me one day, when he was talking about the tenth volume of the Memorie biografiche, a work by the same author and written according to the same criteria. Besides, Amadei did not specify the sources of his information, and completely ignored any system of reference. His biography, then, while an extremely worthy one, should be used prudently. Out of a desire for precision we might add that confreres had asked him for a digest of the work, under the title: Un altro Don Bosco, Don Rua (Turin, 1934, 703 pages).

One of his colleagues of the time, Augustine Auffray (1881-1955), who edited the French Bulletin Salésien in Turin, was very careful instead not to fall into the same literary limitations, and put together a true biography of Fr Rua: Un saint formé par un autre saint. Le premier successeur de Don Bosco, Don Rua (Paris-Lyon, 1932, 412 pages), a work immediately translated into Italian. Auffray built up his story intelligently, dividing it into 49 chapters, accurately organised and with a certain elegance of style. It is true that a critical reader today might turn up his nose at the images and Pindaric flights of fancy, but just the same the book is the first presentable biography of Fr Rua, pleasing to read and sufficiently well-founded (though he too forgets to reference his sources).

Another writer, this time an Italian, Eugene Ceria (1870-1957), was inspired by Auffray's method and style while putting together the final volumes of the Memorie biografiche of Don Bosco, and published a Vita del Servo di Dio don Michele Rua, primo successore di san Giovanni Bosco (Turin, 1949, 600 pages) after the Second World War. It is solidly documented, well put together and well written. He also benefited from a direct knowledge of Fr Rua whom he had met personally. Its 46 chapters are much better by a long shot when compared to Amadei's. Notes are kept to a minimum, which would be a somewhat serious limitation for scholars. But from the moment that he possessed first hand information he probably considered himself lawfully dispensed. His biography of Fr Rua still presents as one of excellent quality.

It might have been enough to re-publish and translate this work of Ceria's for the centenary year. Nevertheless, I believe that no biography is ever definitive. Existing documentation must always be reinterpreted in view of questions raised by researchers. New and neglected documents are always gone back over, as we see in the DVD Documenti di don Rua, prepared in 2007 and edited by the Committee for Historical Studies of Fr Rua 2010, which we need to exploit more systematically. But many letters and documents on Fr Rua still lie completely unknown in Salesian provincial archives in various parts of the world. An understanding of his theology of reference is still imperfect. We have no studies of his preaching. We know that he carefully followed up missionaries sent to the Americas: what shape did this ever-attentive direction take? To what extent did he encourage (or moderate) the marked 'Italianness' of the Salesian Society at the time? What stage did Salesian formation reach during his time as Rector Major? And besides, the serious questions relating to Rectors-confessors still need to be studied, as well as the juridical separation between the Salesian Congregation and the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. These deserve a more accurate analysis than I have given them here ...

So in short, this book does not pretend to tackle the subject in any radically new way. Indeed, I frequently recognise my debt to earlier works, especially the one by Fr Ceria, not just for his life of Fr Rua, but also for his Annali della Società Salesiana. I also confess that I was regretfully unable to make use of documents at first handwhich may have led me to modify the story at certain points. What I have done is provide a rather free re-reading of documentation found in the Fondo Don Rua at the Salesian Central Archive in Rome, made available to researchers in microfilm. And in particular I was unable to benefit from research still in progress at the vigil of the 2010 Centenary. I hope that someone able to fill in the gaps will soon come along.

Toulon, 31 January 2009.



A. Amadei, Il Servo di Dio Michele Rua, 3 Vols., Turin, SEI, 1931-1934.


E. Ceria, Annali della Società Salesiana, Turin, SEI, 1941-1951.


Archivio Salesiano Centrale - Rome (Salesian Central Archives, Rome)


A. Auffray, Le premier successeur de Don Bosco, Don Rua (1837-1910), Lyon-Paris, Vitte, 1932.

Ceria, Vita

E. Ceria, Vita del Servo di Dio Don Michele Rua, Turin, SEI, 1949.


G. B. Lemoyne, Documenti per scrivere la storia di D. John Bosco, dell'Oratorio di s. Francesco di Sales e della Congregaz. Salesiana, 45 volumes, in ASC A050-A094 (FdB 966A8-1201A9).

Don Bosco en son temps

F. Desramaut, Don Bosco en son temps (1815-1888), Turin, SEI, 1996.


John Bosco, Epistolario, ed. Francis Motto, vols. 1-4, Rome, LAS, 1991-2003.

Epistolario Ceria

Epistolario di S. John Bosco, ed. Fr. Eugene Ceria, 4 vols., Turin, SEI, 1955-1959.


ASC, Fondo Don Bosco. Microfilm and description, Rome, 1980.


ASC, Fondo Don Rua. Microfilm and description, Rome, 1996.


D. Michele Rua, primo successore di Don Bosco. Memorie del Sac. G. B. Francesia, Turin, Office of "Letture cattoliche", 1911.


Lettere circolari di Don Michele Rua ai Salesiani, Turin, S.A.I.D. Buona Stampa, 1910.


G. B. Lemoyne, A. Amadei, E. Ceria, Memorie biografiche di Don John Bosco, 19 Vols., San Benigno Canavese and Turin, 1898-1948.

Positio 1935

Sacra Rituum Congregatione. Taurinen. Beatificationis ac Canonizationis Servi Dei Sac. Michaelis Rua. Positio super introductione Causae, Rome, Guerra et Belli, 1935.

Positio 1947

Sacra Rituum Congregatione. Taurinen. Beatificationis et Canonizationis Servi Dei Michaelis Rua. Positio super virtutibus, Romae, Guerra e Belli, 1947.


Ricerche Storiche Salesiane, Rome, LAS.



The City of Turin during the decade 1830-1840

By contrast with John Bosco the country lad who discovers the city only when he turns fifteen when he comes to Chieri as a student, Michael Rua was born in Turin, the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia, where he would live for the rest of his life. He would always be a city-dweller, a child of the city in its pre-industrial period which was only slowly evolving from a past it still looked back to proudly to a more liberal period of constitutional monarchy.

In the 1830s Turin had 100,000 inhabitants and was enjoying a good reputation in Europe.[1] Outsiders praised "the orderly homes, the wide, neat streets, the convenience of water, which they call the Dora, the delightful walks, the excellent police, the kindness of its inhabitants, its famous museum, splendid cafes and many other beautiful things ... Here they have ... comfortable and beautiful arcades for every need".[2] This dignity came from its political circumstance. During the Restoration which followed the interruption of the Napoleonic period, after union with Liguria, the city became the most important capital in the Italian States of the time, if not for its size, at least for its organisation and economic might. The activity in the munitions works which provided for the army, and all the new industries, especially textile industries, attracted people from the Provinces. In Borgo Dora factories sprung up which provided jobs for several hundred workers, with chimneys that polluted the atmosphere.

Turin was still living under the reactionary regime of the Restoration. The king had absolute power. The ministers were answerable to him alone. In 1821, after several days of disturbances, this system seemed to waver for a moment when the proclamation of a constitution was imminent, but it was immediately restored by King Charles Felix. He was particularly concerned about the education of the young, as we see from the Regulation for schools outside of University, promulgated in 1822. It was necessary, one reads in the royal licences introducing it, to restore order in public education in the Kingdom, whose old orders had been overturned by the revolution and by the introduction of new orders, now rendered obsolete by the "happy era of May 1814". His intention was to provide for the moral and scientific education of the young in the Municipal, Public and Royal schools of the Kingdom. The reorganisation of the ancient disciplines, thanks to which "subjects of our royal predecessors were renowned for their culture, and no less their wisdom", appeared to be the most appropriate way to form young people along lines similar to their forbears who "considered learning, the Throne and God to be one indivisible truth".[3] They were convinced that religion, the monarchy, and learning would contribute to shaping the minds and hearts of the young during the years of Restoration. But unfortunately education in Turin was only accessible to families who were fortunate enough.

In fact this great city did not offer an ordered and civil aspect alone. The poor were there in abundance, and often homeless. "From statistics drawn up by charitable congregations, we see that Turin, with 125,000 inhabitants, had 30,000 poor", we find written in 1845. Beggars swarmed around and pestered passers-by. "We are surrounded, besieged every day by beggars; and their number is such that, even supposing that they were all truly poor and not just pretending, one could not possibly have either the means or the time to stop and deal with everyone, and help them all. So we are forced to go on our way paying attention neither to their tears nor their most moving oaths which at least theoretically should never fall on any deaf ear, especially the ear of a Christian".[4] Beggars crowded the streets and footpaths around the city. You found them under the arcades, at the doors of churches and near the more expensive cafes, where, as one citizen complained, they never ceased pestering passers-by with the most daring persistence.[5]

Some of Turin's poor lived on the rapidly expanding outskirts of Borgo Dora, San Donato and Vanchiglia. But the most infamous group lived around the borders of Vanchiglia, in the area known as the Moschino. There you found fishermen, boatmen and the most miserable part of Turin's poor people. A contemporary writes thus: "It is impossible to express the disgust one feels when, either carrying out one's duty as a doctor, or to gather statistics, one goes round those filthy laneways, set apart from the business area, ignorant of all hygiene;. human sewers standing as an accusation of human injustice which gives so much to some, while others have not even soil, air or sun".[6] The Moschino was, for middle class Turinese, a collection of the worst sort of riff-raff, a lair for feared coca (organised gangs) ; dangerous by day and inaccessible by night even to the police.

These disastrous life circumstances generated moral disorder of equal proportions. In Turin the number of illegitimate births and infanticides was very high - one in four such births. During 1830-1840 it was just one in twelve in Genoa, the second largest city in the State, one in thirteen in other cities and one in forty taking the Kingdom as a whole. As in the French novels of the time, the poor found comfort by taking refuge in hostelries of ill-repute, their entrances almost below street level, as effectively described by a writer of the time: "The stranger opened the glass door and found himself in a big room rather longer than wide, the walls darkened by smoke, a floor made of planks thick with mud dragged in here and there by the customers' feet, and in a thick, stinking atmosphere where the smoke fully succeeded in carrying out much the same function as the dense fog outside that winter's evening".[7]