The financial contributions asked for and obtained from public authorities and institutions were certainly not enough to help him confront the huge expenses of the Salesian Work. It was necessary to appeal to private charity. Logically, Don Bosco turned especially to families and individuals who had financial possibilities, meaning those belonging to the nobility, mostly large property owners, and the upper and middle class of the time who were notably ready to dispense charity. Some of these, albeit modest in their private savings, could actually find an outlet in educational and charitable works such as those of Don Bosco.
These then slowly, but uninterruptedly extended the geographical area of his potential benefactors, moving from the restricted circles of Turin and Piedmont, whom he knew personally, to the broader national and even international circle that he could reach through circular letters and private correspondence. He wrote frequently to his more generous French benefactors of latter years: the Quisnard family in Lyon, mademoiselle Claire Louvet and especially the Colle husband and wife couple in Toulon (76 letters) who offered sums today worth millions of euro.
His most conspicuous benefactors (Callori, Fassati, Ricci des Ferres, Corsi, Uguccioni, Mother Galeffi, the already mentioned Colle family and Louvet in France, Dorothy Chopitea in Spain…) Don Bosco approached personally while on his many journeys, often organised precisely because he was looking for liquidity in the recurring and unpredictable moments of financial crisis, when national and local charity was contracting.
Don Bosco’s response to such generosity was “simply” heartfelt thanks, a sincere promise of prayers to the Lord or the Virgin for his part and by his boys, warm wishes of earthly but also eternal happiness both personally and for the family, and possibly an invitation to visit him and join him at a meal.
Among the many letters written by Don Bosco to individual benefactors in the course of his forty years of life spent amongst young people we publish around twenty selected according to two criteria: to provide examples of particular approaches to financial assistance (simple offers, loans, inheritances, purchase of shares, of items, lottery tickets, etc..) and examples of the various stringent needs for which Don Bosco asked for money: to pay bills incurred for food staples, buy food and clothing, pay off debt, pay off rents and taxes, pay exemption of the clergy from military service, decorate houses and churches, organise missionary expeditions, etc.. There were additional costs for new constructions, acquisition and adaptation of existing
Obviously Don Bosco’s benefactors were in the thousands, of all social categories and their names will remain mostly unknown, as also the sums provided, often directly, into Don Bosco’s hands.
Reference time period: 1851 – 1886
Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 377-405.
Istituto Storico Salesiano