In his 1877 booklet on pedagogy, Don Bosco highlights the advantages of the Preventive System and other reasons for which it should be preferred. At the same time he recognises that the “practical application” of the educational approach he is proposing implies “certain difficulties” for educators.
There were no lack of these difficulties at Valdocco, especially in the disciplinary area. In the early 1880s there was often a felt need to tackle the delicate question of “punishments”. On 9 March 1883, in his “general conference” or meeting of everyone involved with the boys, the day’s agenda listed what was called an “important” item: “Finding out why the boys fear us rather than love us.” Those in charge of the house note that what is happening is contrary to the Salesian spirit or “at least the spirit of Don Bosco.”
A few months later—on July 4, 1884—at a Superior Chapter meeting (today the General Council) of the Salesian Congregation, Don Bosco alluded to the question of “reforming the house at the Oratory” and emphasised the importance of observing in detail the “regulations practised since the early days.”
The first of the texts that follows finds its place within these coordinates: the famous Letter from Rome in 1884 (addressed to the Salesian community at Valdocco in Turin), which tells of a “dream” of Don Bosco’s—which he told his secretary Fr John Baptist Lemoyne—regarding the state of the Oratory of St Francis de Sales on two occasions during its development: before 1870 (positive aspects) and as it was in 1884 (problematic aspects). There is also a shorter version in existence, addressed to the young students at Valdocco.
“We have no handwritten original of Don Bosco’s letter [dated May 10, 1884] but only an original (in two drafts) written by Fr Lemoyne and signed by Don Bosco. Despite this, it is considered, for its content, to be one of the best and richest of Don Bosco’s pedagogical documents.”
There are various other letters written by Don Bosco in 1885 in a similar circumstance to the one mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. Information had arrived at Valdocco, Turin, from Latin America on less than satisfying application of his educational method in certain Salesian houses in Argentina, contrasting with the familiarity and kindness which was proper to the Salesian educational system. When he came to know about it, Don Bosco intervened personally and wrote frankly: “The Preventive System is something which is ours.”
Other than the text of the longer letter of May 10, 1884, are three letters addressed to well-known Salesian missionaries in 1885: John Cagliero, James Costamagna and Fr Dominic Tomatis. Don Bosco offers fatherly reminders to practise a pedagogy of charity, patience and kindness. In other words: to take up the principles of the “Salesian spirit” he was proposing to “introduce in the houses in America”. The efforts of the founder of the Salesian Congregation were not in vain.
Reference time period: 1884
Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 499-516.
Istituto Storico Salesiano