Christian education of youth in popular works with a markedly missionary character like the Oratories on the outskirts of Turin, frequented by boys who were mostly abandoned and uneducated, required processes that were gradual and geared to each one’s possibilities. The Companion of Youth offered a complete but essential proposal adapted to everyone. Starting with this, Don Bosco used the sacrament of penance, personal chats, suggestions of optional and practical devotions and offered books to read and meditate on. He set up personalised processes which were more adapted to youngsters who were more capable of greater moral and ascetic effort.
Mindful of his fruitful experiences as a boy, like the Society for a Good Time, which he had led while he was attending school in Chieri, he was concerned with promoting amongst the boys at the Oratory and house an organised set of sodalities and free friendly societies with a clear spiritual and apostolic purpose, to encourage amongst the more sensitive and well-disposed boys to develop a holistic and virtuous Christian lifestyle, guiding them to act as a leaven in their youthful community.
The founding of the St Aloysius Sodality (April 12, 1847) was the result of a process of consolidation of the festive Oratory and testifies to a shift towards a more systematic formation aimed at “encouraging piety through stable and uniform practice”, and encouraging members “to give good example in and outside of church; avoid improper conversations and frequent the sacraments.”
The Immaculate Conception Sodality, which came into being through Dominic Savio’s initiative with some of his friends in June 1856, is a further development of Don Bosco’s spiritual proposal. It was made up of a choice group of young students in view of a vocation to priesthood and decidedly leaning towards Christian perfection and apostolic activity amongst their companions. This Sodality’s regulations contain “an entire programme of spiritual pedagogy perfectly in tune with the Regulations for the students of the house.”
The ever clearer awareness of the centrality of the Eucharist for nurturing interior life inspired the founding of the Blessed Sacrament Sodality (1858). Later on the St Joseph Sodality (1859) came into being to nurture devotion and spiritual commitment amongst the trade students and the working boys and to foster Salesian lay vocations.
Don Bosco’s best disciples were forged in these spiritual ‘upper rooms’ which were true “schools of practical faith and charity.”
From the regulations of the St Aloysius Gonzaga, Immaculate Conception and Blessed Sacrament Sodalities included here, it is possible to see the moral and spiritual quality of Don Bosco’s educational approach and the fervent atmosphere that he was able to infuse amongst his boys.
Reference time period: 1847 – 1857
Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 792-800.
Istituto Storico Salesiano