Giovanni Bosco – Society of St Francis de Sales

On April 3, 1874, Pope Pius IX definitively approved the Constitutions of the Society of St Francis de Sales and on the following April 13 the competent Congregation of Bishops and Regulars promulgated the relevant decree.

The torturous history of this complex process in drafting the Salesian Constitutions is already known thanks to the critical edition of all the preparatory texts for the text approved in 1874 and for the first text to be translated into Italian (1875). Likewise known are the serious difficulties Don Bosco encountered in gaining the desired approval, due to opposition from the archbishops of Turin, Alessandro Riccardi di Netro first, but especially Lorenzo Gastaldi later, and also the many animadversiones from consulters and heads of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars who were deputed to give this approval.

The constant requests to the Pope with which Don Bosco solicited approval of the Constitutions, the moral support of bishops and cardinals who were in favour, and whom he had approached personally or by letter, failed to have the better of the legislation in force and the canonical practice of the era. These demanded reasonable time for experimentation and acceptance of the animadversiones, which Don Bosco instead felt ran contrary to the complete freedom of action which the Salesian Society, in his opinion, needed.

Here we publish 11 documents relating to Don Bosco the Founder over the period 1852-1884. We divide them into three distinct phases.

Above all the five occasions or acts preceding the first recognition of the Salesian Society in 1864: the appointment in 1852 of Don Bosco as director and head of the three oratories in Turin, by Archbishop Fransoni (no. 30), the choice in 1854 of the name ‘Salesians’ for some young men who were ready to undergo a “trial of the exercise of practical charity towards their neighbour” (no. 31), the foundation of the Salesian Society in 1859 (no. 32), the first request, which was left hanging, for diocesan approval in 1860, made to the archbishop in exile (no. 33) and the first religious professions in 1862 (no. 34).

Then follows the whole procedure for canonical approval of the Society and its Constitutions (1864-1874), spread over four requests and subsequent decrees, following the Methodus in force for approval of Constitutions of new Institutes: the ‘decretum laudis’ of 1864 (no. 35), the decree of diocesan approval for the Salesian Society in 1868 (no. 36), the decree of pontifical approval of the same Society in 1869 (no. 37), the decree of definitive approval of the Salesian Constitutions in 1874 (no. 38). The decrees, all in Latin, are offered in translation.

The third phase was the ten year wait for the granting of “privileges” by the Holy See in 1884 (no. 39) shortly prior to the official announcement of the appointment of Fr Rua as plenipotentiary Vicar of Don Bosco (and of Fr John Cagliero as Provicar for Latin America) published, however, a year later (no. 40).

In the arduous process of founding a true and proper religious institute like the Salesians, which of course Don Bosco had no personal experience of or specific theological and legal preparation for, very different factors played a part: events, situations, experiences, legal arrangements, reflections, intuitions, prejudices, personalities, friendships, civil and religious authorities; all elements, these, which are not so easy to identify, analyse, evaluate and deal with. For a broader presentation of these see contributions collected in an appropriate section of one of these volumes. For an overall synthesis of the entire scene see the already indicated works by P. Stella, F. Desramaut, P. Braido, A. J. Lenti …, which in turn have plenty of bibliographical references.

Reference time period: 1852 – 1885

Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 126-157.

Reference institution:
Istituto Storico Salesiano
Istituto Storico Salesiano

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