Giovanni Bosco – Sources prior to the first missionary expedition

The first seven documents offered here belong in some way to the first missionary expedition which sailed from Genoa on November 14, 1875.

In particular there are three letters sent to correspondents in Argentina. In the first of these, in December 1874, after having got the necessary information and essential contacts with the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and his Vicar General, Don Bosco put forward a proposal to the latter to send Salesians for two foundations one in the capital and one at San Nicolás de los Arroyos. He assured him that his personnel would be able to offer services superior to those requested by the Argentinian promoters (no. 91).

In the second letter, in summer 1875, once he had accepted requests coming from the founding committee for the college at San Nicolás de los Arroyos, and through the local Italian parish priest, Fr Pietro Ceccarelli, Don Bosco told them of variation to the personnel that was to be sent halfway through November, the name of the superior responsible for the early times, Fr John Cagliero and his immediate successor, Fr John Bonetti. He had no scruples in asking payment for the majority of the tickets for the journey (no. 93).

Some things were still uncertain so he sent the parish priest a list of precise information he needed in advance, so there would be no problems on arrival and beginning the work in places so far away (no. 94).

Two important addresses of Don Bosco to the Salesians are added to this correspondence. The first is a circular telling them he had accepted the missionary project on behalf of the civilised population and the “uncivilised population” (his word was ‘savages’) of Argentina. He then appealed for anyone who wanted to be part of the expedition he was planning for October and indicated the formalities which had to be done and times and ways of preparing for departure (no. 92).

The second is the moving farewell discourse of Don Bosco’s on November 11 1874 (n. 97). The departure of the first missionaries was organised as a memorable event. The ceremony would have impressed itself on the minds of those present and readers of the Catholic paper that made reference to it. In the morning the community had their monthly exercise for a happy death and then with the boys present, took part in the administration of Baptism to a young Waldensian lad. The celebrant was the head of the missionary expedition, Fr Cagliero. Later in the evening, after solemn vespers, the moving farewell ceremony for those leaving took place, during which Don Bosco gave his address. Having reminded them of Jesus’ mandate to go out to the whole world and preach the Gospel, he indicated that while requests for other missionary countries could not be accepted for lack of personnel, it did not happen this way for the request from Argentina where there was a worrying pastoral situation, both civil, meaning Italian emigrants who were losing their faith, and “savage”, meaning the natives who had to be civilised and evangelised. Obviously he did not forget to thank benefactors, supporters and the group who were departing, a little seed that would become a big plant and was destined to grow. The future would prove him right.

To close this collection of documents is a request for favours, spiritual graces and material aid sent to Cardinal Alessandro Franchi, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide (no. 95) and a request for a papal audience for the departing missionaries, adding a possible recognition of two outstanding benefactors of the first expedition, Consul Gazzolo and Fr Ceccarelli (no. 96).

Reference time period: 1874 – 1875

Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 287-305.

Reference institution:
Istituto Storico Salesiano
Istituto Storico Salesiano

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