Giovanni Bosco – Recourse to public charity

As we have just said, for the financial resources needed to supply the everincreasing costs of his work, Don Bosco appealed to institutions: the Royal family, Government authorities, public officials (local council, provincial, state …), existing charitable organisations locally, the National Bank, parishes, dioceses, the Holy See itself through his best supporters, including the Pope.

For each request for help he provided ample and precise charitable and social motivations which in his opinion would open the “purse strings” of wellstocked individuals and would lead authorities to grant him exemptions, permits, authorisations, etc..

Empirical evidence shows that the support of the public authorities, both civil and ecclesiastical, to Don Bosco never wavered, although he always kept individual ownership of movable and immovable property in his hands or with individual Salesians and was reluctant to establish any legally recognised moral entity. And rightly so given that legislation in force was decidedly hostile to religious institutions. As for the vow of poverty, he found a modus vivendi acceptable to the Holy See.

In the fifteen or so letters we publish here by way of example amongst the hundreds that have been found, we see how Don Bosco turned to local authorities for his first school furnishings (no. 108) and twenty five years later (no. 123), for expenses for the three Oratories and debts for building the church of St Francis de Sales (no. 111), for maintaining the orphans from the cholera epidemic (no. 112). He asked the King for subsidies for his poor clerics (no. 109) and for titles of honour for his generous benefactors (no. 124). He asked the War Ministry for used uniforms for his boys, to ward off the cold winters (no. 113) or for help with emergency rations (no. 119). He asked the Ministers for the Interior to pay for board for those boys accepted at Ministerial request (no. 116) and a contribution to pay the tax on income from movable wealth at the College at Mirabello (no. 118). He approached the Minister for Finance with a request to reduce the heavy tax on flour (no. 121), and the Minister for Public Education for a contribution for the schools (no. 122). He asked the Prefect of the Province to mediate in an already refused request to the Minister for the Interior for a reduction on train fares for boys attending Salesian colleges (no. 120).

Obviously Don Bosco did not fail to make frequent recourse to ecclesiastical authorities, including bishops (no. 110), and Popes (no. 125). The circulars to his promoters of raffles/lotteries are unforgettable (no. 114) and to potential buyers for tickets gone on sale (no. 115).

The correspondence published here all falls within the period 1847-1876, meaning from the beginnings of Salesian work in the Pinardi house in Turin to the beginning of the Salesian work in Argentina. After this most of the requests to authorities for contributions were addressed to gain support for the missions. For this we need to look at the preceding section.

Reference time period: 1847 – 1876

Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 353-376.

Reference institution:
Istituto Storico Salesiano
Istituto Storico Salesiano

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