John Dickson – “An introduction to Don Rua’s letters to England” in “Journal of Salesian studies”

Michael Rua (1837-1910) was a pupil, then the lifetime collaborator and finally, the first successor of St. John Bosco as Rector Major of the Salesian Society (1888-1910). During his Rectorate the Salesians grew from 1030 members in 64 houses to 4420 confreres scattered across the globe. Don Rua’s letters to England offer the reader a glimpse of the character of their writer and of the pastoral care he took of a small group of relatively insignificant Salesians in what was very often the inhospitable atmosphere of the British empire at the height of its power.

What we have are 224 personal letters, which range from short notes scribbled on the backs of visiting cards to two and three page letters. All are handwritten, most in the secretary’s hand, though Don Rua usually took the trouble to fill in the names and places and sign them personally. If these letters to the confreres of the English province are in any way typical then, given that the province consisted of effectively a couple of houses in England and a house in Cape Town, Don Rua’s correspondence must have been immense. He, himself, remarked on Don Bosco’s extraordinary and laborious correspondence, but this comment might well apply to Don Rua himself.

What touches the reader more than anything else is Don Rua’s deep personal concern for young people arxi Salesians themselves. His work as Rector Major was far from the ascetic but somewhat remote figure that his portraits convey, but rather of a man who brings great gifts of a heart and soul to the ministry of guiding the Society.


  • The Writer
  • Don Rua’s Correspondents in England
  • Don Rua’s Style of Pastoral Care
  • Don Rua’s Style of Governance and Obedience
  • Don Rua and Poverty, Finance and Property
  • Don Rua’s Spirituality
  • Conclusion

Reference time period: 1889 – 1909

J. Dickson, An introduction to Don Rua’s letters to England, in «Journal of Salesian studies», 11 (2000) 1, 63-81.

Reference institution:
Institute of Salesian Studies
Institute of Salesian Studies

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