St John Bosco
2 Samuel 24:2,8-17
In 1951, in working-class Saint Bridget’s Parish, Father James Wood established a Don Bosco Club. He held our attention with his dynamic personality, some games, and a few good magic tricks. Statues of St. John Bosco are often elegant, giving no hint of his rough journey to sainthood.
In 1851, John Bosco was born into a poor Italian farming family during the famine at the end of Napoleonic Wars. His father died when John was 2, leaving the mother with 3 children to work the farm. A family dispute persuaded John—then 12—to leave home, just to keep the peace.
Living by his wits, young John connected with a kindly priest, who captured his imagination with stories of St. Francis De Sales. One day a travelling circus also captured his imagination, this time with juggling and magic tricks. Inspired by a childhood dream and his mother’s example, John began to attract crowds of impoverished children with his magic shows, repeating the Sunday homily and teaching them to read. After he had been ordained, Fr. John borrowed an old house and gathered 22 young men devoted to service of the poor, establishing the Society of St. Francis de Sales.
Local authorities were alarmed at the number of people drawn to John—affectionately known as “Don”—Bosco. Threatened by his popularity, clergy and prelates of the church scorned the “low” road he had chosen. Somehow, he survived several assassination attempts—including stabbings and severe beatings.
Fr. Don’s “low road” led to the establishment of Salesian Schools worldwide, staffed by men and women devoted to caring for the poor. In 1934 he was canonized, soon to be named Patron Saint of Magicians!
Whatever road we are called to follow, we pray for the courage to trust the call and serve with joy—and perhaps a little magic.
David Peter Folkes is a former Passionist Priest who resigned and married with 2 children and 2 grandchildren living in Chicago. He is mostly involved with refugee resettlement and racial equity issues.