The Malta Independent 8 May 2021, Saturday

The educational philosophy of Don Bosco

Sunday, 11 April 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 28 days ago

Fr Charles Cini SDB

John A. Morison in the introduction of his book Educational Philosophy of Saint John Bosco published in Australia in 1979 defines Don Bosco as a refined educator by nature: "He was a man of unusual character, his personality influencing to a large extent, his pedagogy: his methods were associated with his talents, which had been developed deliberately to further his educative mission. He took joy in preparing the poor and abandoned youths to become an integral part of society."


Who was Don Bosco? I think that to really discover the personality of Don Bosco one must study deeply and profoundly his educational philosophy which is known all over the world as The Preventive System. This system is an integral part of the work of all Salesians who dedicate their lives to educate young people. I would like now to refer to two important books, namely Il Santo Don Bosco written by Cardinal Carlo Salotti in 1934 (Ed. SEI). Cardinal Salotti was the devil's advocate during the process of beatification of Don Bosco. The other book is entitled Chi Era Don Bosco - Biografia, Fiso - Psico-Patologica written by Dott. Giovanni Albertotti, Don Bosco's personal doctor and published by Dott. Albertotti's son Giuseppe in July 1929; some 40 years after Don Bosco's death. Both books present the intimate and extraordinary life of Don Bosco as a unique educator with his inventiveness and originality to educate the young people through his preventive system.

Cardinal Salotti described Don Bosco as courageous, quick-witted, prepared for action, humorous, able, keen and wise. "He has emblemised with these gifts his Sanctity and he was endowed by a special geniality." Dott. Giovanni Albertotti describes Don Bosco: "As a strong and fiery character who was profoundly convinced of his own concepts and ideas."

Don Bosco in his letter from Rome (10 May 1884) wrote to his confreres in Torino: "The teacher who is seen only in the classroom is a teacher and nothing more but if he joins the boys during recreation, he becomes their brother. If someone is only seen preaching from the pulpit it will be said that he is doing no more and no less than his duties, whereas if he says a good word during recreation, it is heard as a word of he who loves. One who knows he is loved, loves in return and one who loves can obtain anything, especially from the young. Hearts are opened, needs and weaknesses are known."

Don Bosco was a very practical man and while he dedicated all his life to the young, he learned from them how to behave and act when dealing with the young. He studied the situation of his poor youths who mostly came from outside Torino. As a smart and shrewd man, with a kind heart, he used to talk to the boys with a sharp eye, lit face and a beaming smile. This used to conquer their hearts and convince the boys to work hard while learning a trade. Mother Theresa used to say "helping hands are holier than praying lips!"

Don Bosco gave his whole life to the boys. He believed in young people. It is true that good things come to those who wait, better things to those who do not give up and the best things come only to those who believe. Don Bosco believed whole-heartily in God but he also learned to find the joy in the story of each of his boys, who were actually living in the poor environment of Torino of those times.

In Italy in 1848, emerged the liberalism movement which assumed a hostile attitude against the Church. History repeats itself! Don Bosco, a witty and courageous man kept good relations with the liberal new government and he was accused of being too liberal. However, Don Bosco instead of secluding himself within the Oratory, took the advice of Pope Pius IX: "Go in the fire to bring out a change and use your enemies to do some good!" So, Don Bosco became a friend of politicians like Gioberti, Ratazzi, Cavour, Crispi, Depetris, Nicotra, Zanardelli and many others.

It is difficult for one to control what is happening; we can only change ourselves. This is what Don Bosco did in the situation he was in. Don Bosco promised to dedicate his life to save and educate the young through the Preventive system.

Painting by Edoardo De Francesca

Even if Don Bosco appears as the main representative of this method of education and formation of the young, other characters have contributed to its previous development like St Philip Neri and St Francis de Sales. Don Bosco wrote only one essay explaining his pedagogical method in 1877: The Preventive System in the Education of the Young that was included in the first Salesian Constitutions. The system is all based on reason, religion and loving-kindness. Due to this, it excludes every violent punishment and tries to do without even mild punishment. Within this Preventive System, Don Bosco found the best method to solve the problems of young persons within the streets of the city of Torino. He found boys with pitiable clothes, with no home where to live, without any work, facing no future, with nothing to eat. All these boys were squashed by poverty, hunger and especially vices. However, Don Bosco did not give up. Using the Preventive System, Don Bosco continued with his project. For Don Bosco the best model for Christian action can be reduced to three points:

1.      The realism to build kindness

2.      The need of the Good Shepherd

3.      The humility of God's servant

God chose Don Bosco as his servant and he chose him from the sheepfold so as to shepherd his young persons (refer to Psalm 78 lines 70-71), Don Bosco used to tell his boys: "I wish to tell you that you will do me the greatest favour, if you help me to save your soul" (Da Mihi Animas Caetera Tolle, translated, Give me Souls, Take Away the rest).

When Archbishop Richard Pittini, Archbishop of Santo Domingo, Primate of West Indies was asked to write a forward to F. A. Forbes, for a book published in 1941 on the work of Don Bosco, he wrote: "He did not talk, he acted. He did not write long and elaborate educational treaties. He led by example. When asked about the secret of his immense success with youngsters, Don Bosco simply answered: Love."

Let us "Love" our youngsters in Malta and Gozo by giving them good example, prepare a clean environment to live in and teach them good principles. Educate and guide them to grow as good Christians and honest citizens. Respect their dignity and give them space and courage to build a better Malta free from corruption and vices. Malta and Gozo belong to all those who are born and live here and not to someone who is becoming rich by exploiting them. Teach them that to live a happy life does not depend on money and satisfaction. Teach them to love the beauty of our islands, the history and the patrimony inherited from our forefathers who gave their lives to pass to us the wonderful heritage we have today. We need to show more kindness, care and tolerance to one another. Let us cry with a thousand tongues, "I love Malta and Gozo".

May the Lord bless us all and keep us under His care.





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