Saint Joseph’s School Educates Heart, Mind and Soul
When he was 9 years old, Saint John Bosco had a dream. It was one that he would continue to have as his life wore on.
He dreamed that he was in a field with a crowd of children. The children started cursing and misbehaving. John jumped into the crowd to try to stop them by fighting and shouting with them. Suddenly, a man with a face filled with light appeared dressed in a white flowing mantle. The man called John over and made him leader of the boys. John was stunned at being placed in charge of the unruly gang. The man said to him, “You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows but with gentleness and kindness.” It’s a message even an adult would probably not want to hear, as it would require patience. John protested in the dream. “I’m just a boy” he argued. “How can you order me to do something that looks impossible?” The man answered, “What seems so impossible you must achieve by being obedient and acquiring knowledge.” Then, in the dream, the boys turned into the wild animals they had been acting like. The man then told John that this is the field of John’s life work. Once John changed and grew in humility, faithfulness and strength, he would see a change in the children, a change that the man now demonstrated. The wild animals suddenly turned into gentle lambs.
The dream began to inspire him to follow the advice of the man in the dream, and reach out to other boys.
He did so in a very creative way. Born into poverty, he did work as a child as a shepherd, and received education from a priest. But despite having very little, he wanted to use what he had to help evangelize others. And so he would reach out to other poor and neglected boys, and used the love and guidance that seemed impossible at the age of 9 and help them to lead faithful and fulfilled lives. He did this by learning juggling and magic and even doing acrobatics. He used this as a way to catch the interest of other boys. And once he had their attention, he would begin to talk to them about the faith and charge an admission price, that being a prayer.
He then would take them to Mass. But again, here he ran into problems. Not too many people wanted a crowd of loud boys hanging around. But he was undeterred. He still kept at it, even when priests made promises to him to help him and the other boys, but then got frustrated and didn’t follow through.
Despite the setbacks, he continued on in his mission. His dreams continued, another one having Mary come to him to lead him into a beautiful garden with roses everywhere. The ground was covered with them, and John was told to take off his shoes and walk along a path through a rose arbor. Before he had walked more than few steps though, his feet were bleeding from the thorns. When he said he would have to wear shoes or turn back, Mary told him to put on sturdy shoes. As he went forward a second time, he was followed by helpers. But the walls of the arbor closed on him, the roof sank lower and the roses crept onto the path. Thorns caught at him from all around. When he pushed them aside he only got more cuts, until he was tangled in thorns. Yet those who watched said, “How lucky Don John is! His path is forever strewn with roses! He hasn’t a worry in the world. No troubles at all!” Many of the helpers, who had been expecting an easy journey, turned back, but some stayed with him. Finally he climbed through the roses and thorns to find another incredible garden. A cool breeze soothed his torn skin and healed his wounds.
In his interpretation, the path was his mission, the roses were his charity to the boys, and the thorns were the distractions, the obstacles and the frustrations that would stand in his way. The message of the dream was clear to John: he had to keep on going, not lose faith in God or his mission, and he would come through to the place he belonged.
And so, John did just that. In his teens, he took a job working on a wine farm, and eventually entered seminary in his early 20s being ordained. His first assignment was chaplain of a girls boarding school, and he was to visit prisoners, teach the catechism, and help out at country parishes. Here, he saw rampant poverty, and a number of teens in prison in deplorable conditions. Fr. John was determined to find a means to prevent them from ending up in prison, and he realized for him to do that, he had to get creative. And so he started to meet the boys where they were at. He knew they worked in shops, offices, market places, and were pavers, stone-cutters, masons, plasterers who came from far away places. He founded an Oratorio, a place where the boys could come and learn, but it wasn’t just about catechesis. He looked for jobs for the unemployed. Some of the boys did not have sleeping quarters and slept under bridges or in bleak public dormitories. Twice he tried to provide lodgings in his house with the help of his mother. The thanks they got? The first time the boys stole the blankets; the second they emptied the hay-loft. He did not give up. In May 1847, he gave shelter to a young boy from Valesia, in one of the three rooms he was renting in the slums of Valdocco, where he was living with his mother. He and “Mamma Margherita” began taking in orphans. The boys sheltered by Don Bosco numbered 36 in 1852, 115 in 1854, 470 in 1860 and 600 in 1861, 800 being the maximum some time later.
Not only were there some difficult boys who took advantage of him, there was again difficult from others. He was turned out of several places as he moved his oratory. One neighborhood got up in arms because the boys made too much noise while at play. Another time he was subjected to gossip that his meetings were political and he would incite the boys to revolution against the government. Even other priests said he was stealing boys from their parishes. The police chief of Turin, Italy, even interrogated him for alleged political meetings in his open-air religious education given to the boys. But again, Fr. John was undeterred.
Eventually, he put together the Society of Saint Francis de Sales. Some of the boys helped him to establish it, including one who later became a Cardinal in the Church.
As the order grew, it established a new style of education: the preventive system. He believed education was to be a matter of the heart, and said boys needed to not just be loved, but know that they are loved. The three components of it were reason, religion and kindness, with music and games mixed in.
As the order spread and also included ministry to girls, in the years that passed countless children were helped and changed for the better because of Saint John Bosco’s work. He was canonized in 1934, and given the title, “Father and Teacher for the Youth.”
This week, we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, and the story of Saint John Bosco came to mind when thinking of our school because I see the same mentality in the dedication of our principal and teachers. Dedication. Patience. A refusal to give up. Hard work. And above all else, love.
What they do is not easy. Much like Saint John Bosco, there can be so many challenges, but they are patient and loving. They put in many long hours both in the classroom and in preparing for the classes. They get to know each child as an individual. They give them the tools to help succeed. And they know that within each child lies such potential, because like Saint John, they see beneath the surface. And they work so hard to help kids find their gifts, opening up the heart, mind and soul.
This year has been especially trying for all of us. Back in March of 2020 when our Covid nightmare began, Kelly Roche, our principal, worked so hard to put together a plan to finish out the school year through distance learning. This school year, with the pandemic still going on, we were committed to giving kids an in-class option, and thanks to her hard work, this school year has gone incredibly well as we’ve been able to stay open helping kids continue to get an education.
As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week this week, I’d invite you to continue to learn more about our school. Keep our faculty, families and students in prayer. If you’re looking at education options for your children, consider a tour or set up an appointment with Mrs. Roche. And get the word out. We have a sign in front of our parish that lets people know about our amazing church and school, we can be signs as well through our conversations, our positivity and letting people know about the great things going on at Saint Joseph’s Church and School.
A big “thank you” as well to our principal Kelly Roche, our teachers, staff, volunteers and so many parents who help make our school such an amazing place. God is indeed good, all of the time!
God bless, ~Fr. Paul
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