The Holy Father, John Paul II in his letter: “Juvenum Patris” (the Father of Youth), written on the occasion of the celebration of the first Centennial of Don Bosco’s death, after having traced the profile of the life and teachings of the Saint, voices the desire of a “return of Don Bosco”, and even more forcibly, of a “Return to Don Bosco”.
|St. John Bosco|
He intends to say that the practical knowledge of Don Bosco is far more precious in our days in motivating and bringing about the revival of a new evangelization and Christian education, particularly on behalf of youth.
This “Return to Don Bosco” has been the constant endeavor of one of his past pupils of Valdocco Oratory, later founder of the prolific religious family of priests, nuns, co-workers, hermits: the Blessed Louis Orione, a Valdocco student from 1886 to 1889.
This “humble disciple of Don Bosco” quoting Fr. S. Trione, lived three unforgettable years in the Valdocco surroundings, enlightened by a direct light from Don Bosco, who was his regular confessor, and from whom he received basic teachings and guiding-lines for his life, and by reflected light from the saints who followed the Apostle of youth: Fr. Rua, Fr. Francesia, Fr. Lemoyne, Fr. Berto, and others in the climate of the Oratory of those “early years:”
“My best years – Don Orione would declare – were those spent at the Salesian Oratory.”
“All that you see in me – he would remark in July 30, 1928 – is the fruit of the three years spent in the Oratory of Don Bosco; Oh could I live again even but few of those days passed at the Oratory when Don Bosco was with us!”
Fr. Louis Chiavarino, a co-helper at the Oratory – reminiscing – would remark: “Don Bosco had a predilection for Orione, and saw in him something very special!”
A kind look from the Saint – the most prized reward when given, or punishment when withheld, became for the 16 year old Louis Orione the approval and affirmation of a vocation to something truly great, beautiful and holy. “We shall always remain friends” Don Bosco assured him with a fatherly hug, resting his eyes on him in a meeting: the last one face to face on Dec. 17, 1887. And indeed on the following January 1888, Don Bosco’s health took a turn for the worse, destroying all hope of recovery.
But fraternal love, joined to trust in God always gives way to new hope. And so Fr. Berto, who for 26 years had been Don Bosco’s secretary, searched among the boys for volunteers who would offer their life to obtain from the Lord the preservation of that of the beloved Father.
Immediately, six lads accepted the invitation. Louis Orione was the second boy to sign that offer of self-sacrifice which was placed under the corporal during the mass celebrated by Fr. Berto, and served by Orione himself!
Recalling this episode in the Don Bosco Memoirs (XVIII – 538 ss) the chronicler closes the chapter by remarking that the above mentioned Louis Orione is the same Don Orione now a worthy imitator of Don Bosco, in the many works of charity on behalf of the people.
This remark gives us to understand on the one hand the unity of ideals constantly cherished, and on the other the diversity of approach followed by the young Orione in his spiritual, apostolic ministry. Don Orione, who indeed loved Don Bosco to the point of offering his own life for him, did not become a Salesian. It was a surprising decision to all – no less to Orione himself who paid with deep interior anguish this decision of leaving Valdocco on the eve of his entrance in the novitiate: it was August 1889.
Later, Don Orione would recall: “If one was found who was certain about his Salesian vocation that was myself! I wanted consult Don Bosco, whose grave was in the center of the lower garden, on that last night (of the spiritual exercises) of August. I remained sobbing and praying on the grave of the beloved Father”.
What did happen?” One has to think of an extraordinary grace, of another look of Don Bosco on his “small disciple” When Orione finally left Valdocco – states Fr. Chiavarino – I asked him: “Then you will not remain with us? Don’t you like our salesian life?”
He answered: “Don Bosco – on his grave – has convinced me to enter the seminary, because the Lord wants to assign to me a wider field...” Years later Don Orione – then father of a large and well developed religious congregation – confirmed that incident, writing: “It is really there that I began; over the tomb of our saintly Father, one evening during the retreat …, I experienced a sensation that seemed to expand my heart!”
|Don Bosco put a cassock on Luigi (Don Orione's dream)|
And so Providence brought about the loss of a Salesian and the rising of a new religious family, that it should radiate, through new and original ways, the spirit of Don Bosco.
Founder and cleric at 21 years of age! Louis Orione started his work with a boarding school for poor boys; only a lad after Don Bosco’s stamp, could have had such boldness!
Louis Orione started his work with a boarding school for poor boys; in time it branched out in various directions in works of charity meant to bring back to the Church and the Pope the little ones, the poor, the people…and re-establish all things in Christ. There is a precious document which testifies to the continuity of the vocation of Louis Orione as a Salesian past pupil. Msrg. Bandi, bishop of Tortona, in his relation to Pope Leo XIII on the occasion of his visit “ad limina” on February 18, 1895, writes: “Since the last two years, a new catholic school has been established in Tortona due to the care and initiative of a certain cleric, who will be ordained as soon as possible (Louis Orione), a former alumnus of the Turin Oratory of St. Francis of Sales established by the well known and worthy priest Don Bosco. He appears to have absorbed much of his spirit on behalf of the Christian education of adolescents; (…)”.
Don Orione always cherished as a blessing “the salesian stamp” in his life and that of his Congregation.
To his old catechist, Fr. Stefano Trione who had written to him after some forty years of his stay at Valdocco, using the polite and deferential form of address, Don Orione – deeply touched – almost protestingly wrote: “But why? My dear Fr. Trione now and always I want to be addressed as your poor boy who had been welcomed by Don Bosco, and for three years lived under the mantel of Mary Help of Christians, on the bread of the Salesians, at the school of piety, sacrifice and work of that band of Salesian men of God, whose remembrance – after almost forty years – is still a radiant light which illumines and comforts my life.”
For Don Orione the Valdocco experience was not only a happy period to be remembered. Don Bosco’s friendship did not remain just an honorable and prestigious title to such fatherliness. He greatly felt the sense of responsibility in developing that gift of God: namely, the inheritance of the examples and teachings received.
“I always thought that the Lord wanted me to go to Don Bosco and get to know him (…) and the first Salesians of those heroic days, so that I would acquire the spirit right from the source!” And recalling those times as a genuine, mythical “golden era”, he would remember persons, traditions, incidents, teachings… and express the desire “of returning to the days of Don Bosco, with the same spirit, the same zest!”
The “return to Don Bosco” of which Pope John Paul II speaks in his letter commemorating the Centennial, had been a study and on-going commitment to Don Orione throughout his life. His many writings and teachings overflow with evidence. Many personal traits of Don Bosco can easily be traced in the fabric of Don Orione’s life and in his humble apostolate of Divine Providence. The same ascetical lines woven around the Eucharist, confession, devotion to the Madonna, the Vicar of Christ and the Church…, are to be found there; the educational system, which Don Orione later defined “preventive-fatherly”, his love for the young and for “apostolic charity” in offering his life for his friends…stand out to the point of including the same traditions and models in the practices of piety, in religious formation and organizational ministry.
Reading these remarks on the miraculous results obtained by a saint – the Blessed Louis Orione – from another saint – St. John Bosco…, is an incentive for all “to return with trust and commitment to Don Bosco in order to draw that good which is always new, vivifying, inexhaustible…, because it is a gift of God.
“Don Bosco is a great gift given by God to the world – Don Orione would tell his sons – He is a gold mine, a vein of gold which has hardly been touched; there is still much to discover and assimilate from Don Bosco.”
|Don Bosco, the Father of the Youth|
Church celebrations are always three-dimensional: in the present, recalling a saving past, and setting us on our way towards a future, the fulfillment of humanity: namely the glory of God.
Certainly this is the most significant and longed-for aim of the Don Bosco Centennial Celebration: a return to Don Bosco so as to continue forward in humanity for the glory of God.
Today, in a very special way, this “return” regards the religious Family of Don Orione, in all its many branches: priests, nuns, co-workers, hermits, blind adorers, lay institutions, past pupils and friends.
To know, to study and to love Don Bosco is part of the spiritual testament left by Don Orione.
But at this point I leave the word to our Founder. It was January 31, 1940; Don Orione was celebrating the mass of the Saint for the last time – as a matter of fact, on the following March 12th he would join him in heaven!
With eyes dimmed by tears, with a steady and feeble voice, moved as never before, after having recalled the last words addressed to him by Don Bosco at Valsalice “We shall always be friends”…he continued: “My dear clerics, dear priests and sons of Divine Providence, I leave you as a spiritual testament these words on Don Bosco: Don Bosco lives in his Salesian Congregation, in the spirit and works of his sons.
Our Congregation is a small plant compared to the fir tree which Don Bosco’s work truly is. I feel I am passing on and that my life is on its last stage. You will stay on and fashion the Congregation of the Sons of Divine Providence.
Remember my dear priests and clerics – always remember the great words of Don Bosco, and strive to put them into practice.
The Salesians do not need our help – do not need our misery, our weakness; but always keep in mind: see to it that in our Congregation we shall never falter in that affection, that union, friendship, brotherhood Don Bosco spoke of!
Our small accomplishments will be what God wants them to be. Above all may the Sons of Divine Providence always cherish gratitude to Don Bosco and his sons; let your attitude and behavior reveal the gratitude you feel towards the Salesians and the sacred memory of Don Bosco, and for all his sons as did form me in helping me through my studies, on some good words to defend the Salesians, any son of Don Bosco…, do it – remembering the great words of Don Bosco in his big heart to a poor boy whom he had taken from the fields, going so far in his fatherly spirit as to call him friend.
What did Don Bosco see when – while no one was permitted to go to him, he wanted that poor boy to go to confession to him? What could he see and feel in his soul when he went to the point of telling him: “We shall always be friends!” He did not say: you and I will always be friends – he said “WE” shall always be friends.
That “WE” transcends persons and reaches out to two Congregations. Remain always the little ones, and in the gratefulness of your heart, always be the great friends of Don Bosco, and among those who further Don Bosco’s work in the world."
|Don Orione beside Don Bosco's urn (April 8, 1934)|
Today, after the lapse of many years, the Small House of Divine Providence renews with esteem and gratitude towards the great Salesian Family, the “WE shall always be friends!” already a bond of spiritual brotherhood between the two saintly Founders”.
Don Flavio Peloso, F.D.P.
Source: Bolletino Salesiano, November 1988, pp. 59-62