Don Bosco’s Cooperators

In Don Bosco’s mind, the presence of the laity and their involvement in the educational work of his Oratories began in 1841, five years before he found a permanent site at Valdocco. “We began gathering poor and abandoned boys in the city of Turin,” he himself writes in a memoir from the 1870s, citing the events of 1841, the year of his Priestly ordination.

They were gathered in specific locales and churches, were entertained with pleasant and wholesome recreation, instructed, and guided to receive worthily the holy Sacraments of Confirmation, Confession, and Communion. To help with the many and varied tasks, a number of gentlemen united with us and, through their personal work and their charity, they supported our work, called ‘the Festive Oratories’. These gentlemen were named after the task that they were assigned to do, but, in general, they were called ‘benefactors,’ ‘promoters,’ and even ‘Cooperators’ of the Congregation of St Francis de Sales. Over the years Don Bosco built up a group of lay people to work with him and the Salesians for young people. It was not only a job for volunteers. Don Bosco offered these people an opportunity to journey with him in discovering the Salesian charism. After years of journeying together Don Bosco offered his cooperators The Rule of 1876, acknowledging their identity as Salesian Cooperators. Since then, this movement has spread all around the world and this year celebrates 145 years of existence of this Salesian group.

The path of the Salesian Co-Operator

Life is beautiful and full of surprises. When you have a family, young children, a busy job, or your own business, and yet you want to give a bit to the local church or the community you live in, there may be very little time left to take care of your spiritual life. To manage everything well, you really must have a plan or at least a core reference. For us Catholics the core reference is our faith and vocation to be holy and to become the best version of ourselves. But, within this universal vocation there is a multitude of inner calls and choices. One of these is to be a Salesian Co-operator. What does it mean? Who are we? We are spiritual sons and daughters of Don Bosco, who, in his lifetime, set up not only the religious Congregations of the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, but also the Association of Salesian Cooperators. We are single or married men and women, who care particularly for the welfare of young people. We draw strength and wisdom from the charism of the Salesian Family and its founder. There are no vows – only a little book: “Project of Apostolic Life” and a simple promise. Most of us do not work directly in any particular ministry, but we bring the Salesian Spirit to our homes, families, parishes and workplaces.

What does it mean for me to be a Salesian Cooperator? It means never to look away from the needs of young people and to consider young people my friends by default. It means celebrating their giftedness, resilience, and potential. It means trying to encourage them and pray for them in their struggle to develop into fine people and… our future. On a practical level, for me being a Salesian Co-worker means having in my house not only a crucifix or icon of Jesus and a picture of Mary, but also a portrait of St John Bosco with his warm, gentle smile. In moments of crisis or trouble, some people start praying or swearing. I think: “what would Don Bosco do?” or simply: “Don Bosco, pray for us”.

Being a Salesian Cooperator (by Marco Fulgaro)

Anna Sansoni and Andrea Lapi are Salesian Cooperators at ‘La Magione’ Oratory in Siena in Italy. They work at the Hospital of Siena, Anna as a specialist in infectious diseases and Andrea as an intern. Anna says that she had observed Covid-19 way ahead, when it was only in China. She prepared herself to face the shock when it would hit Italy. “The Ash Wednesday liturgy took place a few hours before my separation from my family and the Oratory. I needed to stay away from my loved ones for their own protection. It was a real Lent-within-Lent.”

“The sick almost always arrived in the middle of the night, in the dark, when our energies were almost gone. They exhausted the little strength that remained. Like Veronica wiping the bloodied face of Jesus, we would console the families – a truly painful Way of the Cross.” After she had worked alone for  a month, Andrea joined his wife, Anna. This marked the beginning of a period of working as a couple but with a rhythm that was calm, unwavering, gentle and safe. They drew strength from the Eucharist, meditation on the Word of God, the ‘Good Morning’ thought from the Gospel, and the Novena to Mary Help of Christians. On Holy Saturday, with the help of the hospital chaplains, they brought the Eucharist to the sick. “I hope that together we shall seek the profound meaning of what we are experiencing and that, with the Lord as our travel companion, our eyes will be opened. Filled with Salesian joy, may we return to Jerusalem with Jesus in our hearts”.


At present in Ireland there are 3 active Salesian Cooperators who made their promises in 2019. If you ever feel yourself captivated by the story of St John Bosco, maybe you would like to explore the Salesian Charism in everyday life, caring deeply for young people of today. If so, perhaps it is worth considering joining me and over 30,000 Salesian Cooperators worldwide.

One thing we can promise: a wonderful lifelong adventure under the banner of Mary Help of Christians and Don Bosco, and a special place for you in the Salesian Family.

Julian Drapiewski

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