Salesian Ethos

To work with the Poorest of Youth

The Salesian way of being – the Salesian Ethos, owes it’s inspiration to St John Bosco. For over 40 years he dedicated his life to meeting the needs of the street children of the city of Turin. During the nineteenth century Turin was in the throes of a politically inspired revolution: there was social and economic uncertainties as the area moved towards industrialisation; the church faced many external challenges both religious and social; and there was a growing poverty among the lower classes.

Don Bosco himself experienced poverty as a child and understood the role education plays in helping a person out of poverty. His father died when he was two years old. He grew up at home with his mother Mama Margaret. Having being born into a traditionally Catholic family, this faith and its practices would always be a strength in his life. At the age of nine he experienced a dream during which he received his calling in life, namely that of being a priest that would work with the poorest of youth.

Education, Family and Faith – Good Christians and Honest Citizens

Over time these three elements, education, family and faith, would be at the core of Don Bosco’s interventions for young people and at the heart of the Salesian Ethos. He wanted education to be holistic. Family values would provide this environment. Faith provided the motivation and inspiration to meet daily the challenges that can arise when working with young people and young adults. Faith also provided the values to be offered to the young. Taken together all three elements give rise to Don Bosco’s stated aim for his work; namely, the education of young people who would give back to society by being good Christians and honest citizens.

Valdocco Oratory – a home, a church and a playground

The Salesian ethos has its origins in the Valdocco Oratory, Don Bosco’s first permanent centre for young people in Turin. This centre began as a simple meeting place for the homeless youth of parts of the poorest districts in Turin.  Here the youth could play, meet caring and supportive adults and learn something of their faith. Many were young people he met during his visits to the local prisons, or in the local squares during his walks around the city.

Soon it was realised that these young people would benefit from basic numeracy. Literacy skills and classes were established in Valdocco. Over time, some of the neediest of the youth were given the opportunity of staying over in a hostel/home which was soon built on site. Over the years, other new structures would be developed as the number of youth grew and their needs varied.

Workshops in relevant trades were added for the young apprentices and workers. The hostel/ home was soon extended to allow for a more inclusive population of apprentices and students. The school continued to grow. All of this was brought together through a sense of joy and happiness that regularly found expression in feasts and moments of celebration. These celebrations always began with a visit to the church on site. From this tradition has come the practice that every Salesian centre is to see itself as a school, a home, a church and a playground. We seek to bring these elements in the most practical and relevant means to the youth where our centres are situated. The poorest are always to be part of any community based in a Salesian Centre.

The Preventive System – Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness

One constant in all Salesian work is that of the quality of the relationship between the adult and the young person. Don Bosco never believed in corporal punishment or repressive regimes of rules. Order was valued in all his centres, but it had a human and caring face. Educator/Carer/Youth Worker/Salesian and young person know each other by name. Responsibility for the relationship lay first with the adult, but over time there is to be an appropriate sharing of responsibility with the young person.

Don Bosco Chose to give the name ‘The Preventive System’ to this approach, and for him it is to be built on three principles:

* An educative relationship built on trust and reasonableness.
* An encounter with the young that invites meaning and hope.
* A relational approach that is seen in terms of kindness and partnership.

In Don Bosco’s own word these have been handed down to us as the three principles of Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness. In the Christian and Salesian tradition, every person is seen as a child of God and is to be treated with respect and dignity. There is a depth to every person that deserves exploration, education and celebration. This can only happen when there is a proper and caring relationship between the young person and the adult accompanying him or her. Don Bosco always tried to live by his Catholic faith, and for him this meant that no one in need should ever be turned away from his centres.

The Preventive System remains at the heart of the Salesian calling, a calling that takes its inspiration from Jesus the Good Shepherd of the Gospels, and the boundless love of a God we can address as our Father.