John Bosco was born in 1815 in a small town near Turin, Italy, now one of the great cultural, educational and manufacturing cities of Italy. He was the youngest of three sons of a family of farm workers. His father died when Bosco was 2 years old, leaving a widowed mother to support a family in her poverty. He was unable to afford an education but was given an opportunity to enter the seminary by a priest who saw promise in the young man. He did well and was ordained to the priesthood in 1841 at age 26. “Don” Bosco soon thereafter began a lifelong devotion to educating and caring for boys and young men who were poor, homeless or among the working class in the newly industrialized city of Turin.

Bosco became a pioneer in vocational training. He opened workshops to train tailors, shoemakers, printers, bookbinders and metal workers. Other priests were attracted to his ministry and social outreach and a community began to form. Eventually Don Bosco established the Society of St. Francis de Sales after the saint who inspired him. The Salesians were formally approved as a religious community in 1884. Bosco had served for a time as chaplain to a Catholic shelter for young girls and in 1872 he collaborated with Mary Mazzarello to establish a community of women, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, or the Salesian Sisters. Mary Mazzarello was elevated to sainthood in 1951.

Upon his death on January 31, 1888, approximately 40,000 mourners filed past his body as he lay in state in church and it is reported that most of the population of Turin lined the streets for his funeral. He was canonized on Easter Sunday 1934 by Pope Pius XI, who as a young priest had known Don Bosco. The next day a national holiday was observed in his honor throughout Italy. Saint John Bosco is the patron saint of Catholic editors and publishers. His feast day is January 31.