St.John Bosco and His Guardian Angel Dog

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St. John Bosco and His Guardian Angel Dog

Was it an angel or was it a dog? The life of Don Bosco furnishes us with a remarkable and interesting story of what appears to many an angelic intervention in saving the life of this servant of God from the fierce attacks of the Waldensian heretics, who made several attempts to assassinate him.

These heretics were furious at the good done by Don Bosco and sought by violent means to rid themselves of his influence. Some of their adherents were men of the lowest and most vicious type, and these they hired to carry out their nefarious designs.

When returning home one night through a bad and dangerous part of the town, he saw a magnificent dog of huge size following him. At first he was frightened but quickly came to see that the dog was friendly. The animal walked by his side and accompanied him to the door of his house and then went away. This happened five, six or eight times. He called the dog Grigio.

What did it mean? He was soon to learn.

Hastening home by himself, some time after the first appearance of the dog, two shots were fired at him by an assassin from behind a tree. Both shots missed their mark, but his assailant then rushed at and grappled with him. At that moment, Grigio appeared and sank his teeth into the flesh of the would-be murderer, who fled away shrieking with pain.

On a second occasion, two men lay in wait for him and threw a sack over his head. This time it seemed all was over with him, but Grigio unexpectedly came to his rescue and jumped at one of the ruffians, seizing him by the throat. The other fled in terror. Don Bosco had then to liberate the first from the fangs of Grigio, who still held him by the throat.

A third time, no less than twelve hired assassins, armed with clubs, lay in ambush, into which Don Bosco walked unawares. Again, escape seemed impossible, but once more Grigio bounded into the midst of the group, and his fierce look and savage growl proved enough. The men made off as quickly as they could.

Sometimes the dog entered Don Bosco’s house, but always with some reason, either to accompany him on a night journey or to prevent his leaving the house. No amount of animal instinct could explain these unexpected appearances of the dog.

On one of these occasions, when Don Bosco tried to go out, the great dog lay across the door and growled in such a menacing way that St. John was forced to remain at home. And it was well that he did so, for shortly afterwards a gentleman arrived to warn him not to leave the house on any consideration, as the heretics lay in wait to kill him.

As long as the persecution lasted, Grigio never failed to be at his post and when the danger passed he was seen no more. Whence he came or whither he went no one knew.

Ten years later, Don Bosco had to go to the farmhouse of some friends and had been advised that the road was dangerous.

“If only I had Grigio,” he said. At once the great dog appeared by his side, as if he had heard the words, giving signs of the greatest joy. Both man and dog arrived safely at the farmhouse and went into the dining room, where the family invited Don Bosco to take part in the evening meal.

The dog lay down. No one thought any more of him. When the repast was finished the master of the house proposed to feed the dog. But he was gone! Doors and windows had been closed; how did he go?

In 1883, that was more than thirty years after the dog’s first appearance, he appeared once more in a different locality to guide Don Bosco, who had lost his way.

How are we to explain those wonderful appearances of the dog, at the most opportune moments and in different localities? Surely we may believe that this was angelic intervention.Especially is this so because the great dog was never known to eat.

Feast of St.John Bosco

John Bosco, also known as Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco and Don Bosco, was born in Becchi, Italy, on August 16, 1815. His birth came just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars which ravaged the area. Compounding the problems on his birthday, there was also a drought and a famine at the time of his birth.
At the age of two, John lost his father, leaving him and his two older brothers to be raised by his mother, Margherita. His “Mama Margherita Occhiena” would herself be declared venerable by the Church in 2006.
Raised primarily by his mother, John attended church and became very devout. When he was not in church, he helped his family grow food and raise sheep. They were very poor, but despite their poverty his mother also found enough to share with the homeless who sometimes came to the door seeking food, shelter or clothing.
When John was nine years old, he had the first of several vivid dreams that would influence his life. In his dream, he encountered a multitude of boys who swore as they played. Among these boys, he encountered a great, majestic man and woman. The man told him that in meekness and charity, he would “conquer these your friends.” Then a lady, also majestic said, “Be strong, humble and robust. When the time comes, you will understand everything.” This dream influenced John the rest of his life.
Not long afterwards, John witnessed a traveling troupe of circus performers. He was enthralled by their magic tricks and acrobatics. He realized if he learned their tricks, he could use them to attract others and hold their attention. He studied their tricks and learned how to perform some himself.
One Sunday evening, John staged a show for the kids he played with and was heartily applauded. At the end of the show, he recited the homily he heard earlier in the day. He ended by inviting his neighbors to pray with him. His shows and games were repeated and during this time, John discerned the call to become a priest.
To be a priest, John required an education, something he lacked because of poverty. However, he found a priest willing to provide him with some teaching and a few books. John’s older brother became angry at this apparent disloyalty, and he reportedly whipped John saying he’s “a farmer like us!”
John was undeterred, and as soon as he could he left home to look for work as a hired farm laborer. He was only 12 when he departed, a decision hastened by his brother’s hostility.
John had difficulty finding work, but managed to find a job at a vineyard. He labored for two more years before he met Jospeh Cafasso, a priest who was willing to help him. Cafasso himself would later be recognized as a saint for his work, particularly ministering to prisoners and the condemned.
In 1835, John entered the seminary and following six years of study and preparation, he was ordained a priest in 1841.
His first assignment was to the city of Turin. The city was in the throes of industrialization so it had slums and widespread poverty. It was into these poor neighborhoods that John, now known as Fr. Bosco, went to work with the children of the poor.
While visiting the prisons, Fr. Bosco noticed a large number of boys, between the ages of 12 and 18, inside. The conditions were deplorable, and he felt moved to do more to help other boys from ending up there.
He went into the streets and started to meet young men and boys where they worked and played. He used his talents as a performer, doing tricks to capture attention, then sharing with the children his message for the day.
When he was not preaching, Fr. Bosco worked tirelessly seeking work for boys who needed it, and searching for lodgings for others. His mother began to help him, and she became known as “Mamma Margherita.” By the 1860s, Fr. Bosco and his mother were responsible for lodging 800 boys.
Fr. Bosco also negotiated new rights for boys who were employed as apprentices. A common problem was the abuse of apprentices, with their employers using them to perform manual labor and menial work unrelated to their apprenticeship. Fr. Bosco negotiated contracts which forbade such abuse, a sweeping reform for that time. The boys he hired out were also given feast days off and could no longer be beaten.
Fr. Bosco also identified boys he thought would make good priests and encouraged them to consider a vocation to the priesthood. Then, he helped to prepare those who responded favorably in their path to ordination.
Fr. Bosco was not without some controversy. Some parish priests accused him of stealing boys from their parishes. The Chief of Police of Turin was opposed to his catechizing of boys in the streets, which he claimed was political subversion.
In 1859, Fr. Bosco established the Society of St. Francis de Sales. He organized 15 seminarians and one teenage boy into the group. Their purpose was to carry on his charitable work, helping boys with their faith formation and to stay out of trouble. The organization still exists today and continues to help people, especially children around the world.
In the years that followed, Fr. Bosco expanded his mission, which had, and still has, much work to do.
Fr. Bosco died on January 31, 1888. The call for his canonization was immediate. Pope Pius XI knew Fr. Bosco personally and agreed, declaring him blessed in 1929. St. John Bosco was canonized on Easter Sunday, 1934 and he was given the title, “Father and Teacher of Youth.”
In 2002, Pope John Paul II was petitioned to declare St. John Bosco the Patron of Stage Magicians. St. Bosco had pioneered the art of what is today called “Gospel Magic,” using magic and other feats to attract attention and engage the youth.
Saint John Bosco is the patron saint of apprentices, editors and publishers, schoolchildren, magicians, and juvenile delinquents. His feast day is on January 31.