The Three Faces of: BOSCO!

"Bosco" has become a pretty familiar name in my family over the years. And in some ways over the past two weeks, it has become a pretty familiar name at Saint Norbert College and Saint Joseph Priory as well. Let's begin with the first Bosco, a true role model and minister to the faithful young children of his time and place who had fallen through the cracks. I am impressed by his courageous ministry to an "at risk" population throughout his prieshood.

"What do dreams have to with prayer? Aren't they just random images of our mind?

In 1867 Pope Pius IX was upset with John Bosco because he wouldn't take his dreams seriously enough. Nine years earlier when Pope Pius IX met with the future saint who worked with neglected boys, he learned of the dreams that John had been having since the age of nine, dreams that had revealed God's will for John's life. So Pius IX had made a request, "Write down these dreams and everything else you have told me, minutely and in their natural sense." Pius IX saw John's dreams as a legacy for those John worked with and as an inspiration for those he ministered to.

Despite Scripture evidence and Church tradition respecting dreams, John had encountered skepticism when he had his first dream at the age of nine. The young Bosco dreamed that he was in a field with a crowd of children. The children started cursing and misbehaving. John jumped into the crowd to try to stop them -- by fighting and shouting. Suddenly a man with a face filled with light appeared dressed in a white flowing mantle. The man called John over and made him leader of the boys.

John was stunned at being put in charge of these unruly gang. The man said, "You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows but with gentleness and kindness." As adults, most of us would be reluctant to take on such a mission -- and nine year old John was even less pleased. "I'm just a boy," he argued, "how can you order me to do something that looks impossible." The man answered, "What seems so impossible you must achieve by being obedient and acquiring knowledge." Then the boys turned into the wild animals they had been acting like. The man told John that this is the field of John's life work. Once John changed and grew in humility, faithfulness, and strength, he would see a change in the children -- a change that the man now demonstrated. The wild animals suddenly turned into gentle lambs.

When John told his family about his dream, his brothers just laughed at him. Everyone had a different interpretation of what it meant: he would become a shepherd, a priest, a gang leader. His own grandmother echoed the sage advice we have heard through the years, "You mustn't pay any attention to dreams." John said, "I felt the same way about it, yet I could never get that dream out of my head."

Eventually that first dream led him to minister to poor and neglected boys, to use the love and guidance that seemed so impossible at age nine to lead them to faithful and fulfilled lives. He started out by learning how to juggle and do tricks to catch the attention of the children. Once he had their attention he would teach them and take them to Mass. It wasn't always easy -- few people wanted a crowd of loud, bedraggled boys hanging around. And he had so little money and help that people thought he was crazy. Priests who promised to help would get frustrated and leave.

Two "friends" even tried to commit him to an institution for the mentally ill. They brought a carriage and were planning to trick him into coming with him. But instead of getting in, John said, "After you" and politely let them go ahead. When his friends were in the carriage he slammed the door and told the driver to take off as fast as he could go!

Through it all he found encouragement and support through his dreams. In one dream, Mary led him into a beautiful garden. There were roses everywhere, crowding the ground with their blooms and the air with their scent. He was told to take off his shoes and walk along a path through a rose arbor. Before he had walked more than a few steps, his naked feet were cut and bleeding from the thorns. When he said he would have to wear shoes or turn back, Mary told him to put on sturdy shoes. As he stepped forward a second time, he was followed by helpers. But the walls of the arbor closed on him, the roof sank lower and the roses crept onto the path. Thorns caught at him from all around. When he pushed them aside he only got more cuts, until he was tangled in thorns. Yet those who watched said, "How lucky Don John is! His path is forever strewn with roses! He hasn't a worry in the world. No troubles at all!" Many of the helpers, who had been expecting an easy journey, turned back, but some stayed with him. Finally he climbed through the roses and thorns to find another incredible garden. A cool breeze soothed his torn skin and healed his wounds.

In his interpretation, the path was his mission, the roses were his charity to the boys, and the thorns were the distractions, the obstacles, and frustrations that would stand in his way. The message of the dream was clear to John: he must keep going, not lose faith in God or his mission, and he would come through to the place he belonged.

Often John acted on his dreams simply by sharing them, sometimes repeating them to several different individuals or groups he thought would be affected by the dream. "Let me tell you about a dream that has absorbed my mind," he would say.

The groups he most often shared with were the boys he helped -- because so many of the dreams involved them. For example, he used several dreams to remind the boys to keep to a good and moral life. In one dream he saw the boys eating bread of four kinds -- tasty rolls, ordinary bread, coarse bread, and moldy bread, which represented the state of the boys' souls. He said he would be glad to talk to any boys who wanted to know which bread they were eating and then proceeded to use the occasion to give them moral guidance.

He died in 1888, at the age of seventy-two. His work lives on in the Salesian order he founded.

In His Footsteps:

John Bosco found God's message in his dreams. If you have some question or problem in your life, ask God to send you an answer or help in a dream. Then write down your dreams. Ask God to help you remember and interpret the dreams that come from God.


Saint John Bosco, you reached out to children whom no one cared for despite ridicule and insults. Help us to care less about the laughter of the world and care more about the joy of the Lord. Amen."

Copyright 1996-2000 by Terry Matz. All Rights Reserved.

The tradition of John Bosco continues as my great uncle, a Salesian, would not only be tapped as a metropolitan Selesian Archbishop, but as a Father of Vatican II (rights of the laity) and as a man who would choose as his episcopal motto a phrase penned by John Bosco, "Da-Mihi-Animas -- Caetera-Tolle"; "Give me souls, you take the rest!" Here's a bit of his story from the press release announcing his death:

Munich, 16 August 1977: Archbishop Antoni Baraniak of Poznan died on Saturday, August13, after a prolonged illness at the age of 73, a PAP dispatch reported from Warsaw on that same day. He had headed the Poznan diocese for two decades. A good part of Archbishop Baraniak's life was connected with Poznan province, where he was born in the small township of Sebastianowo on 1 January 1904.

A member of the Salesian Congregation of St. John Bosco, he was ordained a priest in 1930, and spent three years in Rome. Later in the 1930s, he became one of the secretaries of the Polish Primate, the late August Cardinal Hlond, whom he followed into wartime exile in France. After the war, Archbishop Baraniak remained among the Primate's closest coworkers until the latter's death in October 1948. Appointed auxiliary bishop of Gniezno in April 1951, he soon became the target of regime harassment. Arrested in October 1953 in connection with the show trial against Bishop Czeslaw Kaczmarek of Kielce, he spent three years in prison under extremely hard conditions. When he left prison in November 1956, his health had been so gravely damaged that he really never fully recovered.

In spite of protests on the part of the regime, Archbishop Baraniak was appointed metropolitan archbishop of Poznan in June 1957 -- one of the most prestigious ecclesiastical offices in Poland, which he was to retain for the rest of his life. A member of the nine-man Main Council of the Episcopate, he soon became known as a most devoted friend and supporter of Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, whom he repeatedly accompanied on his Roman visits. He played a considerable role in Vatican II, serving on two of its most important commissions (for the Eastern Rite Churches, and for the Apostolate of the Laity), and later chaired the Polish Episcopate's commission supervising the implementation of the council's recommendations.

Later in the 1970s -- in the spring of 1975 -- Archbishop Baraniak became a member of two Vatican Sacred Congregations -- for the Discipline of the Sacraments and for the Causes of the Saints. The Poznan archbishop was generally admired for his ascetic and pious way of life, and for his intransigent stance in dealings with the regime in matters regarding freedom of belief. One of his famous pastoral letters, issued in September 1966 (during Poland's millennial celebrations) aroused renewed ire on the part of the authorities.

While the exact cause of Archbishop Baraniak's death was not given in the PAP dispatch, he had been known to be ailing for the past year. It was his ill health that prevented him from attending last year's Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in which he had been expected to take part with Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Cracow (jtb: the future Pope John Paul II) and other leading members of the Polish Episcopate. It is generally assumed that the after effects of this prolonged illness led to his eventual death.

And now we fast-forword to today. Just two years ago, my sister Teresa purchased a little Terrier who was homeless and nameless. Teresa invited all of us to think of names that would fit the precious pup. Somehow, she or another family member came up with the name, "Bosco," a nickname given to my dad, John (or Jack), at the earliest of his days by his father, my grampa. The name "Bosco" was an immediat hit among the family.

On Super Bowl Sunday, my sister allowed me to take Bosco home for a few days -- was it her way of comforting me that my week-long planned trip to Arizona ended up being a trip to Antigo instead? While we thought Bosco would spend only a week here, I realized that my schedule was so tight that I did not have time to return him to his northwoods home. Last weekend's wedding of Kristi Barnes and Peter Andrews coupled with the annual Parish Dinner Dance made my treck north almost impossible. As such, Bosco became a long-term guest at Saint Joseph Priory.

Bosco became an instant hit among the Norbertines. I must say, I am somewhat surprised. We are all very busy men on the go constantly, it seems. Also, we have become so accustomed to life in such a certain way that I thought Bosco would upset our comfort zones in any number of ways. Boy was I wrong! The brothers took to him in immediate kind and loving ways.

No, Bosco did not join us for the Divine Office, nor did he make appearances in the dining room or at Community Recreation. Nevertheless, he did join us night after night in the TV room to watch Law and Order, Cold Case and other Norbertine favorite staples. By day he would join me in my office in JMS, greeting each student on the hour -- and once he greeted each student and parishioner, he'd take his place at the door watching for other potential visitors that would approach from the hallway. Sadly, I learned later on that the faculty handbook prohibits such visitors. And yet, I realized Bosco had quickly become St. Norbert's Canine Catholic, not just mine!

Early on, a student came to visit for a normal, periodic visit. Bosco took his place at the door, "Protecting this House" as Under Armour would say! At one point the student began to cry while telling the story of a recent relational break-up. Bosco left his perch to approach the student on my couch. As he saw her cry, his ears shot straight into the sky as he watched with his head tilted to the left.

As the cry continued, Bosco jumped up on the couch -- ears still standing erect, his head now tilted to the right. Finally he jumped up onto her lap and began to lick her tears away. It was at this point, I knew it would be very difficult for me to say goodbye to "Man's -- JB's -- Best Friend!"

In all honesty, Bosco tired me out. And yet, each of those 14 days found his nights and mine to be ended as a dog and a human, both 'wired and tired.' We enjoyed each other so very much. He loved the time he spent with the Norbertines -- to be sure! He also loved those who stopped into the office to visit him, pet him, walk him or abduct him for an hour or two. And thanks to Billy Whalen and Kerry Ryan, he met a great buddy in Layla; and thanks to Cody Craig and Shelby Krueger, he found an equally good friend in Mello.

So much excitement, he'd end each night headed to the 'fort' we built next to my bed under my bedside night stand -- we'd both sleep peacefully until 6:15 AM. Then it would be back to work to face the troubles and the blessings of each new day, gladly.

Bosco returned to the northwoods on Friday. Teresa tells me that he is keeping guard at the door, perhaps waiting for his St. Norbert student / parishioner buddies, for a Norbertine, or for Uncle Jim. His life seems to be somewhat empty these days, even though I know Teresa and her children care for him greatly. Nevertheless, I know my life is similarly empty given how much fun we had together. But he's just a visit away. I hope you'll all welcome him home once again when that day arrives.

I never imagined I'd grow so attached to the little guy. I am grateful for the past two weeks, and I look forward to more on the horizon. Interestingly enough, St. John Bosco is considered the Patron Saint of children. Little did I ever imagine, my own nephew, S.J. Bosco, O. Puppy, would "pull out" the child in any number of us. Myself included!


kdomagola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kdomagola said...

Fr. Jim, I think you need a cute, fluffy little dog of your own. A nice golden retriever. Fr. Jude has one, Benny. He runs the halls at Benet Academy, comes to the choir concerts and holds important keys and papers. You could call him Norbie, or Newbie...

Anonymous said...

I could have used Bosco to wipe the tears from my face as I read your blog of Feb.18.

The blog was a confirmation of what I have said of you since the day you arrived in De Pere. You are indeed one of the most kindest, compassionate priests that has ever been ordained!

We are truly blessed to have you in our midst!

Anonymous said...

What a poignant story ... you are a blessing to our parish/college/community. You always make everyone feel so very special; I wonder if you know how special you are to so many people!

My dogs are in the process of becoming Certified Therapy Dogs ... they're adept in keying in on our emotions - be it joy or sorrow - and offer companionship and comfort in giving us unconditional love.

Like John Bosco, you too are concerned in working with "at risk" children. In this program, along with Christ, I'm sure he's with you "every step of the way".

tamk said...

I miss you too Uncle Jimmy...
much more than you could know! Please tell everyone "thank you" for their kindness and friendship.
I can't wait to be with you and see all of my new friends after Easter :)
Take care and God Bless,

Katie C said...

You do know there is prison work being done with dogs--seriously! I have learned a bit about them after spending a few years volunteering at nursing homes with our Westie. Bring the dog to the prison--see what happens. Bet you will be amazed. Hope you are doing well! Katie PS I WANT that dog---way too cute.

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