On December 18, 1959, the Salesian Society completed the first century of its existence.
Founded during the first ten years of the Italian Risorgimento, and canonically organized during the second decade, it has now spread its wings far across the world from the land which witnessed its birth.
In a century of great international upheavals, its beginning and growth stand out as a jewel in the story of the Church. In the Providence of God, it was accorded a world-wide mission particularly on behalf of youth. It has striven to be faithful to the divine mandate and has won for itself the gratitude of all humanity.
It is as a great world benefactor that Don Bosco is recognized everywhere. In his life and in the work of his Society, he has striven to bring the Gospel and the teaching of the Church to life. To be at the service of the people, and particularly of the young worker, was Don Bosco's aim, that he might win all to Christ.
The dream which he had at the age of nine, and in which his life's work was presented to him, was the spur to all his activity. What he saw and was told then was a message from heaven to him. It was forever imprinted on his mind. The task would be difficult, but it was God's work, and the Lady of the dream would always be there to help and guide him.
As the vision gradually became reality, and the young priest began to see the number of boys who flocked after him, the need of helpers in his work became only too evident.
The Salesian Society
The Society which he eventually established, and which is especially devoted to the education of youth, has its own invaluable pedagogy: an emanation from family life and based on the so-called 'Preventive System.' This system seeks to prevent one thing only, sin. It is 'preventive' in the sense of foreseeing. Noting that the devil is still very much alive, it is alert to the danger and endeavors to snatch the young soul from his grasp. It makes sure, as far as possible, that God gets in first.
The Salesian Society is an exempt clerical religious congregation. Its main objective is the Christian perfection of its members, and every work of charity, both spiritual and material, on behalf of the young, especially those who are poor and neglected. Therefore its object includes festive youth centers or oratories, boarding, trade and agricultural schools, houses for the training of those who aspire to the priesthood.
Special Patron Saint: St. Francis of Sales
Its Founder called it a 'Society', on the advice of Pope Pius IX, in order not to give scope to the attacks of the enemies of the Catholic Church. He called it 'Salesian', because its special Patron Saint is St. Francis of Sales, whose characteristic virtues, charity and kindness, he wanted its members to acquire and to perfect. From the very day of his ordination (1841), Don Bosco started working for the young, and in 1846 he found a permanent abode for his work. Little by little he gathered around himself a group of good boys, ready to help him in his work, and in 1854 he bound them to him by a special promise.
In 1859 he disclosed to them his intention to found a religious congregation, and on the acceptance of 17 of them, the first election of a general council was held. In this way, the Salesian Congregation came into existence as a private undertaking. The Holy See recognized and approved it ten years later.
Priests, Clerics and Lay Brothers
The Society is formed of priests, clerics and lay brothers. The latter are called 'coadjutors', since, unlike the lay brothers of other orders, they have the task of "helping the priests in the works of Christian charity proper to the congregation (Don Bosco). Everyone, before being definitely received into the Society, must pass through probationary periods, an aspirantship, novitiate, lasting one year, and temporary vows and then perpetual vows.
Government of the Society
The general government of the Society is entrusted to the Superior Council and the Provinces are under the rule of a Provincial. The Superior of each House is called the Director, and is helped by a Council composed of an Economer, a Vice-Director, who takes the place of the Rector, a Director of Religious Activities or Youth Minister and a sufficient number of Counselors who help the Director in any convenient way.
The Rector Major remains in office twelve years; the other members of the Superior Council and the Provincials, six years; the Rector three years. The election of the members of the Superior Council is entrusted to the General Chapter, called together every three years until 1907, and after that date every six years or on the Rector Major's death. The General Chapter is also entitled to treat all matters of great moment concerning the Society.
This is briefly the organization of the Society. Its government is mainly founded on family spirit, according to the example and the teaching of Don Bosco, who on June 9, 1867, wrote to the Salesians in the Oratory asking them to "form a family of brothers close to their father."