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From the Rector
I am writing this message and reflection at the end of ‘Don Bosco’s Oratory Week’, which has seen a number of interesting and significant events in the life of the College. I’m sure your sons have brought back home their response to the events they have participated in.
The focus of the week has been an experience of the original enterprise of Don Bosco, which he himself called ‘Oratory’.
The concept of the Oratory was not invented by Don Bosco. Another famous Saint (Philip Neri), who lived 300 years before Don Bosco, had already introduced the idea of an Oratory in Rome. It was a place of meeting for young people, for the purpose of prayer and fun. This model of youth work was also adopted by some parishes in the area around Milan (Italy), before Don Bosco; and he would have known about the existence of these youth facilities, which were parish-based. But his vision of the Oratory was much broader. For a start, it was open to all young people, and was not parish-based (on the contrary, parish priests complained that Don Bosco took the young people away from the parishes!). It provided a gathering space on Sundays and holidays, and included some prayer, but also instruction, food and games, making new friends, and providing support for homeless young people. Most of the boys who attended on Sundays were young factory workers, or apprentices on building sites. Some had even been in juvenile detention for petty crimes. During the week, Don Bosco used to follow up the Sunday meetings with visits to the boys on their work sites (making sure that they were not exploited by their bosses), or in the jails, or juvenile centres, and in factories.
And as soon as he could find a place, Don Bosco provided shelter and accommodation, and eventually he established a school to provide basic education. He himself wrote some of the textbooks for classroom use! After a few years of this experience, he selected a group of older boys (barely teenagers), and entrusted them with the teaching and supervision of the younger boys. The first group of Salesians came from the ranks of the Oratory boys.
No wonder that the experience of the Oratory has become the model or criterion for all Salesian works around the world. Here is where one should find the family spirit (a home), where the young are challenged to learn new skills (a school), where the relationships between adults and young people should reflect the values of the Gospel of Jesus (faith & parish), and where life-long friendships are made and kept as important support for life (playground).
Obviously not all these experiences can be offered over the period of one week, but even the use of the term ‘Don Bosco’s Oratory Week’ will help staff and students reflect on the tremendous movement in the world (generated by Don Bosco) for the benefit of young people. Salesian College Chadstone is one place among thousands that has inherited this legacy of education, and continues to implement Don Bosco’s vision of the Oratory.
Fr Frank Bertagnolli SDB