Born in Castlenuovo d’Asti on August 16, 1815, John was educated in the faith and in living according to the Gospel message by his mother. He was just nine years old when he had a dream, which called him to dedicate himself to the education of young people. While still a boy he began to entertain his peers with games alternated with work, prayer and religious education. On becoming a priest (1841) he chose as his life’s programme: “Da mihi animas cetera tolle” (“Give me souls, take all the rest” Gen. 14: 21). He began his apostolate among poor young people with the founding of the Oratory, which he placed under the patronage of St. Francis of Sales.
By means of his educational style and pastoral practice, based on reason, religion and loving kindness (the Preventive System) he led young people to reflect, to meet Christ and their brothers and sisters, to the study of the faith and to apostolic, civil and professional commitment. St. Dominic Savio stands out among the most outstanding fruits of his work.The source of his indefatigable activity and of the effectiveness of his work was his “constant union with God” and his unlimited confidence in Mary Our Help who he considered to be the inspiration and support of his whole work.
He left, as an inheritance for his Salesian sons and daughters, a form of religious life that was simple but founded on solid Christian virtue and on contemplation in action, which may be summed up in the words “work and temperance”.He sought his best collaborators among his young people, thus establishing the Society of St. Francis of Sales (Salesians). Together with St. Maria Domenica Mazzarello he founded the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters). Finally, together with good and hard-working lay men and women, he created the Salesian Cooperators to work alongside him and sustain the education of young people, thus anticipating new forms of apostolate in the Church.
In the centenary of his death, which took place on January 31, 1988, Pope John Paul II proclaimed him The Father and Teacher of Youth.