St. John Bosco: A Patron for Men & Boys in a Cultural Crisis

My two-year-old son loves books. He does not know yet the glory of reading, but he is quickly realizing the wonder and joy to be found in a good story. This morning, as I tried to sneak in a few moments of prayer and reading before my children awoke, I was interrupted by the soft patter of footie-jammie clad feet coming down the hallway. Seeing me on the couch, my son walked straight to the bookshelf, grabbed a book—Winnie the Pooh being the literary choice du jour—and clambered up into my lap. As the sun crept up and we journeyed through the Hundred Acre Wood together, I silently prayed these quiet moments would seep into his soul, forming a protective barrier to guard against what I fear the world will try to teach him. I know too well that the Father of Lies will strain with every fiber of his being to tell my son that he is not worthy of redemption or capable of goodness. Worse, his insidious lies will be echoed, and even gleefully trumpeted, in nearly every sphere of our broken society. 

Perhaps it is because I am a mother of only sons that I am so saddened and enraged by the plight befalling young boys—and now young men—in our culture. In 2018, as I stood in line to vote, a young woman walked by me wearing a t-shirt proclaiming “The Future is Female.” I ran my hand over my very visibly pregnant stomach, desperately assuring the little one growing within me that his existence was not a threat, that his beautiful mind and irreplaceable soul were willed from the very foundations of time by a Creator who loves him unconditionally.

The ubiquitous narrative adopted by our society is that “toxic masculinity” is responsible for all the world’s ills, and of course there is no way for a male to be masculine and not toxic. 

Young boys are now being given the moral responsibility of every evil—real and imagined—committed by their gender. In a world screaming for everyone to be themselves, boys are told to shut up and stand back. 

Unsurprisingly, decades of this demonization of masculinity have resulted in a generation of terribly behaved and hopelessly lost young men. Addicted to pornography, unable to commit to marriage, and falling further behind in every educational standard, in all too many cases they have become the moral and intellectual weaklings they were told they should be.

If ever our boys needed an intercessor in heaven who, during his life, looked at even the most astray youth and saw a unique and beloved child of God, it’s right now. Fortunately, as is often the case with the Catholic Church’s beautiful and varied Communion of Saints, such a man exists. 

St. John Bosco, the 19th century Italian priest, made a life out of taking in the world’s abandoned boys and giving them a home and an education. Foregoing the popular corporal punishments and more strict catechesis of his time, John Bosco chose a different route. Within his apostolate, St. John Bosco surrounded them in a culture of joy that encouraged virtue rather than merely punishing sin, though he did not shy away from correcting his pupils’ moral flaws. 

Notably, especially considering today’s oftentimes female-oriented schoolroom environment, John perceived the importance of physical exertion and labor for boys’ formation, both educational and moral. He famously told his students “run, jump, play, make noise, but do not sin.” He allowed their rambunctious antics, provided their activities remained innocent in nature, and strove to provide them with apprenticeships and honest employment. 

The boys and young men taken in by John were the proverbial “lost cases,” yet for the holy priest, not a single one was without hope. John Bosco did more than just demand goodness of these abandoned street children. He told them that they could actually be good. He taught them that they were worthy of love and capable of heroic courage and sacrifice. 

Before he died, St. John Bosco gave one final message: “Tell the boys that I shall be waiting for them all in Paradise.” His last thoughts were for the young souls in his care, and his last words were to assure them that they were good. That he trusted these poor, lost little boys to have the strength and the will to join him in eternity. What a contrast to the world’s message to our sons, in which they are the constant villain. 

The future is not female. It does not belong to those crowing for the downfall of men. The future belongs to the men and women who embrace their rightful place as children, made in God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully made. 

St. John Bosco knew this, and as his life’s work continues to ripple through the centuries even to the present day, providing a roadmap of how to build men of strength and honor, we can be confident that he continues to pray for all of us, and especially for our young boys. 

St. John Bosco, Father and Teacher of the Youth, Pray for us!

image: Painting of Don Bosco and Mary Help of Christians in Chiesa di San Filipo Neri (Catania) by Giuseppe Barone / Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock

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Kelly Marcum studied International Politics at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and received her M.A. from the War Studies Department at King’s College London. She is the founder and President of Gratia Plena Institute, an organization dedicated to teaching high school girls about the Catholic vision of authentic femininity. Her writing has been featured in National Catholic Register, The American ConservativeThe Federalist, and The Washington Examiner. She lives with her husband and children in Virginia.

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