Dehonian Spirituality includes a monthly reflection and prayer based in the spirituality of Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians).
Reflections from Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Don Bosco and Leo John Dehon were near contemporaries. Don Bosco was 28 years Dehon’s elder, and hailed from Italy, but both responded similarly to the ravages of the Industrial Revolution, which had people of all ages leaving the countryside and pouring into cities to work in factories that were unhealthy, unsafe, and exploitative.
Early in his life, Don Bosco sensed a vocation to help poor boys. In his home village, he taught them catechism, delighted them with acrobatics and magic tricks, and convinced them to come to church services. While studying in the seminary, he visited many unfortunate young men in prisons and in the slums, and at the same time was introduced to affluent citizens, who would later become his benefactors.
As a priest, he gathered boys for an all-day program on Sundays that included Mass, breakfast, catechism, outdoor games, and sung Evening Prayer. Soon, this weekly activity boasted several hundred participants. He organized a night school, housed more than 40 destitute boys, and began a training school for apprentices in shoemaking and tailoring. By 1862, Don Bosco had built a church, established three homes for over 800 young men, and opened a printing press and iron foundry, all the while watching for future helpers for his ministry and possible vocations to the priesthood.
Going against the authoritarian methods of his day, he enjoyed a great influence over these boys without the need for punishment. Instead, he fostered personal responsibility, appreciation of effort, and friendliness. Don Bosco’s “total dedication” approach proved to the youth that he loved them.
Strongly convinced of the power of the press, he wrote over 50 titles, including histories, biographies, and educational works. Needing help with his ever-expanding outreach to youth, he founded the religious Congregation of Salesians at a time when Italy’s anti-clerical government expelled or curtailed the rights of many other religious Congregations.
Fr. Dehon’s ministry offers striking parallels from teaching catechism to young boys, opening St. Joseph’s Youth Center, establishing St. John’s junior high school, establishing a religious Congregation in anti-clerical France, and courting the assistance of volunteers and benefactors, to writing numerous articles and books on social and spiritual topics. However, the focus of their educational efforts diverged when Fr. Dehon chose to address the plight of workers by engaging directly with priests, factory owners, and laborers to promote safe working environments, fair wages, and healthy housing.
The affinity between Don Bosco and Leo John Dehon was also personal. In his spiritual testament to the members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, Fr. Dehon wrote, “For a Work of this importance, it usually happens that God himself makes his will known. His saints are his medium. I endeavored to become familiar with the inspiration and impressions of saintly souls of our time concerning our undertaking.”
Thus, in his memoirs, Fr. Dehon recalled, “In May , Don Bosco came to Paris. Many people went to see him, recommended themselves to his prayers, and left him an offering for his works. I went to see him with Fr. Alexander de Pascal. We recommended our Work to him. His impression was that it was certainly a work of God.”
This encouraging affirmation was repeated, when in 1906, Fr. Dehon stopped in Recife, Brazil, during his trip to South America. In his diary, he records, “Visit to the Salesians. Great welcome: music, speech, handshake. It's a great college. Fr. Jordan, a visitor and former secretary of Don Bosco, recalls to the young men that the saint spoke to him of me and our Work with kindness when I visited him in Paris. It is as a friend of Don Bosco that I am greeted with such enthusiasm.”
Circular Letters 39: V, Notes on the History of My Life XIV: 154-155, Daily Notes XX: 127-128. Image: Photo of Don Bosco
This year, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates Catholic Schools Week from January 26—February 1. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayers the Salesian Family [named after St. Francis de Sales, whom the Catholic Church honors on this day, January 24], including the religious Congregation of men [SDB] and the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians [FMA], who “walk with the young through the world.” You may find helpful the following statement of faith, adapted from, “The Salesian Family Creed.”
I believe in God, the Father
who invites us each day
to be mothers and fathers of the young,
and attentive and loving guardians of creation.
I believe in Jesus, the Good Shepherd,
who calls us to live the joy of the Gospel
in our concern for poor and needy youth.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
who perennially renews in us
an enthusiasm to serve and to love everyone
I believe in the Church,
the communion of God’s children,
who announces the Good News
and gives witness to the joy of the Risen One,
beginning with the least.
I believe in a world
where together all of us are able to build peace
through dialogue, forgiveness, and communion.
I believe in the family,
the cradle of life and love,
the privileged place of our faith and prayer,
and of the commitment to give joyful witness
where we live.
I believe in children and the young,
the reflection of God’s goodness and tenderness,
who are a gift to be welcomed and accompanied
on the path of sanctity.