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St. John Bosco and the One-Day Jail Break

Many of you are probably familiar with St. John Bosco. He is well-known as the Italian priest who worked with troubled boys from Turin and founded the Salesian order. Perhaps you are even familiar with some of the miraculous occurrences surrounding his life. There was the time that the exact amount of money he needed miraculously appeared in a drawer that had previously been empty. And then he once was part of a multiplication of chestnuts to feed his hungry boys.

However, you might not be aware that he was once involved in a jail break of sorts. Here is how that story enfolds.

I was in Prison and You came to Me

Throughout his many years of working with boys and through his faith, he developed a winsome way that gave the boys someone in whom they could completely trust. In return, he trusted the young men and helped them to grow into men with confidence and strong faith.

As the years went on, John Bosco was able to establish an impressive center which took in troubled boys and gave them an opportunity to receive an education and learn a trade. It was quite an operation. And how John Bosco built and kept it going was a testimony to his complete trust in God for his unique apstolate. However, he was not satisfied to work only with the boys who could come to him. John Bosco also went out to search for the young men who could not come to him.

At one point, he asked and was given permission to give an eight day retreat to the juvenile inmates of a local jail in Turin. The place was considered a reformatory, and John Bosco knew what reform was needed, namely a reform of the heart. Over the course of the eight days, the young men who might initially have only joined the meetings to escape the boredom or work of jail, were transformed and began to look forward to each subsequent day of the retreat. With his love for the boys and ability to speak to their hearts, he reached their wills and changes began to occur.

The guards began to notice the difference in the boys' attitudes and behavior. The boys became more and more interested and excited by this priest who cared about them and was able to speak in way which they understood. By the time the eighth day of the retreat had come, the session was packed with boys eager to hear and to act. And they did take action by keeping John Bosco busy hearing their confessions. Finally, the young men said mass and received Our Lord with clean hearts and renewed minds.

Mission Improbable

The wisdom of John Bosco knew that it would be good to reward the young men for their actions, but at first, he was not able to think of a good way to do so. He finally struck upon an idea and approached the warden of the jail to ask his permission.

Meeting in the warden's office, John Bosco asked him if he could take the young men on a day's outing into the local countryside. The warden, who had spent years working with criminals, began to think how many guards he could spare to accompany this troop. Then John Bosco dropped the full request--he wanted to take the young men without any type of escort. Only he would be accompanying all of the boys throughout the day.

At this point, the warden did not know know what to do. The priest in front of him must have lost his mind if he thought that anything of the sort would ever happen. Without losing his cool, he explained to the naive priest that he might as well close down the prison because he would be absolutely sure that not one of the boys would ever return to the prison. It would be like letting the birds free from the zoo and expecting them to return before nightfall.

Calmly, John Bosco repeated his request and explained how after the retreat, the young men were in a state of grace and would be asked by him on their honor to return at the end of the country outing. He continued by sharing that he knew young men very well, and he would not need any guards to insure that their promises to return would be kept. Indeed, he was completely confident that all the boys who left would be back at the end of the outing.

Seeing that he it would not be easy to get rid of the priest with the fanciful ideas and to get back to real work, the warden assured John Bosco that he would put the matter to the Minister of the State who had authority over the reformatory. John Bosco thanked the warden and left his office.

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A Get out of Jail Pass

Now it does bear mentioning that at this time in Italy there was quite a bit of antipathy toward the Church from the government. There was actually quite a bit of opposition to the Church and the government was always looking for ways it could suppress the Church. That makes what happened next that much more remarkable.

The warden was good to his word and sent off the request although he was concerned that he would get in trouble for wasting time and energy on a ridiculous request. However, he was not prepared for the response which came when he received his request returned with the word "Granted" followed by the signature of the Minister of the State.

Still not completely convinced, the warden personally visited the Minister of the State and was told that he had indeed agreed to the request. The warden was told to make all of the arrangements to support John Bosco and the boys.

Freedom, Obedience, and Trust

The night before the outing John Bosco met with the boys who were beyond excited about the prospect of spending a day in the country and enjoying a picnic. He reminded them that he had expected all of them to honor their word that they would return to the prison at the end of the day. Some of the older boys who wanted to please John Bosco were quick to indicate that there would be dire consequences for any boy who dared to go back on their promise. John Bosco assured them all that he did not think that any threats of bodily harm were necessary as he was confident in the hearts of the boys.

The next day bright and early, John Bosco led the boys from the prison to a place in the country about four miles away. The left the confines of the reformatory past the disbelieving eyes of the warden and the guards.

During the walk to the designated spot and throughout the day John Bosco would spend time with all of the boys continuing to get to know them and insure that each one had a fine day. Of course, there was no question of that. The day was beautiful and the boys made the most of it. They arrived at the Royal Gardens of King Charles Albert outside Turin where they were joined by a fellow priest. The time quickly passed in games and delicious food.

Sure enough at the end of the day, each and every one of the young men returned to the prison. They and John Bosco had been true to their word.

Naturally, the event became the talk of the city. Everyone was amazed at what had occurred. It only brought greater attention to John Bosco's work among the boys of Turin and helped provide him with even more support for continuing to change the hearts and minds of Turin's boys.

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