A great family from the outset.
The history of the Salesian Family finds its beginnings in the first half of the 19th century in the earliest form of the Congregation, made up of Salesian religious and lay Cooperators, and with a model of spirituality: St Francis de Sales.
During his life St John Bosco always needed everyone else: at the Becchi he needed a special mother and Fr Calosso, and everyone else in the village who helped him in various ways. In Chieri too during his teenage years he needed good friends like Luigi Comollo and Giacomo Levi known as Jonah, He needed hospitality and work in order to study. Also in Turin at the beginning of his pastoral work he needed a holy priest, Fr Cafasso, who guided him with regard to his future, and the Marchioness Barolo, Fr Borel.
He needed so many priests and lay people (the aristocracy, simple workers, businessmen) who in various ways collaborated in the work of the oratories. He needed special women like Mamma Margaret and her sister, Rua's mother and Michael Magone's too, and Canon Gastaldi's mother, He needed the boys who lives he saved, and someone we would not have expected -- Ratazzi. It almost seems as if the Lord had led Don Bosco through various experiences to what would then become his way of working: collaboration.
In one of his writings he describes the earliest form of what he then called the "Salesian Congregation"
"In order to preserve the unity of spirit and discipline on which a good outcome for the oratories depends, from 1844 some of the clergy came together to form a kind of congregation helping one another through example and instruction. Although no vows were made, in practice the rules set out therein were observed, i.e. the Salesian Constitutions that were written from 1858 onwards."
Along with them, gathered around Don Bosco and inspired by St Francis de Sales, Christian lay men and women also worked for the good of the young people in the city's oratories. The Congregation, first established under a single form of aggregation, was from 1859 organised into two categories: one made up of religious Salesians of the Pious Society of "St Francis de Sales" (1874) and the other of lay people involved in the educational work of the oratories under the name of "Pious Union of Salesian Cooperators" (1876). The Cooperators, working alongside the religious with close cooperation in the educational and evangelising mission.
In 1871 Don Bosco announced to the “Superior Chapter” his intention to establish a further Congregation that would look after girls. The Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians was formed in the summer of 1872 and Mary Domenica Mazzarello was its first superior. This time it was a question of religious women with canonical vows and whose mission was similar to that of the Salesian religious.
The Salesian Family with three branches (religious men, women and cooperators) was laboriously brought to life during the years leading up to 1877.. Between 1874 and 1876 Don Bosco increased his efforts to also guarantee the place that lay people, in his opinion, had in the Salesian Congregation. He drew up a number of manuscripts which he disseminated through the Press: Christian Union (1874), Association of Good Works (1875), Salesian Cooperators (1876).
By this time the fraternity between the Salesians, Salesian Sisters and Cooperators was tangible and close around the Superior of the Congregation, who was recognised as being at the centre of their structural system. They pursued the same moral (sanctification) and social (particular apostolic service) ends according to values and a programme which they shared in common to the extent that the status, religious or otherwise, of each one permitted. This understanding was ensured above all by a system of communication and governance structures, over which Don Bosco was particularly attentive. The Salesian Bulletin was a great instrument of unity and cohesion. The Cooperators' conferences, about two a year, exercised this function in principle. Family information had to circulate not only from the superior to the Cooperator, but also vice versa.
Don Bosco's death was certainly a delicate moment for the Salesian Family. On the occasion of the funeral, Fr Michael Rua, the first successor, realised that the founder left behind not only great admiration among the people, but also an institutional legacy that we call the Salesian Family. In fact, along with the Salesians and the FMA, the Cooperators and the Past Pupils also reacted profoundly. Pope Leo XIII confirmed Fr Rua as the legitimate successor at the head of the Congregation and all the groups of the family also accepted this choice. The Pope treated him as the representative of all the groups: "Yes, gladly and heartily I bless you, your Confreres, the FMA, your good Cooperators and all those who are close to your heart."
From Don Bosco's first successor to today, a vast movement of people has gathered under the charism of the Salesian Family. As of 2021 there are no fewer than 32 groups of religious and lay people in the world who pursue the pastoral mission of St John Bosco: the salvation of the young and the needy.