Salesians Logo

Don Bosco Alive - Spring 2004

The Salesian in the World

The Evolution of Don Bosco’s Concept of the Salesian Cooperator
by Brittany Marie Harrison

The vocation of the Salesian Cooperator is one of the unique innovationsof St. John Bosco (Don Bosco). Originally conceived as far backas the beginning of the Oratory, when he invited his mother, (theServant of God) Margaret Occhiena Bosco, to assist him in caring forthe young boys who surrounded him, this vocation gradually developedinto something more far-reaching.

As long as Don Bosco continued to care for the young, he needed generouspeople to assist him. Among the wealthy and the poor, therewere always good hearted-people who desired to do something moreto aid Don Bosco in assisting the young. These people were not satisfiedwith merely supporting the great Salesian work with monetarydonations; they wanted to donate their time and talents, as well. Thegreat vocation of the Salesian Cooperator began to become clearer inDon Bosco’s mind and he began to organize his helpers and benefactorsinto a more cohesive unit, uniting them with the common missionand spirit of the Salesian Family. After a number of failed experiments,the likes of which always prove something is the work of God and notof men, Don Bosco finally managed to crystallize the concept of thevocation of the Salesian Cooperator.

What Don Bosco envisioned the Salesian Cooperator as, and what thepolitical and religious climate of Piedmont, the center of the Italianrevolution at the time, allowed it to be, differed somewhat. Don Boscohad hoped that the Salesian Cooperators would be an organization oflaymen and priests who, although not bound by vows, would belong tothe Society of St. Francis de Sales (Salesians) while living in their ownhomes. These people, whom we could call a type of extern group,would strive to observe the rules of the Society and assist the young inany way in which they were needed. This plan did not succeed. In themid 19th century Church the very idea of a blending of the religiousand the secular in the lives of individuals seemed entirely impossible.Following Vatican II, the possibility of such an organization became wholly achievable, and as a result many organizations, such as the ‘secular institutes’, which closely resemble Don Bosco’s original concept of the Cooperator, now exist.

So what happened to Don Bosco’s great vision of the SalesianCooperator? What became of the “Salesian in the world”? After theset back concerning the impossibility of having ‘extern members’ in1864, Don Bosco began drawing up new drafts of the rules for his “secular Salesians” in 1874. The Cooperators, during this time of foundationwere known by many different names, each one carrying with it adifferent, yet basically similar rule—there was the Union of St. Francisde Sales, the Associates of the Congregation of St. Francis de Sales,the Christian Union, and the Association of Good Works-until finally onMay 9, 1876, Pope Pius IX approved of the rule and name of the Unionof Salesian Cooperators. In approving of the rule of the SalesianCooperators Pope Pius IX pointed out to Don Bosco the importance ofadmitting women as members and ever obedient to the wishes of theHoly Father, Don Bosco readily complied.

The aim of the Salesian Cooperators was and is the same as that of theSalesians of Don Bosco and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians;namely, “the exercise of charity toward our neighbor and especiallytowards the neglected young.” Without going outside of their ordinarycircumstances, the Cooperators strive to present the world with aliving image of the Compassionate Christ, who never ceases to care forthose in need. Ever since their formal founding in 1876, theCooperators, animated by the spirit and example of their founder DonBosco, have been engaged in every form of service to the young andto the poor.

Truly the vocation of the Cooperator is a many faceted diamond; a diamond,which each Cooperator causes to shine in a brilliance and beautyall their own. Each Cooperator brings their own talents and abilitiesand offers them in communion with those of their fellow Cooperatorsin order to save the souls of all, but especially those of the young andthe poor.

In the mind of Don Bosco the identity of the Salesian Cooperator wasalways clear; how this vocation was manifested was the only thing thatevolved over time. In our era, the Cooperator is seen as a true Salesianin the world—one who can, as it were, pass between the religious andthe secular, while still managing to blend the two into a glorious harmonyof colors; a rich masterpiece of service and innovation. At thecore of this vocation is a genuine love of God and of the people He hasplaced in each one’s path. The Salesian Cooperator understands thatnothing is small in the eyes of God and that if you do what you do withpure intention of pleasing God, you can obtain that goal which youstrive after—your own sanctification and that of others. What mattersis not the job or duty of the moment, but the spirit with which it is done;the Salesian spirit that is love.