It’s been 100 years since a small group of Salesians of Don Bosco arrived in Australia. Since then, the order—originally established by St John Bosco—has been a constant presence in parish and school communities across the country. To mark the centenary, the relic statue of Don Bosco has been travelling the country for the last two months and was farewelled at a special Mass celebrated by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli on Saturday 30 September at St Margaret Mary Church in Brunswick North.

Fr William Matthews SDB, the provincial of the Salesians, expressed his gratitude to the hundreds of people who gathered for the occasion. ‘I’m very delighted to have Archbishop Comensoli here leading this Eucharist. And I thank my brother Salesians who are with me on the sanctuary and the brothers and the many sisters who are here present. And I thank all of you who are part of the Salesian family for your presence today. It means a lot.’

St John Bosco, more commonly known as ‘Don Bosco’, was born in a small village east of Turin, Italy, in 1815. He grew up on a farm and from a young age expressed a deep desire to follow God and help young people in need. At 26, he was ordained a priest and dedicated his life to helping young people become ‘good Christians and upright citizens’.

In 1859, along with 17 young men, Don Bosco established the Salesian Society (named after St Francis de Sales), which focussed on the education and care of the young, especially the poor and disadvantaged. Don Bosco also co-founded the Salesian Sisters, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, with Maria Mazzarello, and, in 1876, formed an association of lay people who shared his concern for youth. Today, there are nearly 15,000 Salesians in more than 130 different countries around the world. Don Bosco was canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1934 and is the patron saint of young people.

Fr Francis Moloney SDB, chair of the centenary celebrations committee, said he felt especially blessed and grateful to be celebrating the centenary of the Salesians in Australia. ‘I was originally attracted to the Salesians because of the great love that my father had for Don Bosco. He didn’t know anything about the Salesians; he just knew of this particularly joyful saint.’

He said the last 100 years of Salesian works in Australia have been a mix of ‘hard work’, ‘holiness’ and ‘ordinariness’. ‘But in all, a really successful 100 years, and we’re grateful to God for that,’ he said.

What will the next 100 years bring? ‘It’s a really interesting reality we face,’ reflected Fr Moloney. ‘We started with very multicultural beginnings—the first eight men that came out [to Australia] were about six nationalities, including a Palestinian. So we had everybody from the start!’

This multicultural nature has continued to characterise the Salesians. Today there are 10 Salesian communities spread across Australia, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand, with Salesians working in parishes, schools, youth centres, hostels, youth leadership training and retreat centres.

‘It’s a moment of change,’ Fr Moloney said, reflecting on the evolving face of the Salesians. ‘One would hope that the characteristics of what we do and why we do it remain firm, but the faces and the cultures of the people who will deliver it will be different. And that in some way matches the Australian situation as well.’

‘I’m quite encouraged to see this large group of multicultural people coming through the ranks, ready to take over from us older people who have done our bit for the last 30 years!’

In his homily, Archbishop Comensoli reflected on Jesus’ call to ‘become like little children’ to enter the kingdom of heaven. ‘Don Bosco found the children and young people to whom he would dedicate his life in the exact same places that Jesus found his little child [in the gospel]—in the public squares of Turin,’ he said.

‘Are not the four “locations” that characterise the Salesian way—home, church, school and playground—extensions of the “place” where Jesus found the kingdom joy modelled by children?’

‘As you celebrate this concluding Mass of the centenary of the arrival of the Salesians in Australia, might the call of the Lord to Gospel joy be the ongoing mark of your lives, and may the good of God’s little ones be the model for your actions today, tomorrow and onwards.’