Saturday, March 01, 2008

Don Bosco and the Alumni

Some days ago, I was surfing the net when I chanced upon a blog entry of Joey, a former student in Canlubang. I taught English to his class more than five years ago. Now, he’s wrapping up his studies in a big university in Manila. Reaching the end of his entry, he wrote this post script:

“By the way…I’d like to reconnect with those persons whom I have been close to before but haven’t have the time lately to exchange updates. Coach if you’re reading this, you’re one of those.”

This line struck me because of two reasons:

1. His grammar was perfect. I didn’t need to scratch my head out of irritation. He had potential then; reading his work, I can say that he has improved a lot.

2. The “coach” to whom he addressed this line was me.

No, I did not do any coaching stint in Canlubang. But I remember that he started using that in addressing me after reading the book “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

You see, I am glad when students like Joey keep in touch once in a while. And despite the fact that they must have met tons of brilliant teachers, they still remember me. I am sure, Fr. Nioret (my novice master) must have experienced so many incidents like these being a seasoned teacher himself.

During the late 1900’s, when the information highway was still far from being conceived and blogs were far from being in vogue, I learned that Don Bosco would meet his boys who once attended the Oratory, or better known as “alumni.”

The alumni would throw a party for his sake on his name day each year when he was still alive.

Allow me to quote lengthily from the 14th volume of the Biographical Memoirs.

“In 1879, more than 60 alumni, all united as brothers regardless of rank, social position or merit, sat in the dining room to honor Don Bosco. Their toasts recalled the early days, extolled the progress, forecast the future, or just reminisced about incidents in Don Bosco’s life.

Don Bosco thanked God for having granted him the joy of seeing himself surrounded by a crowd of his earlier pupils, and he exhorted them to persevere in virtue, wishfully inviting them to return for these heartwarming gatherings for at least another hundred years.”

In another gathering, Don Bosco delivered this piece for his alumni:

“My dear sons, you cannot imagine the joy I feel at seeing you around me once again; I myself can never put it into words. (His voice broke and everyone was moved.) I have always known that I care for you, but today my heart incontestably proves it. I am and always will be your most affectionate and loving father.

I would dearly love to see you and talk more frequently with you, but most of you rarely get to Turin, and more often than not I am away, and so we miss each other. I hope that from now on we shall be able to get together at least once a year. ”

In the 13th volume of the Biographical Memoirs, Don Bosco went on with another anecdote:

Let me tell you what happened to me just a few weeks ago. Early this month an army captain was seen walking around the church of Mary Help of Christians and the Oratory wall. He seemed to be looking for something which was no longer there. After a futile search, he asked one of us who was walking into the grounds, “Would you please tell me where Don Bosco’s Oratory is?”

“Right here, sir.”

“Really? There used to be a meadow here once, and a shabby little house over there which threatened to fall at any moment. Then there was also a shabby looking shed which served as a chapel and could not be seen from the outside.”

“I have often heard how things were at the beginning, just as you described them.” came the answer. “But I did not have the chance to see them. Definitely this is the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales. I f you would like to come inside, you are most welcome.”

The captain came in, thoroughly looked at everything, and then asked with astonishment, “and where is Don Bosco’s room?”

“Up there.”

“Could I talk to him?”

“I believe so.”

He was introduced to me. As soon as he saw me, he exclaimed, “Oh, Don Bosco, do you still recognize me, and you talked to me and were concerned about me several times. Don’t you remember a certain V…who caused you so much trouble and worry in 1847, 1848, 1849?” Don’t you recall the many times you told me to keep quiet in church and kept me close to you during catechism class lest I cause trouble? And how seldom I went to confession?

“Oh, I surely remember that. Yes, I even recall how, when the bell rang, you used to duck into the church by one door and dash out the other, forcing me to chase you.”

“I never forgot you or the Oratory. I got to Turin just a short while ago and came right over to see you. Now I want you to hear my confession.”

“What prompted you to make your confession?” Do you know his answer?

“Seeing you again,” he said, “reminded me of all the tricks you used to keep me on the right path: the words you used to whisper in my ear, and your exhortations to go to confession. These things prompted me to do it.”

Don Bosco must have realized how powerful his influence over his boys that he wanted to always keep in touch with them despite the fact that they were no longer attending the Oratory and even if they’re all grown ups already.

And as an educator bearing his name, I am edified to follow his example.

Our alumni thirst for the presence of their Salesian brothers and priests who were their friends, playmates, coaches, confidants, teachers and a lot more!

As we return to Don Bosco, let us not forget to bring them along.