I’ve been involved with the Salesians for the past 5 years, having encountered them at just the right time. I have no long-winded family history of Salesian involvement, I wasn’t educated by Salesians, and my mum definitely didn’t ship me off to Dromana for camp every holidays.
I came across the Don Bosco Camp leadership program when I was 18 and, to be honest, I wasn’t all that fussed – I was 18 – my mindset was completely temporary, all that mattered was what I was doing and what my friends were doing, everything was on a week-to-week basis. I was engaged with other youth ministries at the time but the unfamiliarity of who Don Bosco was and the longevity of involvement of so many of the other young leaders that I met on my first leadership camp scared me off; I had no real intent of becoming a Salesian Leader by the end of that camp.
But in hindsight, something had obviously sparked a sense of curiosity towards the Salesians over that week. I’ve been involved in all sorts of Salesian works and communities, and last year, I was a part of the Cagliero Project and spent 12 months in Cambodia. Throughout all of this, I’ve remained curious – it’s not enough for me to see the good works Salesians are doing, or to just be told Don Bosco was a persistent and loving man – I needed to understand why it was, so I could emulate those qualities too.
I can’t really remember every Salesian event I’ve been to or why I even stuck around to begin with, but what I do remember is a familiar feeling of being loved. I see encountering the Salesians like an onion.
The first layer is that initial joy, the fun, the laughter, the games – a happy time.
The second layer is realising that that feeling of joy and happiness is actually a feeling of love.
The third layer is realising that the Salesian leaders, Brothers, Sisters and Priests can show you that love because of the example of Don Bosco.
The fourth layer is the realisation that Don Bosco couldn’t become the example he is to us alone – and that it was only possible with the assistance of Jesus and Mary.
The final layer is realising that all of this, all of these layers are manifestations of God. And so, if we look at all our own different stories of encountering the Salesians, many of them would direct back to that feeling of love.
Last year, early on in my time in Cambodia, I was walking with some boarding students, and one of the boys said to me “Teacher, tonight we have the boarder’s birthday party” and somewhat jokingly I replied to him saying “Oh, can I come?” and I remember he looked back at me, his face confused and he said “Yes Teacher, of course… you are part of the family”.
And there again was that intersection of love, family and the Salesians. For me, Cambodia and my Buddhist students were the real beginning of understanding this ‘family spirit’ we talk about as Salesians; what we really mean when we say, “sons and daughters of Don Bosco”. Despite the fact they may differ in religious belief, I’ve never met young people that carry Don Bosco so steadfastly in their heart.
My time in Cambodia was pivotal for me in understanding why I call myself Salesian, and only through that heart of Don Bosco that my students carried was I able to come to such an understanding. Unsurprisingly, it linked back to that relationship of love, Don Bosco and Jesus. Through his example, Don Bosco has given us as Salesians the means to act like a bridge for young people to meet God, and it’s because of the creativity that exists within us as a Salesian Family that, instead of seeing where the bridge leads, we initially see the first steps, the first layer of joy, fun and happiness.
I’ve seen Salesian schools bursting with facilities for their students that Cambodia could barely even dream of but I’m not sure they would even have use for any of the latest technologies or resources. If, in our Salesian setting, we had all the latest technology on offer, but were a School functioning with 10% love, Don Bosco would probably walk through the corridors and give a mere nod as he saw everything. But if Don Bosco was to wander through a school in desperate need of an upgrade, yet see it functioning with 110% love, I’m sure that would bring him great joy.
Recently, I was asked to share what I think the future is for my generation in relation to Salesian Youth Ministry and the Salesian Family. I answered that many of the young Salesians (lay and religious) that come to Salesian events are familiar faces. They always show up, but for each time that they show up we need to remind ourselves that they need to be and need to feel invited; they need to feel wanted and loved.
Don Bosco didn’t achieve the relationships he did with his young boys in the oratory because he expected them to show up; he invited them, and kept inviting them. So when I think about the future for our young people, I think about a future youth ministry and Salesian Family that can thrive if we invite young people to fully participate in the Salesian mission.
When we think about the future and where to next as a Salesian Family, we are forced to recognise we are well and truly out of our comfort zone, but not out of our depth. I think that it is through the young people of our Salesian family that we can do away with that fear of discomfort. Our young people show up despite commitments that force them to think otherwise, they go to church in an era that says the church is dead and young people have no respect for religion, and they continually try to not let go of what initially sparked their joy for being Salesian. So, when I think about the future for our young people I see people that are seeking to collaborate with SDBs and FMAs, and who have the willingness to carry Don Bosco in their heart. It’s a future of combined effort, that beats with one heart that makes us Salesian.
Be humble, steadfast, and strong! – Don Bosco
Teaghan Dolan is a much-loved contributor to the Salesian Youth Movement in Australia and Cambodia. This article is adapted from the stirring speech she delivered at the Salesian Family Dinner celebration for Don Bosco’s Birthday.
Reproduced with permission from the Australian Salesian Bulletin, a publication of the Salesians of Don Bosco Australia-Pacific.