The Story of the Salesian Bulletin: 146 Years Old… and Counting

(ANS – Rome) – Almost certainly a great number of readers have been receiving the monthly Salesian Bulletin (SB) for many years. One often happens to hear that their parents, grandparents and perhaps even great-grandparents read the SB. But perhaps not everyone knows how it came into being and why 146 years ago Don Bosco conceived, produced and popularized it.

The Salesian Bulletin is distributed all over the world in dozens of different languages. It has certainly changed its appearance many times, but has always been in harmony with the founder’s original SB: “the Salesian (educational) eye on the world and the eye on the Salesian world,” as the late Rector Major, Fr. Juan Edmundo Vecchi, was fond of repeating.

Don Bosco quickly understood the importance of communication and the related tools of social communication, even though at that time there was only the printing press. As soon as he finished his studies (1844) he gave the Cenni storici sulla vita del chierico Luigi Comollo (Historical notes on the life of cleric Luigi Comollo) for printing. The following year, while in the service of the Marquise Barolo, he published a booklet entitled Il divoto dell’Angelo Custode (Devotee of the Guardian Angel) and the voluminous Storia Ecclesiastica. In 1846, he edited three more devotional booklets. In 1847 it was the Storia sacra per uso delle scuole(Sacred history for use of the schools) and of Il Giovane provveduto (The Companion of Youth), a text, which had over a hundred editions-reprints during his very lifetime.

With the promulgation of freedom of the press in 1848, Don Bosco, concerned about the young, quickly conceived the tri-weekly newspaper L’Amico della Gioventù (The Friend of Youth) for them. He soon had to end the experience, but was not discouraged.

In 1851 he published a pamphlet, La chiesa cattolica-apostolica-romana (The Catholic-Apostolic-Roman Church), and given such a favorable reception, he launched his most successful publishing venture: the Letture Cattoliche (Catholic Readings), which would reach ten million copies by the time of his death (in an Italy of 30 million people). To the dozen pamphlets bearing his name, in 1855 he added the highly successful Storia d’Italia raccontata alla gioventù (History of Italy as told to young people), with twenty editions, again during his lifetime. In the five-year period 1856-1860, some twenty other titles appeared. On his own, however, in 1856 he marketed La chiave del Paradiso in mano al cattolico (The Key to Paradise in the Hands of the Catholic), an authentic bestseller of 800,000 copies with 44 editions, again during his lifetime.

In December 1871, Don Bosco obtained authorization to open his own Printing House. It immediately became involved in the scholastic sector given the new programs created after the unification of Italy: it published four series of selected Latin, Greek, and Christian authors, in addition to the Library of Italian Youth. There were also four vocabularies of Italian, Latin and Greek as well as grammar books, school texts, and supplements. In 1876, Don Bosco founded a “branch” in Genoa-Sampierdarena and in August 1877, he finally started the monthly Salesian Bulletin or Bibliofilo Cattolico (Catholic Bibliophile) for the first 4 months.

The idea of proceeding in 1877 with the publication of an informational bulletin for all people who were interested in the Salesian Work in various capacities may have been suggested to Don Bosco by the presence of similar publications by other religious Orders in the market. If these publications were sent to the Tertiaries, members, and friends of the individual Religious Families, Don Bosco could well do the same with his Cooperators, who in those very years were formally taking root as an Association.

Its Regulations prescribed, “Every month by means of a bulletin [or] printed leaflet a report of things proposed, done or proposed to be done will be given to the members.” Text later amended: “Every three months and even more often by a bulletin or printed leaflet (…).” In fact, it was immediately published monthly.

In February 1877 Don Bosco communicated the decision to print a periodical Bulletin to his collaborators, “as the newspaper of the Congregation because there are many things that will have to be communicated to the said Cooperators.” In the summer he discussed the project’s concrete problems with Fr. Barberis, and to the objection about the liability that would result from sending it free of charge, he pointed out that the readers, knowing that it was free of charge, would give more than the eventual amount requested, not counting subsequent offerings.

In the months of September-December 1877, the SB started under the name Bibliofilo cattolico o Bollettino Salesiano mensuale. The Catholic Bibliophile was a catalog aimed at publicizing Salesian editions and other publications useful to youth and clergy. In August 1877, it underwent a radical transformation. It bore the typographical indication of Sampierdarena to avoid the risk that the Turin curia would deny its imprimatur. It was 12 pages and had the following headings: To the Salesian Cooperators, Of the Cooperators, Letters of Salesian Missionaries in South America, Various Things, First Trials of Some Cooperators, Special Indulgences for the Month of August; it was followed and concluded by three dense pages of book listings.

Two were the September editions. The first with the Turin address, the second with the Genoa address. In November, Fr. Bonetti assumed the position of editor-director. From January 1878, the SB header was exclusively used. Pages varied from 8 to 20 until 1881. From 1882, the numbering was continuous up to 204 pages in 1882-1883 and 158 pages in 1888.

In the first issue of September 1877, Don Bosco indicated to the Salesian Cooperators that the SB would give them “an account of the things done or to be done in order to obtain the end we have proposed” that is, “The glory of God, the good of Civil Society.” Concretely he intended the periodical to be the normal means of maintaining the identity of thought and action between the Cooperators and the Salesians, of promoting the good press, of opposing Protestant proselytism, the corruption of morals and the irreligious and immoral press, to the detriment, especially of the young, and above all of doing good to the readers and their families.