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placeholder May 18, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA
St. Ambrose, a Salesian parish, celebrated its 100th anniversary beginning in December 2008.
Catholic Voice file photo

Salesians have long record of ministry in East Bay

The Salesians have a San Francisco archbishop to thank for their arrival to the U.S. in 1897. Archbishop Patrick Riordan had sought from Pope Leo III pastoral assistance in ministering to the growing Italian immigrant community in The City.



Name: The Society of St. Francis de Sales (Salesians)

By St. John Bosco in Italy

Arrived in Bay Area:
1897 in San Francisco

Original ministries: assistance of immigrants, which later moved to the parishes

Current ministries:
education, ministry to youth

Number worldwide:

Number in East Bay: 18

Where stationed here: Salesian High School, Richmond; West Contra Costa County Salesians Boys and Girls Club (San Pablo); St. Ambrose Parish, Berkeley; and the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall, an affiliate of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley

For information:
The Salesians crossed the Bay in 1902 to work with Italian immigrants in Oakland, but soon found themselves offering assistance to Portuguese and Mexican families. This outreach to immigrants led to the development of the parishes of Mary, Help of Christians, and St. Joseph. According to Salesian historian Father Joseph Boenzi, both parishes had extensive catechetical programs as well as youth programs that included athletic and artistic formation, in the tradition of St. John Bosco, the Salesian founder.

When the Salesians divided into two provinces in 1926, they selected San Francisco for their western U.S. headquarters. Soon the new provincial council bought farm land in the rural area between Richmond and San Pablo. Then the congregation opened a preparatory seminary and novitiate on the property. A house of studies for young professed Salesians also opened there so that students could take courses at the nearby University of California and at Saint Mary's College in Moraga.

The Salesians moved their professed and novice students to the east coast while the preparatory high school seminary remained until 1960, when the facility was transformed into Salesian High School, now Salesian College Preparatory, in Richmond.

Meanwhile summer youth programs, hosted on the property, were being developed. In 1965, the Salesians co-sponsored what would become the West Contra Costa County Boys and Girls Club.

In 1971, the Salesians of the San Francisco province decided to bring their young men in the last years of their formation to the priesthood from the congregation's schools and centers in Europe and the eastern U.S. to Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. The Salesians continued to fine tune and solidify their priest formation program which led to the 1974 opening of Don Bosco Hall as a house of studies and theological formation in Berkeley.

In 1984, the Salesians of California established the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall as an international formation and renewal program affiliated with the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at the GTU.

This year Salesian communities, which number more than 15,000 members worldwide, counting bishops and novices — are honoring and celebrating the life and ministry of St. John Bosco on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Don Bosco was the youngest of three sons born to Francesco and Margherita Bosco. He grew up in a small town near Turin, Italy, in severe poverty. Ordained in 1841, Don Bosco dedicated his life to serving and educating poor, homeless boys and young men.

He set up workshops to train shoemakers, tailors, ironworkers and others. Many people moved to the Turin area to came to assist Don Bosco in his ministry and the nucleus of a religious community, the Society of St. Francis de Sales that later became known as the Salesians. After setting up a religious community for the men, he worked with Mary Mazzarello to establish a religious community for women called the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians or the Salesian Sisters. At least 30 groups formed over the years that found inspiration from the charism and style of Don Bosco.

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