About 2000 people gathered in the oval at St John Bosco Catholic Primary Engadine for a combined school mass to celebrate the 200th anniversary of John Bosco, whose values are at the core of the community.
Though 67 millimetres of rain had hit the suburb the night before the mass, there were no damp spirits as students and staff from St John Bosco College, St John Bosco Catholic Primary and the Dunlea Centre (the original BoysTown site which runs a therapeutic program for adolescents with behavioural problems) celebrated the legacy of the saint.
John Bosco was remembered for his work as founder of the Sallesian religious order dedicated to the service of young people. At his death in 1888 there were 250 Sallesian houses globally, and with about 130,000 children in their care they had 18,000 apprentices graduate each year.
The Most Reverend Anthony Fisher OP led the bicentenary mass, his first at a school as Archbishop of Sydney.
In his homily he spoke of Don Bosco’s poor beginning, which gave way to priesthood and a life helping disadvantaged and marginalised youth, some headed for the gallows.
Archbishop Anthony said Don Bosco’s intervention gave the young men he spoke to and sheltered the confidence to build happy lives.
“Some thought Don Bosco was a saint, some thought he was mad, some plotted against him, but he persevered,” the Archbishop said.
“He retained his equanimity, that happiness of divine peace. He maintained a quite extraordinary sense of the dignity of each young person, however degraded their condition or past behaviour, and a determination to raise them up to more or better.”
Annaliese Cartwright, 16, was among a group of seven Year 11 drama students from the College who scripted a brief history of Don Bosco’s life and enacted it during the mass.
“I was struck by the way that he came from nothing and built it all up to help people who also came from nothing,’’ she said.
Drama teacher Rachel Kennedy said the performance was a departure from the students’ usual classwork work and they performed well to an attentive crowd.
“You have that point at the end where you see the vision of Don Bosco being lived out 200 years later which is pretty impressive,’’ she said.
College principal Damien Carlton said the bicentenary celebration was a community effort.
“The Sallesian presence in Engadine is a very powerful presence and coming together like this was a good way to celebrate the spirit and charism of Don Bosco,’’ he said.
“It’s an excellent charism, one focused on bringing joy to people’s lives through the element of love.”
Primary principal Maureen Higgs said she was proud of the way the students had taken part in the day.
“The celebration today was a wonderful way to start a whole year of celebrations as we remember the bicentenary of St John Bosco,’’ she said.
“It was lovely to see both the primary school and the high school children here celebrating together this wonderful event.”