Salesian Cooperators live out their faith in their own secular reality. Taking inspiration from Don Bosco’s apostolic project, they have a strong sense of communion with the other members of the Salesian Family. They commit themselves to the same mission to youth and to ordinary folk in a fraternal and united way. They work for the good of the Church and of society in a manner adapted to the educational needs of their territory and to their own concrete possibilities.
Project of Apostolic Life, Article 6
Here we celebrate some of the rich variety of ways in which our Salesian Cooperators live their vocation.
Since I made my promise in 2014 I have made some big changes professionally and personally which now means that I no longer have frequent direct contact with young people. So how do I now live out my vocation as a cooperator, especially when I do not attend any cooperator groups? In the words of St Francis De Sales I have learned to “bloom where I am planted”.
I now revel in my availability to my nephews and nieces, at what I see is the most important time of their lives, many of them being on the cusp of teenagehood and adulthood. I try to ensure that I am there to listen, guide and educate them with my Salesian spirituality and ethos being central to my relationship with them all.
In my work I am responsible for providing disabled university students with support workers. Whilst doing this it’s important to me to ensure the students feel their needs are being met and barriers are removed but also that they feel valued and that their voice matters, especially when it comes to their own education.
Prayer and my relationship with God continue to guide and strengthen me as well as provide me with the ability to find Jesus in all I do and each encounter I have.
I made my commitment the night before my 18th birthday.
My early teaching career was varied, special school and an RC primary where apparently I displayed a leaning towards the ‘naughty children’. Gosh doesn’t that phrase grate on Salesians? I soon found myself teaching predominantly boys, who had been permanently excluded with Social Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. To me they were children watched over by Don Bosco and it annoyed me intensely that children as young as 5 could be labelled by society and put on a path to Young Offenders Prisons. Here I found the De Sales quote ‘you catch more bees with a spoon of sugar than a jar full of vinegar’ working in every lesson and playtime. They just needed to be loved unconditionally and someone to try every day to teach them basic literacy skills.
I am now able to volunteer as a school pastor in a secondary school. One lunchtime, I walked out on to a playground and just knew as a Salesian that something was wrong. That inner voice said ‘Dominic Savio’. My inner voice said ‘you are joking? ’I muscled my 5 foot 3 inches through 6 foot teenage lads to the inner 2, chest to chest , posturing and glaring. I had no crucifix as we are not allowed to carry religious symbols but waded in anyway, sure that Dominic would have it covered for me. They soon became lambs. In the 20 + years I’ve been teaching and volunteering with youth work I have seen so many people publish ‘A New Way of Working’- Don Bosco called it The Preventative System and it still works best!
I have been a Salesian Cooperator for 18 years and during this time I have worked with young people through youth Clubs, Youth gatherings, children’s Liturgy.
In the last few years I wanted to do something different for young people. I thought about fostering and sharing my home with the young. By chance I came across a TV documentary entitled “Would you take in a Stranger?” I felt drawn to do so. I began to think of the many homeless on the streets and said to myself, if I offered my home to someone I could help to make their life a little better.
In September 2017 I started the process of becoming a volunteer with Nightstop Glasgow after passing the interview, many home visits and training I officially became a volunteer in January 2018. I am now ready to accept those in need into my home and hopefully make a difference in their lives.
Don Bosco calls us to befriend the young who are poor and abandoned or at risk. As a Salesian Cooperator I feel called to help those most vulnerable. In every young person there is an individual goodness, and I feel challenged to find it. Don Bosco says of the young: "You are young, you are precious, you are loved." I want to offer them friendship and love.
We meet every second Tuesday in one of our Cooperators house's. Our group numbers have fallen over the years with the death of at least 3 of our Cooperators .
We plan our yearly meetings in June and we all have an input to this, we have a varied calendar. Our theme this year was Devotion to Mary. We have visitors (speakers) coming in and each Cooperator usually takes a turn on taking the meeting and the Goodnight.
Our Cooperators were enrolled at the Brettagh Holt Salesian House in Levens. Our ages range from mid-thirties to 90 years of age. We support the local parishes of Christ the King in Milnthorpe and Holy Trinity and St George in Kendal.
There is a Salesian Spirituality Group who meet once a month to pray and reflect on the work and influence of St John Bosco. This meeting is open to anyone who is interested in learning more about Salesian Spirituality.
Co-operators are involved in organising parish groups and activities for young people there is a Rainbows Programme offered to the local Catholic Primary School for children who have suffered a loss in their young lives following family separation, divorce or death, and all the Co-operators have at some time been involved in fundraising for the Salesian Project in Dagoretti, Kenya.
The older Cooperators, following many years of very loyal service, support the Salesian work by praying regularly for all young people and those who walk beside them.
“Stay with Don Bosco”. That was the advice given to me by the late Fr Bernard Parkes in the July of 2010, as my year as part of the retreat team community at Savio House was coming to its end. Bernard recalled to me the words of Don Bosco to Valdocco’s first occupants when the time came for them to leave the Oratory. I can only imagine how those boys would be feeling – excited to embark on a new phase of their journey? Afraid that they would need to step out of the comfort zone of the Oratory? Grateful for the example and inspiration of their saintly friend? My 18-year-old self connected in some way with the experience of these boys, as I, too, craved the security, friendship, and sense of belonging that God had blessed me with in my new-found Salesian family.
This sense of belonging enabled me to remain connected to the Salesian family ever since I left Savio House, as I continue to support the Salesian mission through my involvement in various Youth Ministry initiatives. The question I am often asked is, “Why are you so involved with the Salesians?” The only answer I can give is that, like the boys at Valdocco, staying with Don Bosco has enabled me to make my fullest contribution to the world. The Salesian family is somewhere I feel I really belong, where I learn about my gifts and my limitations, where I have discovered deep and lasting friendships, and where, ultimately, I have found meaning in my life.
I would like to think that somewhere Fr Bernard is still working in his role as delegate for the Cooperators, and, as I discern where next I take my involvement with the Salesian family, he is praying for me, and smiling, as he reminds me to “Stay with Don Bosco.”
Dan wrote this reflection during his period of formation. He made his Promise in Bolton on 31 January 2020