The following article is an adaption from the Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco by Giovanni Battista Lemoyne. The TFP website will be posting similar articles about this great saint from time to time.
Don Bosco’s pious triumphs disturbed the sleep of the enemies of God and His Church to the point that they armed murderous thugs to kill him. As his good works drew much admiration across the civilized world, it would have seemed unlikely that someone would want to perpetrate such a savagely barbaric act. However, in 1880, sectarians hatched two attempts on his life that very well might have been connected.
A former Oratory student, Dasso Alessandro, who lived from the proceeds from his art in Turin, was assigned to strike the saint down in the last week of June. He presented himself at a reception, asking to speak to Don Bosco. He was ushered straight into Don Bosco’s room, which he knew since he was familiar with the layout of the house. He seemed troubled and concerned with something. However, the person in front of him, our dear Saint, Don Bosco, received him with his usual loving kindness.
As the young man kept silent and seemed overtaken by growing agitation, the Servant of God asked him: “What do you want from me? Speak up! You know Don Bosco loves you.” The young man went on his knees, broke down in tears and, sobbing, told him this ugly story: He had enrolled in the Freemasonry, and the sect had condemned Don Bosco to death. Twelve names had been drawn by lot to do the job. These twelve individuals were ordered to carry out the sentence, and each one was to try, in turn to murder the saint.
This poor wretch, Dasso Alessandro, said: “To me, of all people, it fell to be the first! And that’s what I came for! But I’ll never do any such action. That will bring upon me the vengeance of others; revealing this secret is my death sentence. I know I’m lost, but I’ll never kill Don Bosco!” He drew out his concealed weapon and hurled it to the ground.
Don Bosco lifted him and tried to calm and reassure him, but in vain. As if pushed by a mysterious force toward an abyss, the poor man dashed out of the room.
Don Bosco wrote the boy’s father a note urging him to come to the Oratory immediately and confided everything to him. However, torn by remorse, on June 23, his son jumped fully clothed into the waters of the River Po. A few customs guards managed to save him and handed him over to two policemen who took him home.
Two days later, his father—a very sensible man—wrote to Don Bosco telling him what had happened and pleading for help: “I commend my son to your inexhaustible charity, reverend father of fallen away children.” Don Bosco repeatedly met with that unfortunate father, and both agreed on the way to bring his son back to the right path while at the same time saving him from the vengeance of his accomplices.
After all that help, Don Bosco also managed to facilitate the son’s escape abroad and found a safe asylum where he lived incognito until the end of his days.
The second and more tragic attack occurred the following December. A young gentleman in his mid-twenties visited Don Bosco, who politely bid him to sit beside him on the couch. From the start, his face inspired very little confidence. A sinister look flashed from his eyes, which immediately caused Don Bosco to be on his guard and watch his moves. An ill-repressed nervousness agitated him. After sitting down, he spoke nervously about disconnected topics and sometimes gesticulated like a madman.
Lo and behold, in his agitation, a small six-shot revolver slipped from his pocket onto the couch. Without his noticing it, Don Bosco quickly grabbed it and slowly put it in his own pocket. Remember, Don Bosco had been an excellent magician in his youth, so he easily performed this quick sleight of hand.
In his nonsensical rant, the young man sometimes said provocative phrases as if trying to pick a fight. At a certain point, he looked down, stuck his right hand into his pocket and repeatedly rummaged through it. He then showed surprise and anger. He lept to his feet, looked all around him, and seemed in utter despair. As he went on with his frantic search, Don Bosco also rose from his seat and asked with all tranquility:
“What are you looking for?”
“I thought I had something here, in my pocket. Where on earth did it go?”
“Maybe you only thought you had it with you,” Don Bosco conjectured, “Perhaps you left it…”
“No, no!” the young man cried out, panting and circling the room and even entering the adjacent room.
Don Bosco quickly approached the doorway and grabbed the doorknob with his left hand, ready to open it. He then pointed the revolver at the young man and said, without flinching: “This is what you were looking for, isn’t it?”
At that, the scoundrel was stunned and tried to seize his weapon, but Don Bosco ordered with a strong voice: “Get out of here! Get out of here at once, and may God have mercy on you!” He opened the doorway and told some people in the antechamber to usher the gentleman out. The would-be murderer hesitated, but Don Bosco insisted: “Get out and don’t come back!”
At last, the criminal left. Two young men from the house, who understood what it was all about, escorted him to the street, where a group of young men was waiting and whispering discreetly next to a carriage. Figuring the attack had failed, some jumped into the carriage, which disappeared in a flash, while others ran away and left their friend mumbling as he continued down the street.