The only place where Don Bosco reveals his interiority is during his period of discernment of his vocation, when he speaks about “his style of life, certain habits of the heart, and an absolute lack of the virtues needed for the priestly state.” There is also the fact that Canon Maloria, who John Bosco maintained as confessor not only as a student in Chieri but also during his seminary years, refused to enter into the question of vocation discernment. Was it because he knew John well enough to think that some of his traits – his impetuousness, his need for attention, his pride, “the affections of the heart” – made it difficult to think of an ecclesiastical vocation? We will never know. What we do know is that in John we have a young man who is sharply aware of his own fragility and humanity, and that does us good. We also know that he longed for someone who could guide him: “How I wish I had a guide.”
We also know that one of the reasons for his wanting to be a religious was that he did not trust himself sufficiently in the ecclesiastical state. To this concern of his, Comollo’s uncle replies: let him join the diocesan seminary; with ‘ritiratezza’ and ‘fuga dalla mondanità’ he would be able to overcome his difficulties. John begins his seminary life with a certain rigour: he gives up his juggling and tricks; he wants to put an end to what he refers to as dissipation and his search for attention; and in one of his holidays as a seminarian, he decides never to go hunting again.
Giraudo also pointed out, surely because his audience consisted of bishops, the importance of the figure of Archbishop Chiaverotti, founder of the Chieri seminary. He noted the Jansenist influence, but also said it had some good effects: a very austere clergy, totally dedicated to pastoral work and the direction of souls. The archbishop made significant moves: strict selection of candidates for the seminary, by means of a tough examination, which not only John Bosco but also many of the early Salesians underwent; the decision to found a third seminary at Chieri for those who did not need to acquire civil degrees as in Turin, and anyway could not afford these; the choice of the Chieri location itself, sufficiently far away from the distractions of Turin; personal selection of professors and formators. The flourishing of sanctity in the diocese is in no small part due to the choices made by this far-sighted bishop. We have the notes made by Chiaverotti of several of his interventions in the Chieri seminary, and from these there emerges a model of priestly sanctity: total dedication to the ministry; right intention; correspondence with grace; obedience out of love; and so on. It is interesting to note that the pastoral motivation is not so much “sanctification of oneself” as “sanctification of others.”
Despite the fact that some authors tend to regard Don Bosco’s evaluation of his seminary years as largely negative (“I punti neri del seminario” – the distance from the superiors; the fact that there were seminarians without “right intention”), Giraudo feels that, from the seminary of Chieri, there emerges the young priest Don Bosco, a man who has worked on himself, and who is ready for the work of the Convitto Ecclesiastico.