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After a flop the dream came true

· The 150th anniversary of the Salesian Press ·

Don Bosco wrote that a good book ';neglected is unperturbed, in being read it teaches truths calmly'

From the printing-press to the “app”, much water has passed under the bridge; the celebration’s poster — an old typographical drawer with a sample of moveable lead type beside the vivid image of a smartphone — sums up their coexistence in the media of our time, e-books, audio-books and old-fashioned books made of paper are side by side. It is the Salesian Press, crossing the finishing-line of its first 150 years of life that is being celebrated.

This printing press, which has been active since 1862 — the decree of the Prefecture of the Province of Turin is dated 31 December 1861 — rose from the ashes of an unsuccessful editorial project. Amid the proliferation of “free newspapers” coming out in 1848 (many of them blatantly anti-clerical), Don Bosco founded and edited the newspaper L’Amico della Gioventú .

However the accounts were immediately in the red: there were only 137 subscribers in the first three-month period and by the second period they dwindled to 116. After 61 issues the priest from Turin had to throw in the towel and pay the Speirani-Ferrero Press the 272 lire that were still outstanding. Nevertheless, a few years later he managed to make his dream come true. At the National Exhibition in 1884 an enormous stand bore the sign: “Salesian paper factory, printing press, foundry, bookbindery and bookshop”. The following year, in a heartfelt appeal addressed to the Salesians, the founder both praised books in an original way and presented his clear programme of intentions.

“Even though the book does not have the intrinsic power of the living word in some circumstances, it has even greater advantages. A good book enters even homes where priests cannot enter, likewise, it is tolerated by the wicked as a memory or a gift. Introduced it does not blush, ignored it is not perturbed, read calmly it teaches truths, unappreciated it does not complain and leaves remorse that sometimes kindles a desire to know the truth — something it is always ready to teach. Sometimes a book lies on a table or a bookshelf covered in dust. No one thinks about it. Yet in a moment of loneliness, melancholy, sorrow, boredom, the need to unwind or anxiety about the future, this faithful friend shakes off its dust, opens it pages and the wonderful conversions of St Augustine, Bl. Colombians and St Ignatius are renewed”.

He continues, “Whoever gives a good book, nothing less than stirring thought of God, has already purchased incomparable merit in God’s eyes. Yet one can obtain even more. A book in a family, if it isn’t read by the him who it was meant for or given to, it is read by the son or daughter, by his friend or neighbour.... God alone knows the good a book can do in a city, in a circulating library, in the company of workers, in a hospital, donated as a token of friendship” ( Correspondence , iv, 318-321).




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 20, 2020