SALESIAN PONTIFICAL UNIVERSITY
Author: Fr. Francis Vincent Oliva Gustilo, SDB
Title: Fr. Rinaldi’s Thought on the Salesian Spirit
Adviser: Fr. Mario Midali, SDB, SThD
Degree: Licentiate in Sacred Theology
Specialization: Salesian Spirituality
In the light of the Second Vatican Council, the Salesian Charism signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to St John Bosco, the founder, and eventually to his followers in the Society of St. Francis de Sales. The Salesian Spirit is how St. John Bosco responded positively and uniquely to this charismatic gift of the Spirit for the good of the Church particularly in his mission among the young. This Charism-Spirit tandem is what Vatican II properly calls as the Identity of the Religious Congregation. Since over a century has passed since this Charism-Spirit has been handed over to the next generation Salesians, the question is whether the twentieth century Salesians live up to their identity as Salesians of Don Bosco. A correct description of the Salesian Spirit is therefore in store. This paper intends to trace from the writings of the third Successor of St John Bosco, Fr. Philip Rinaldi, an apt and authentic description and interpretation of the said spirit.
Two life-engaging elements of Fr Philip Rinaldi triggered the main structure of this paper. First, he was for a time (1914-1922) leading a group of women in Turin who desired to do the ministry of St. John Bosco yet lived with their families. He traced out for them the spirit behind the work of Don Bosco through semi-weekly conferences which are preserved in the notebooks of one of these women, Luigina Carpanera, who diligently documented these word-for-word. Second, in 1922, Fr. Rinaldi assumed the highest post in the Society of St. Francis de Sales becoming the third successor of St. John Bosco. On his watch at the helm, Don Bosco was declared Blessed by Pope Pius XI in 1929. Thus, a number of Fr. Rinaldi’s circular letters to the Salesians described his understanding of the spirit of Blessed John Bosco. These were meant to spur the Salesians on to greater efforts to be congruent and faithful to their vocational identity. This paper compares these two descriptions: one verbal but faithfully transcribed, and the other written and well- pondered on, to check the consistency and development of thought by Fr. Rinaldi on the theme of the Salesian Spirit.
The descriptive-comparative analysis of the The Notebooks of Luigina Carpanera and the Circular Letters of the Third Sucessor shows little difference between what Fr Rinaldi expounded to the women (Zelatrici di Maria Ausiliatrice) and to the Salesians. If any, the circular letters, which came later and were in the context of the recognition of Don Bosco as a saintly founder, solely gave greater precision when speaking of the core element of the Salesian Spirit, that is, Don Bosco’s zeal for souls. Though presenting substantially the same constitutive elements of the Salesian spirit, each of the two documents brings about some emphases, which only serve to give a fuller view of Fr. Rinaldi’s mind on the said spirit. The conclusion is to consider both the Carpanera notebooks and the Circular Letters as complementary documents to know the authentic interpretation of the Salesian spirit that needs to be developed by whoever desires to be identified with Don Bosco.