Angels in the Life of Saint John Bosco
Don Bosco and il Grigio (the gray one)
Making the statement, "The chapter would not be complete without...." becomes a pat phrase, when speaking of Don Bosco. Il Grigio, the gray dog, really had nothing to do with Don Bosco's ministry, but very possibly, he had a lot to do with his ability to perform his ministry. Don Bosco actually devoted the last chapter of his autobiography, Memoirs of the Oratory, to his good friend, Il Grigio. So if it was important enough for the master to talk about him, we can also share about the gray dog.
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We have to preface it by telling you that a lot of people didn't like Don Bosco, probably more hated him than loved him. Attempts on Don Bosco's life became a commonplace occurrence. Either dissident religious groups wanted to get him, or political groups. But between the two, he really had to be on his toes. It got to the point where he could pretty well sense when he was being set up for an attempt on his life. Usually, someone would come and ask him to go to the home of a sick person, to administer the last sacraments of the Church. That's where he was most vulnerable. Most times, he would try to bring two or more of his four strong young people with him for protection. But there were times, when he was alone on the street, or was not able to bring anyone with him. That's when he would find Il Grigio. No one ever knew where he came from, or where he would go after the incidents.
The first instance took place in 1854, when Don Bosco was returning home late at night. He was in a very bad section of Turin. He saw two men in front of him, walking slowly, keeping up with his pace. He wasn't sure they were after him, but as he speeded up, they speeded up; if he slowed down, they did the same. He crossed to the other side of the street. When they did the same, he knew he was in trouble. He turned around to retreat, but they jumped him and threw a black cloak over his head. He tried to fight them, but it was no use. They were attempting to jam a cloth inside his mouth, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a huge, gray, hideous looking mastiff emerged from the darkness, and came charging at them. His growls sounded like those of a wolf or a bear. He lunged at Don Bosco's attackers. They were frightened right down to their toes. They pleaded with Don Bosco to call him off. He would agree to, when they agreed to stop accosting passersby. They ran for their life. Il Grigio didn't chase them. He stayed by Don Bosco's side.
From that time on, whenever Don Bosco came home late, after he passed the last of the buildings, Il Grigio would come from out of nowhere, to walk him home. Many people from the Oratory saw Il Grigio. One time he barged into the Oratory. Everyone was frightened. But then he ran up to Don Bosco, nuzzled his face into his friend and ran off. Don Bosco never made a big deal about Il Grigio, who he was, where he came from, why he stayed around for thirty years.
Don Bosco writes that the last time he saw Il Grigio was in 1866. But he finished writing his memoirs some years before he died, so he did not chronicle all his adventures with Il Grigio. There is a recorded incident that Il Grigio accompanied Don Bosco on the road to Ventimiglia, near the French border, as late as 1883. When Don Bosco shared this with a friend, she marveled, because dogs just don't live that long. Don Bosco smiled and said, "Well, maybe it was his son or grandson." He didn't want to get into it with her. The Salesians sisters testified that they experienced Il Grigio's protection, on three occasions between 1893 and 1930.
Who or what was Il Grigio? Many Salesians said, they had seen him. Did he protect Don Bosco and the Salesians for 80 years? His origins have never been officially investigated, but there are theories. In 1870, Don Bosco commented, "It sounds ridiculous to call him an Angel, yet he is no ordinary dog..." Our only comment is, why not an Angel?