Institute of Salesian Studies
History of the Institute of Salesian Spirituality
The first Salesians found their sure guide in Don Bosco. They learned to model their lives on his. We too find our model in him. (C SDB 17)
In January 1983, the San Francisco and New Rochelle provincial councils of the Salesian Society decided to work together to respond to a long-felt need for the creation of a Salesian study center. This center was to provide a program in which the character of Salesian spirituality, research into the life and times of the Founder, and an appreciation of the Salesian educational heritage would be subjects of intensive study and inquiry. At the time the only centers that explored these topics were in Italy and Latin America; many Salesians were precluded from reaping the benefits of such study because of language barriers. It was therefore decided that the research center would be based in the United States where English would form the primary language for instruction and research.
A committee led by Fr Arthur Lenti studied the issues and developed a program for Salesian studies. Their program was approved at the November 1983 inter-provincial meeting at New Rochelle, NY. Because of the proximity of the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California, Don Bosco Hall in Berkeley was designated as the most suitable location for the newly named “Institute of Salesian Studies.”
As planned, instruction began on September 7, 1984, with six participants from the North American provinces and Australia. Fr Thomas Prendiville guided the new project during its first year. The first year concluded with a “Salesian Heritage Tour” to the lands of St Francis de Sales, St John Bosco and Mother Mazzarello. This activity was such an enriching and stimulating experience that it was repeated in subsequent years.
In 1985, Fr John Itzaina succeeded Fr Prendiville as director of Don Bosco Hall when the latter was chosen as provincial superior for the Salesians of San Francisco. After its first year, the ISS program began to attract applicants from various parts of the world – India, Ethiopia, Australia, Hong Kong, Great Britain as well as the United States and Canada. This worldwide participation began to fulfill one of the Institute's primary goals: a regional center of study and research in the context of a program of Salesian and theological renewal.
The 1986 provincial chapter of the Salesians of the San Francisco province affirmed its commitment to the ISS when it declared: “The chapter endorses and supports the Institute of Salesian Studies in Berkeley as foundational to the development of our Salesian charism in today's world.” Further encouragement was enunciated at the meeting of the English-speaking region in Ipswich in 1987 when its members unanimously called for the Institute to become a center of Salesian research as well as renewal for the entire region. The group averred further that the presence of the ISS in the region played an essential role for ongoing formation.
The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians became involved in the ISS at the invitation of Fr Prendiville, offering prayer experiences and background courses in Mother Mazzarello and Marian spirituality. These began as weekend-experiences in 1985. In 1992, a Salesian Sister became a part-time member of the ISS staff, and in 1997, two Salesian Sisters became members of the Core Team.
A significant step towards strengthening the identity of the ISS as a center of serious study and research was reached through the affiliation with the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (DSPT#, a founding member school of the GTU. Beginning with a loose affiliation in 1986, DSPT faculty helped the Salesians to accredit ISS courses in the context of the GTU. Salesians came on to the DSPT faculty, first as invited lecturers, and eventually as adjunct and full-time faculty. The Salesian spirituality curriculum became an integral part of the DSPT in 1999.
To further research in Salesian historical, theological and educational reflection, the ISS began publication of Journal of Salesian Studies in 1990. The Journal appears twice each year and has a distribution of over 800.
At present there is an ongoing movement of closer collaboration with other Salesian study centers throughout the world, especially with the Università Pontificia Salesiana #UPS) in Rome, and the Centro de Formación Permanente in Quito.