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by Fr. Vincent Vaz, S.D.B.
A Schoolboy Saint
When Dominic Savio passed away to eternity on March 9, 1857, he was still 24 days short of his fifteenth birthday. The first edition of his life written by Don Bosco, appeared in January 1859 under the title, "The Life of Dominic Savio, pupil of the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales." A pupil! Just that, and yet a saint!
It is marvelous to note that out of the 198 companions of Dominic Savio in the Oratory, twenty-eight were alive in 1908 to testify on oath to his virtues as eye-witnesses.
Most memorial day
The parents of Dominic Savio brought up their children in the love of God and the practice of the Catholic faith. Right from his tender years, Dominic was given to piety. By the age of four, he could recite his prayers by himself, and would often withdraw into a corner of the house to pray. At the age of five, he loved to go to church with his mother and serve Holy Mass. If the door of the church was closed when they arrived, Dominic would kneel outside the door and pray.
His obedience was always prompt. More than that, he would try to anticipate his parents' wishes. And when Charles returned home after work, Dominic would run to embrace him and fuss over him with a thousand and one courtesies. "How tired you look, daddy! You work so hard for me and yet I am only a bother. I will ask the Lord to give you strength and make me good."
Easter Sunday, April 8, 1849, was his greatest day. It was the day of his First Holy Communion. Years later, his face would glow whenever he remembered that day. "It was the best day of my life - a magnificent day, indeed!"
The previous night he begged forgiveness from his mother. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I've given you, mamma. I promise to do better, to study hard and be obedient." Brigid couldn't contain her tears as she replied, "All is forgotten, Dominic. Ask God to keep you good always, and pray for daddy and me."
The resolutions Dominic took on that day are his most important legacy to youth. He renewed them often during his life and remained ever faithful to them.
1. I will go to Confession often and receive Holy Communion as often as my confessor allows. 2. I will keep feast days holy. 3. My friends shall be Jesus and Mary. 4. Death but not sin.
Under Don Bosco's guidance
Don Bosco's name was well-known in the area. Dominic Savio longed to be enrolled in Don Bosco's Oratory in Turin. When a friend, Angelo Savio, asked him why, he replied, "I want to be a priest, the better to save my soul and do good to others."
Dominic Savio met Don Bosco for the first time on October 2, 1854, in Becchi. Dominic was twelve years old, and Don Bosco thirty-eight. "I see good stuff in you," Don Bosco said. Dominic Savio immediately surrendered himself to Don Bosco's care: "You be the tailor and I'll be the cloth. Take me and make of me a beautiful garment for the Lord."
How wonderfully this came true! Dominic Savio entered the Oratory on October 29, that same year, and began taking giant leaps towards sanctity under the wise direction of Don Bosco.
When he entered Don Bosco's room, he noticed the words "Give me souls, take away the rest," written in large letters. "So here you do business in souls. Take mine as well," he exclaimed.
He listened carefully to Don Bosco's sermons. One of them was on sanctity. Don Bosco explained how it is God's will that we all become saints; that it is easy to become a saint; and that a great reward awaits us in heaven if we become saints.
A determination to become a saint grew within his heart. "I long to be a saint," he confided to Don Bosco. "I didn't know it was so easy. Now that I am sure I can be happy and holy too, I firmly want it. Please tell me what I should do."
Dominic Savio would have liked to do painful penances. Don Bosco forbade him to do so. Instead he advised him to cultivate a steady, moderate cheerfulness. He was to pay attention to his duties of study and prayer, and never to miss recreation.
One time, two boys filled the school stove with snow and garbage during the cold winter months. When the teacher came back into the room, they falsely accused Dominic of doing the "dirty" deed. Although disciplined in front of the entire class, Dominic refused to tell on the two mischievous boys. When the truth was later revealed, Dominic was asked why he didn't confess to his innocence. He remarked that he was imitating Our Lord, Who remained silent during His persecutions and crucifixion.
Another time he stopped a terrific stone-throwing fight between two angry boys. Holding up a little crucifix between them, he said, "Before you fight, look at this and say, 'Jesus Christ was innocent and He died forgiving His murderers. I am a sinner, and I am going to hurt Him by not forgiving my enemies.' Then you can start - and throw your first stone at me!"
The two boys were so ashamed of themselves that they apologized, and promised to go to confession too.
Apostle of Mary Immaculate
On the evening of December 8, on Don Bosco's advice, Dominic knelt before the altar of Our Lady and entrusted himself entirely to her. "Dear Mother Mary," he prayed, "I give you my heart. Keep it with you forever. Jesus and Mary, always be my friends. But I beg you, let me die rather than have the misfortune of committing a single sin."
He became an apostle of Mary in the Oratory. He went about doing good. He befriended the lonely, cheered up the downcast, welcomed newcomers, stopped disorders, taught catechism, promoted piety, did everything to win souls for Christ. The month of May which was kept in honour of Mary, was his favourite month for spreading devotion to Our Lady. He founded a special group called the Company of Mary Immaculate who by their word and example would inspire others to raise the tone of their lives. Many famous Salesians rose from the ranks of this core group.
Heaven opens its gates
On the night of March 9, 1857, Dominic called out to his father Charles: "Daddy, it's time. Take the prayer book and recite the prayers for a happy death." The mother burst into tears and left the room.
As his dad read the words, "When at length my soul, admitted to your presence, shall first behold the immortal splendour of your majesty, reject it not, but receive me into the loving bosom of your mercy, where I may ever sing your praises." Dominic whispered: "Yes, that is all I want. To sing the eternal praises of God!" Then after a little while, "Good bye, daddy, goodbye! … Oh, what a beautiful thing I see!" and with a sweet smile on his lips, he breathed his last.
When Pius XI declared the heroicity of the virtues of Dominic Savio on June 9, 1933, he uttered these touching words: "This boy is a very short space became a little, or rather a great giant of the spirit. At 15 - a true and perfect example of Christian life, with those characteristics which we need in our day for our youth. His was indeed the perfection of Christian life, a life which derived its strength from three main springs: purity, piety and zeal."
Dominic Savio was beatified on March 3, 1950, by Pius XII and was canonized by the same Pope on June 12, 1954.
Dominic is the patron saint of choir boys and of the falsely accused.
His birthplace is now a retreat house for teenagers; the home where he grew up in Morialdo is now a retreat house for children.
St Dominic Savio, pray for us.