Saint Dominic Savio, A Model for Youth

May 6th is the traditional feast of St Dominic Savio, the holy teenager who embraced the spirituality of St John Bosco and the Salesian community he founded. God’s greatness in Dominic’s life was that of executing the normal duties in an extraordinary way through love.

Dominic was born on April 2, 1842, in Northern Italy, two miles away from the town of Chieri. The second of eleven children born to Charles and Brigid Savio, Dominic knew what it means to be poor and hard-working. However, in spite of that hardship, he learned the art of holiness. All the information we know about him was handed to us by the biography which was written by St John Bosco as well as the witness of family and friends.

Dominic attended the Oratory of St Francis De Sales, a school and youth centre and hospice, founded by Don Bosco. The young Dominic was very intelligent and appreciated so much both school and play. His life story tells us that he nourished an outstanding control over his emotions even though he could be as angry as his companions. His amicable spirit coupled with his leadership qualities and a powerful sense of duty shined through him. Dominic was a prayerful person whilst his spirituality all the more matured.

The Savio family went to church in Murialdo town. The parish priest of the town church, Father John Lucca, was familiar to them, observing the frequent presence of Dominic in church. Dominic’s interest paved for him the way of learning how to serve the Mass on a daily basis. Since Dominic was so devout Father Lucca decided to let him make his First Communion at seven years of age.

Just before his first Communion, Dominic felt the need to compose four resolutions which were really mature for a seven year old boy. These were the following: First, I will go to Confession and Communion as often as my confessor will allow. Second, I will sanctify Sundays and holy days in a special way. Third, Jesus and Mary will be my friends. Fourth, death, but not sin. He lived these promises with utmost fidelity.

It was in the early October of 1854 when Dominic, then twelve-and-a-half years old, arrived in Turin at Don Bosco’s Oratory of St Francis De Sales. After his arrival Domnic went to see Don Bosco in his office. He saw hanging on the priest’s door the saying: Da mihi animas caetera tolle, that is Give me souls: take away the rest. When he asked Don Bosco what it meant, although the teenager did not completely comprehend what it meant, a seed was planted in his heart. Then Don Bosco told him: I am very concerned that I work hard to help people and myself save our souls by following Jesus, nothing else really matters.

Dominic had a great love for Mother Mary. In fact, when on December 8, 1854, Pope Blessed Pius IX proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Don Bosco and the Salesians celebrated with great joy that special day, offering themselves Mary. On that day Dominic not only remembered his first Communion resolutions but renewed them. Thanks to that renewal he grew so much in holiness that Don Bosco wrote:  Dominic made such evident progress in virtue, that I began to write down everything I noticed about him.

Some months later, on the second Sunday of Lent, 1855, Don Bosco, while preaching to the boys of the Oratory, said in a loud voice: Every one is called to be a saint, and do you know, it is easy to be a saint. Just do this: diligently do the ordinary things of the day in an extraordinary way. These words hit home at Dominic’s heart. He started to make his own the ideal to be a saint, without fully comprehending what this meant. When Don Bosco saw him quiet and looking worried he explained to him: Dominicsay your prayers devoutly. Perform all your duties exactly, and above all be cheerful. The Lord loves a cheerful giver. However, Dominic did not understand what Don Bosco told him. He started to fast severely and punish himself with painful physical penances. When Don Bosco got to know this through the dormitory monitor he spoke to the young Dominic and told him: The way to be a saint, Dominic, is to be always cheerful, do your duties to the best of your ability, and give your classmates good example. Keep in mind that the Lord, Jesus is always with you and wants your happiness.

From there on we find Dominic a member of the taskforce of people whom Don Bosco trained so as to take care of those children who were at risk. Moreover, Dominic started showing interest in helping his fellow boys at the Oratory in their pursuit of holiness. He also managed to pacify two boys who were ready to stone each other. Dominic, taking out the cross he wore, told them to cast the first stone at him. When they protested he told them with great emotion: Neither of you is ready to hurt me because I am your friend, yet you want commit this sin over a stupid remark made at school. Christ, who was innocent, died for us rather then seek revenge from those who hated him. As time went by one of them confessed: At that moment all my determination broke down and a cold chill ran through me. I hated myself for having forced a good friend like Dominic to go to such lengths to keep us from sin. To show my regret, I forgave the boy who had insulted me and asked Dominic to tell me of some good priest who would hear my confession.

These and other experiences show who Dominic Savio was. The young Dominic had a great love towards the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In his prayers he used to plead with her to help him be chaste. This was his prayer: Mary, I always want to be your son. Let me die rather than commit a single sin against chastity. On each Friday, together with some of his friends, Dominic would go to the chapel to pray the Seven Sorrows of Mary or the Litany of the Sorrowful Virgin. One Saturday, Dominic invited one of his friends to pray with him Our Lady’s Vespers. When the boy found the excuse that his hands were cold, Dominic immediately took off his own gloves and handed them over to him.

This apostle of prayer, with his burning love, died on March 9, 1857, before his fifteenth birthday. A century later, on March 5, 1950, Pope Pius XII beatified Dominic Savio.  Was it a sheer coincidence that day was the second Sunday of Lent, the same Sunday when, in 1855, St John Bosco gave the boys at the Oratory where Dominic Savio was a pupil, the sermon on how easy it was to become a saint? On June 12, 1954. Pope Pius XII canonized Dominic Savio, making this spiritual child prodigy from Don Bosco’s Oratory a Saint.

We need that our young people be captured by the same Spirit which guided the life of St Dominic Savio. We need young people who would put Jesus first in their lives and be ready to give their lives to live his values. Let us pray to St Dominic so that the world and the church will never be short of these young holy men and women!

St Dominic Savio pray for us!

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.