Today is the feast day of Saint Dominic Savio. Ora pro nobis.
Dominic Savio was born on April 2, 1842, in a village of Piedmont, North Italy, with the lovely name of Riva di Chieri. Here, his father, Charles Savio, worked as village blacksmith, carpenter and general handyman. Charles Savio and his wife, Brigid, were highly respected among their rural kinsfolk, and although they were never much ahead of poverty, they were rich in the strong, sturdy faith of the Piedmontese peasantry. The strong, muscular blacksmith looked fondly that April day on his new-born son. Like every other father, he looked ahead and wondered what the future would bring. Certainly, the present had little to offer. His home was a humble cottage; his work in the fields and at the forge provided little more than the bare necessities of life. So, from a worldly point of view, his son’s future was very insecure, and none too bright. But the parents’ trust in God was as deep as their faith and as a pledge of that confidence, they decided at the baptism of their child on the morrow, he would be named Dominic, that is, “of the Lord.” How truly he was a child “of the Lord” they could scarcely realise then, but the strong Catholic spirit of the Savio home was the first and most enduring influence in the making of this saintly boy.
Dominic went to the local school until he was ten years old. Then it became necessary for him to finish his education at a higher school. This meant a walk of eight miles or so a day to and from the nearest municipal school at Castelnuovo. It was a long and lonely road, and in those days infested with tramps and footpads. The peasant folk, who saw him trudging along day after day to school in the rains and snows of winter and under the scorching sun of summer, shook their heads in disapproval and doubted the commonsense of the blacksmith, who sent his son so far afield alone for his schooling.
At twelve years old, Dominic felt called to the priesthood. His parish priest accordingly advised his father to apply to Don Bosco in Turin. Don Bosco promised to interview the boy on his next visit to Murialdo, which was not far from Mondonio, where the Savio family had now taken up their abode. The meeting of the saint and the schoolboy took place early in October, 1854, and Don Bosco himself relates what took place that morning. ‘”I was struck by his serene expression and cheerful but modest demeanour. I sensed at once the work of Divine Grace in one so young and was filled with admiration. We understood each other perfectly at once.”
From his childhood, Dominic had shown an extraordinary devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. At the school of Saint John Bosco, this devotion was paramount. In fact, the saint’s system of education was fundamentally Sacramental. He gave his boys every opportunity for frequent Confession and Holy Communion. Dominic made full use of this opportunity and his love and devotion to the Holy Eucharist was the source of all the joy and zeal that characterized his young life. His daily Communion and his frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament transformed his youthful ardour into apostolic zeal, which, as Pope Pius XI affirmed, “animated the whole life of this fortunate boy.”
In the early months of 1857, Dominic’s failing health again gave cause for anxiety and Don Bosco thought it prudent to send the boy to the country, hoping that the change of air might help to restore his strength. Accordingly, on March 1 of that year, Dominic was leaving Don Bosco’s school for his home in Mondonio and priest and pupil stood on the threshold to say a few words of good-bye.
Just a month before his fifteenth birthday Dominic developed tuberculosis and was sent home to recover. (4)
A few days after his arrival home Dominic grew weaker and the doctor pronounced his condition serious. He asked his father to call the priest, and he later received the Last Sacraments with indescribable devotion and fervour.
“Now I am at peace. With Our Divine Lord, I am not afraid to set out on the long journey to eternity.”
It was March 9, 1857, and as his strength diminished rapidly, he looked at the Crucifix and repeated some verses of a favourite hymn. He then turned to his father:
“Father, it is time. Get my prayer-book and say the prayers for a happy death.”
The father in great sorrow read the prayers to which his dying son responded. When the prayers had been said, the boy added:
“Yes, Father, that is just what I want: To sing the praises of God for all eternity.”
After a brief rest, he opened his eyes again and said with a smile:
“Good-bye, Father, good-bye.” Then, after a pause: “Oh, what a beautiful sight I see.”
With his hands joined and still smiling, he gave up his young soul to God.
They buried him in the little graveyard of Mondonio, in an ordinary grave. It was all a poor man could do for his son. But the simple peasant folk regarded it more as a shrine than a tomb, for they called him their “piccolo santo” (their little saint).
The fame of his holiness grew apace and confidence in his power of intercession before God became world-wide. His grave at Mondonio quickly became a place of pilgrimage, and many extraordinary favours and cures of all kinds were obtained through his intercession. In 1914, his Cause for Canonization was formally introduced at Rome, and his remains were raised from the humble grave of Mondonio. This had to be done at nightfall, as the villagers were hostile to any attempt to take from them their “little saint.” His remains were taken to the great Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians, Turin, which now flanks the very playground where he played and carried out his fruitful apostolate. He rests there now not far from the shrine of his great and loving spiritual Father, Saint John Bosco, who so perfectly made of this “good stuff” a “fine vestment for the Lord.”
Dominic Savio was declared a Venerable Servant of God by Pius XI on July 9, 1933, and was beatified by the Holy Father, our beloved Pius XII, on March 5, of the Holy Year of 1950. This was a great day of triumph for this schoolboy who had sanctified himself at school. There was nothing extraordinary in his life. He set before himself an ideal and he achieved it. Never before has the Glory of Bernini in Saint Peter’s framed the image of a boy so young, as tens of thousands of faithful from almost every land under the sun hailed him as the Blessed Servant of God.
May God in His love hasten the day when the Church will bestow the supreme glory of sainthood on this Schoolboy Confessor, who in life was on fire with the ideals:
“Death rather than sin.”
“If I could win all my schoolmates to God, how happy I should be.” (3)
Dominic’s remains are in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, built by Don Bosco in Turin as the headquarters of his Salesian order.
Don Bosco wrote his Life, which paved the way for his beatification in 1950 and his canonisation in 1954.
Pope Pius XI, who declared him “venerable” in 1933, described him as “small in size, but a towering giant in spirit.” (4)
(Dominic Savio was canonized By Pope Pius XII in 1954, on 12 June.) (3)
Prayer to St. Dominic Savio
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff