Feast Day: 6th May
Dominic Savio is one of the few teenage saints in the history of the Church. He is renowned for his dedication to his studies, his qualities as a student leader, the sincerity of his faith and generosity of community service.
Dominic Savio was born in 1842 in the tiny village of Riva (northern Italy). He was the eldest child of Charles and Brigid Savio, poor and hard working people. As a young child Domenic had great love for his parents and naturally followed their example of good Christian living. Dominic was blessed with a strong faith even as a boy.
Dominic was also a very committed student. It soon became evident that he had learnt all he could from the village school but there was no other suitable nearby school for him to attend. Dominic was never a physically strong person but his determination to continue his education meant that, at the age of eight, he undertook to walk ten kilometres each day to the district school in the neighbouring village. Each day he would undertake the return journey, which was hot and dusty in summer and cold and dark in the winter. His dedication was rewarded and he became well respected as an excellent student who always tried hard at his lessons. His natural ability and his love of learning soon enabled him to reach the top of his class. He won the esteem of his classmates by his enthusiasm for life, his friendliness and his respectful approach to everyone.
In 1854, at the age of twelve, Dominic’s teacher, Father Cagliero, recommended that he enrol at St John Bosco’s school (The Oratory of St Francis de Sales) in Turin. He soon impressed his teachers with his dedication to his studies, commitment to his faith and his maturity as a person. Although he was from a poor family, he soon became friends with the other students, who were drawn to him on account of his outstanding qualities as a person, his cheerfulness and his willingness to be part of every activity. Dominic used his gifts of leadership to positively influence his friends. On way occasion he showed how courageous he was when he successfully intervened to prevent two older and bigger boys from engaging in a stone fight in which they could have been seriously injured.
Dominic had a strong and active faith. He prayed regularly and had a great love for the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. He often spoke to his companions about the benefits of loving and serving God. He wanted to become a priest and to be a missionary. At times Dominic went a little overboard in his religious practices, undertaking severe fasts and other penances. When Don Bosco discovered this he forbade Dominic to undertake such practices. Instead he encouraged Dominic to grow in his faith by conscientiously attending to all his duties as a Christian, a friend and a student. Dominic took Don Bosco’s advice and his faith strengthened and matured.
One practical expression of Dominic’s active faith was his founding of a Christian Action Group. Dominic gathered a group of his friends together for the purpose of influencing others by good example, supporting each other in prayer and serving God by service of one’s neighbour. Dominic’s strong prayer life overflowed into practical action for others. He was actively involved in community service. He was a constant visitor to the school infirmary, where he would help those in charge and cheer up the students who were sick. Together with his friends he would go out into the city to assist those who were old or ill. He continued to do this work even when the city of Turin fell victim to an epidemic of the plague. At great risk to his own health, he would visit and nurse those struck by the illness, especially those who had been abandoned by their families.
Dominic and his friends would often meet together for prayer and here they gained the strength and inspiration to reach out to others. This was especially evident in the way they fostered a healthy school environment. Dominic would actively look out for those who were sad or lonely, befriend them and encourage them to become actively involved in the life of the Oratory. When a new student arrived at the Oratory he would be the first to greet them and would encourage them by reassuring them that “here we make holiness consist in always being happy” and that to become a good Christian was “not a matter of doing extraordinary things but of doing ordinary things extraordinarily well”.
Dominic’s natural cheerfulness and sense of humour enabled him to engage others – he was enthusiastic in games during recreation time and was able to unobtrusively guide the course of conversations so that nobody was hurt, criticised or ridiculed. He used his influence to put a stop to anything that would harm people physically or spiritually. On one occasion Dominic had the courage to remind his peers that the pornographic magazine that they were laughing at was indecent and offensive – he took it from them and, much to their astonishment tore it up in front of them.
Dominic’s was never a physically strong boy and his health was always weak. He teachers and his friends admired the way he endured all kinds of sickness without complaining and with a positive spirit. Dominic died at the age of fifteen in the care of his parents after a particularly serious bout of illness.
Dominic’s life is a great example for all members of the College community. He was a young man whose short life was dedicated to loving and serving God by actively fulfilling his responsibilities as a Christian, a friend and a student. His dedication to his studies, his loyalty as a friend, the generosity of his service to others and his love of God have inspired generations of young people throughout the world to love.