From a very early age, St. Dominic Savio was set apart from average children. At the age of 7, his sincere desire to receive his first holy Communion was met by his pastor’s approval. He longed for the sacrament as a way of totally uniting to the Lord. He would go on to explain, “That was the happiest and most wonderful day of my life.”
We learn about it from Dominic’s teacher turned biographer — St. John Bosco — that Dominic wrote down a spiritual plan of life on that special day. It’s simple and heartfelt in its intent. From this tender age, we can see the depth of his relationship with God. In the plan, Dominic vowed frequent Communion and confession, to make especially holy Sundays and feasts, to be friends with Jesus and Mary and to choose “death rather than sin.”
As a boy, Dominic’s earnest desire to reach heaven was his guiding influence. It informed all of his decisions. This would often require him to say “no” to activities and situations that would bring him into the near occasion of sin. This did not come without a price, however, as he was often mocked and laughed at by his peers.
It was Providence that put Dominic in touch with St. John Bosco, who also became his spiritual adviser. Dominic was an attentive and engaged student at Bosco’s boys school in Turin, and Bosco could immediately tell that Dominic was different than the other boys. After St. John Bosco gave a talk on sainthood, Dominic resolved to take active steps to become a saint. Withdrawn and quiet for some days because he was unsure how to go about this, St. John Bosco took notice. Bosco told Dominic that the best plan was to keep on being cheerful and grow in his spiritual plan and prayer life. He also challenged him not to neglect spending time with his friends at sports and games. Dominic also made several attempts at different penances.
Dominic’s holiness had a positive impact on everyone around him. One day at the school, two friends began arguing, throwing stones at each other. Smaller than them, he couldn’t break them up. They resolved to solve their problem another day with a fight. At that time, Dominic showed up and stood in-between them, holding up a crucifix. The fighters gave up, ashamed, and Dominic convinced them to go to confession. This episode earned him the patronage of juvenile delinquents.
Bosco frequently led the boys in meditations to prepare for a holy death. One day, Dominic told Bosco that he was sure he’d be among the first in the group to die. Dominic found himself soon preparing for death. Although he wanted to spend his final days with Bosco at the school, it was best for him to return home. He weakened more, and his cough grew worse. He knew the end was near.
Dominic requested confession and Communion, as well as the anointing of the sick. In and out of consciousness, he said some words to his father, ending with, “Oh, what wonderful things I see …” While his father thought at first he had fallen asleep, he was gone. It was March 9, 1857. Dominic was canonized 97 years later, and his witness is relevant for all.
Pope St. John Paul II said Dominic teaches us to “be missionaries of good example, good words, good action at home, with neighbors and colleagues at work. At every age, we can and we must bear witness to Christ!”
His feast day is May 6.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic.