Liturgical celebration: 6 May
Dominic Savio was born in the small village of San Giovanni, a hamlet of Riva presso Chieri (Turin), on 2 April 1842. His father was Carlo Savio and his mother was Brigida Gaiato. He was the second of ten children. His father came from Ranello, a hamlet of Castelnuovo d’Asti (today Castelnuovo Don Bosco) and he worked as a blacksmith; his mother was originally from Cerreto d’Asti and worked as a seamstress. Dominic was baptised on the day of his birth, in the parish church at Riva presso Chieri, as we know from the Baptismal records signed by the parish priest Fr Vincenzo Burzio. In November 1843 the Savio family moved to Morialdo, a hamlet of Castelnuovo d’Asti, about a kilometre from the Becchi where Don Bosco’s home was. Dominic’s childhood there was serene, full of affection and he was responsive to the religious teaching he received from his deeply Christian parents. A basic stage along his extraordinary journey to holiness was his First Communion, to which he was admitted, by way of exception, at 7 years of age. His resolutions on that occasion are well known: “1. I will go to confession often and will receive communion every time my confessor allows me to. 2. I want to keep Sundays and holy days holy. 3. My friends will be Jesus and Mary. 4. Death but not sin.” These resolutions that Dominic would renew each year of his life and that would then mark the lives of so many other holy youngsters, already express a considerable level of holiness, a work of Grace that Don Bosco himself would recognise, value and lead to greater heights.
Dominic grew up and wanted to learn. It was a great effort for him to get to school: some 15 kilometres every day, alone, along, solo, along unsafe roads: “My good friend, are you not afraid walking along along these roads?” one of his friends asked him. “I am not alone, I have a guardian angel with me every step of the way.” Some other friends asked him to go swimming in a local stream. He understood that this would not be good, turned his back on them and continued on his way. He was but ten years old but had the stuff that makes a leader. One winter morning, at school,, while they were waiting for the teacher, his school mates filled the stove with rocks and snow. The teacher was angry, but the other kids said: “Dominic did it!” Dominic did not excuse himself, didn’t protest and the teacher punished him severely while the others were sniggering. But the following day the truth came out. His teacher asked him: “Why did you not immediately tell me you were innocent?” Dominic replied: “Because the individual was already guilty of other mistakes and might have been expelled from school, but I felt I might be forgiven since it was the first time I had been accused of anything at school; on the other hand I also thought about our Divine Saviour who was unjustly accused.” In February 1853 the Savio family went to live at Mondonio, about 5 km from Morialdo because of work.
The priest who was the teacher at Mondonio, Fr Cugliero, had been in the seminary with Don Bosco. Meeting him one day he spoke to him about Dominic as “one of his cleverest pupils and worthy of particular concern due to his devoutness. At your place you might have similar kinds of boys, but it would be hard to find one better than him for talent and virtue. Try him out and you will discover a Saint Aloysius”. On 2 October 1854, on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Dominic and his father met Don Bosco at the Becchi: this was a decisive moment on his journey to holiness. Dominic asked Don Bosco to take him in at the Oratory in Turin, because he really wanted to study to become a priest. Don Bosco was astonished: “I saw in him a soul filled with the spirit of the Lord, and I was not a little surprised at seeing the work that divine Grace had already achieved in that tender heart.” So he told him: “Well! You seem like good material to me.” Openly and firmly, and using his mother’s work as a metaphor, Dominic replied: “So then, I am the material: you are the tailor; so take me with you and make a nice suit for the Lord.”
Dominic arrived at the Oratory on 29 October 1854, just towards the end of the deadly cholera epidemic that had decimated the city of Turin. He immediately became friends with Michael Rua, John Cagliero, John Bonetti and Joseph Bongiovanni whom he joined as they went to school in the city. In all probability he knew nothing about the “Salesian Society” that Don Bosco had begun speaking about to some of his boys that year. On 8 December 1854, while Pope Pius IX in Rome was declaring that the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother was a “truth of faith”, Dominic knelt before the altar dedicated to the Mother of God in the church of St Francis de Sales, and consecrated himself solemnly to her: “Mary, I give you my heart; May I always be yours. May you, Jesus and Mary, always be my friends; but please let me die rather than fall into the disgrace of committing even a single sin.” It would be on the same day a year or two later that he conceived in his heart the desire to found what would be officially established on 8 June 1856: The Sodality of the Immaculate Conception.
Dominic was cheerful and a friend that everyone could trust, especially if they were in difficulties; he was regular and constant with his studies. He confided in Camillo Gavio, from Tortona, one of his best friends: “You know that here we make holiness consist in being very happy. We just try to avoid sin as a great enemy that steals God’s grace from us and our peace of heart. We try to fulfil our duties exactly, and be devout. From today start putting it in writing as a reminder: Servite Domino in laetitia, let us serve the Lord in holy cheerfulness.” His was a joy that was an expression of a life spent in deep and intimate friendship with Jesus and Mary, a sign of the renewing action of the Spirit and of a joyful and contagious holiness that formed young apostles capable of attracting souls to God. Over these months he also bound himself in spiritual friendship with John Massaglia: “Both had the same desire to embrace the clerical state, and truly wanted to become saints.” This agreement helped them to achieve great heights of Christian life by sharing spiritual and apostolic experiences, through mutual correction and obedience to their superiors. “I want us to be true friends”, Dominic had asked John. And they really were “true friends in matters of the soul”, setting in motion a school of youthful holiness characterised by an intense prayer life, a spirit of sacrifice and hard work, and joyful apostolic fruitfulness. Regarding John Massaglia Don Bosco testified: “If I had to write down the wonderful virtuous features of young Massaglia, for the most part I would need to repeat what I have said about Savio, whose faithful follower he was while the latter was still alive.”
There were magnificent boys at the Oratory, but there were also half-wits who behaved badly and there were boys who were suffering, having problems with their studies, homesick. Everyone tried individually to help them. So why couldn’t the boys who wanted to come together, in a “secret society”, and become a compact group of little apostles amongst the masses? Dominic, “led by his usual busy charitableness chose some of his most trusted friends, and invited them to come together to form a sodality called the Immaculate Conception Sodality”. Don Bosco gave his consent: they had a trial period and wrote a small Rule. “One of those who was most effective in helping Dominic Savio with this foundation and in drawing up the rule, was Joseph Bongiovanni”. From the minutes of the Sodality kept in the Salesian Archives, we know that those who made up the group, which met once a week, were around ten in number: Michael Rua (who was elected president), Dominic Savio, Joseph Bongiovanni (elected secretary), Celestine Durando, John Bonetti, Angelo Savio, a cleric, Joseph Rocchietti, John Turchi, Luigi Marcellino, Joseph Reano, Francis Vaschetti. Missing was John Cagliero because he was convalescing after a serious illness and was living at home with his mother. The final article in the rule approved by everyone including Don Bosco, said: “A sincere, filial, unlimited trust in Mary, special tenderness in her regard, and constant devotion will enable us to overcome every obstacle, keep our resolutions, be strict with ourselves, loving towards our neighbour, and precise in everything we do.”
The Sodality members chose to “look after” two kinds of boys, who in the secret language of the minutes were called “clients”. The first category were the undisciplined lot, those easily given to bad language and who were quick with their fists. Each member took one of them in hand and acted as his “guardian angel” whenever necessary. The second category were the newcomers. They helped them to settle in happily over the first few days when they still did not know anyone, or did not know the games, or only spoke the dialect of their district, or were homesick. From the minutes we can see how each meeting unfolded: a moment of prayer, a few minutes of spiritual reading, some mutual encouragement to go to Confession and Communion; “Then the clients entrusted to them were discussed. Patience and confidence in God were encouraged regarding those who seemed totally deaf and insensitive; prudence and kindness regarding those who showed they could be easily convinced”. If we compare the names of those who were members of the Sodality of the Immaculate with the names of the first “enrolled members” of the Pious Society, we get the moving impression that the “Sodality” was the “proving ground” for the Congregation that Don Bosco was about to found. It was the small field where the first seeds of Salesian flourishing germinated. The "Sodality" became the leaven of the oratory.
The few months that Dominic would still spend at the Oratory are a further confirmation of his decision to become a saint, something he pursued especially after hearing a sermon from Don Bosco on how easy it was to be a saint. “It is God’s will that we all become saints; it is also very easy to succeed in doing so; a great reward is prepared in heaven for those who become saints.” For Dominic that sermon was spark that set fire to his heart and he immediately began to practise the advice given him by Don Bosco: “First thing was constant, balanced cheerfulness, and he then advised him to be persevering in fulfilling his duties of piety and study, and recommended that he never fail to join in recreation with friends.” Someone who recognised Dominic’s moral and spiritual stature was Mamma Margaret who confided in Don Bosco one day: “You have many good boys, but no one beats that beautiful heart and soul of Dominic Savio.” Then she explained: “I always see him praying, remaining behind in church after the others; he takes a little time out of recreation every day to visit the Blessed Sacrament... In church he is like an angel living in paradise.” It was thanks to their love for the Eucharist and their devotion to Mary that these youngsters experienced and shared such an intense spiritual, mystical life, a gospel-based life in obedience to God’s will, in a spirit of sacrifice, fruitful and educative apostolate among their friends, especially the more difficult ones, the ‘outsiders’.
But Dominic only remained with Don Bosco until 1 March 1857 when he had to return to his family at Mondonio due to an illness that suddenly took a serious turn. In just a few days, despite some occasional signs of hope, things got worse and Dominic was near death’s door. He died peacefully at Mondonio on 9 March 1857, exclaiming: “Oh! What a beautiful thing I see...”. Mary’s presence marked the lifetime of this young man as she who accompanied him in realising the blessing of the Father and his mission. Despite his youth, the Church recognised his holiness. Pope Pius XI described him as “a small but giant of the spirit”. He had realised what was the truth behind his name: Dominic, “of the Lord”; and Savio “wise”: wise in matters of the Lord and distinguished by the exemplary nature and holiness of his life.
|Animations:||EN||A reflection based on the life of Dominic Savio for secondary school leaders.|
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|Music:||EN||Concierto para Domingo Savio|
|IT||Canti a Domenico Savio|
|ES||Domingo Savio: Si ser santo es posible ...tú ¿por qué no?|
|ES||Domingo Savio - Ejemplo de vida cristiana|
|EN||Sanctity with Laura and Dominic|