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 | By Mary Lou Gibson | Columnist

Though young, St. Dominic Savio had great faith

Many of the saints we honor and revere lived long lives. There are a few, however, who were young adults when their saintly lives ended. St. Dominic Savio is among one of these very young saints.

He was born on April 2, 1842, in the village of Riva in northern Italy. He was one of 10 children in a poor family. His father was a blacksmith and his mother, a seamstress. When Dominic was 2, the family returned to their native village, which was near the birthplace of John Bosco, who would later be a major influence in Dominic’s life.

Dominic was spiritually advanced at a young age and by age 5, he was an altar server. He attended Mass regularly with his mother and was often seen kneeling before the tabernacle in prayer. Rosemary Guiley writes in the “Encyclopedia of Saints” that he received his First Communion at age 7. At that time, children received the Eucharist for the first time at age 12. His priest was so impressed with his intelligence concerning the faith, his love for the Lord and his piety that he made an exception.

On that special day, Dominic wrote four promises in a little book. According to the website, they were:

  • “I will go to Confession often, and as frequently to Holy Communion as my confessor allows.
  • I wish to sanctify the Sundays and festivals in a special manner.
  • My friends shall be Jesus and Mary.
  • Death rather than sin.”

In secondary school, Dominic became an exceptional student. His teacher brought him to the attention of Father John (Don) Bosco, who looked after hundreds of boys. Father Bosco tested Dominic’s intelligence and understanding of the Catholic faith by giving him a pamphlet that dealt with apologetics. After just a few minutes, Dominic recited the text and gave a full explanation of its significance.

Father Bosco took Dominic, 12, with him to the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in Turin because he had expressed an interest in becoming a priest.

Dominic became known for his cheerfulness and friendliness. Editor Dom Basil Watkins, OSB, writes in “The Book of Saints” that one time Dominic was rapt in prayer for six hours continuously. Another time he had a vision of a bishop bringing light with a torch to the English people. This vision strongly influenced Pope Pius XI to restore a hierarchy to England in 1850.

As Dominic became known as a fantastic student, his health began to fail. When he started to lose his appetite, Father Bosco became concerned and sent him home to his family to recover. His health worsened and he received the last sacraments. Just before he died, he said to his father, “Goodbye, Dad, goodbye ... I am seeing such wonderful things.” It was March 9, 1857, Dominic was 15.

Father Bosco was so touched by Dominic that he wrote his biography, “The Life of Dominic Savio,” which quickly became popular and contributed to Dominic’s beatification in 1950 and his canonization in 1954 by Pope Pius XII.

Dominic was the youngest non-martyr to be canonized in the Catholic Church until the canonizations of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, the pious visionaries of Fatima in 2017.

Dominic is the patron of youth and choir boys. His feast day is May 6.

Mary Lou Gibson is a freelance writer who loves to explore the lives of saints. She is a member of St. Austin Parish in Austin.