The boy confessor. IJominic Savio
• Ml• by
FR. J. SEXTON, S.D.B.
Dominic Savio's home was in the Piedmontese village of .Mondonio, about half-an-hour's walk from the lee:eche birthplace of S. John Bosco, but he was born on April 2, 1842, during his parents' brief migration to Rive, some ten miles away. His father Charles Savio, was a peasant who, when not in his fields, did spare-time jobs as the village blacksmith.
In 1854, when he was twelve and his elementary schooling almost completed, Dominic began to talk of becoming a priest and his schoolmaster. a Father Cugliero, sent him with a letter to Don Bosco. Dominic met the Saint at the Becchi where, together with a number of his boys, the latter was spending the feast of the Rosary. Don Bosco questioned the little boy, shrewdly estimated his character and intelligence, and finally. despite misgivings about his health, agreed to his corning to study at the Oratory which he had founded eight years previously in the Piedmontese capital.
The mind of Don Bosco was, at that time, preoccupied with the future of his work. His Archbishop, from his exile at Lyons, had hinted strongly at the formation of a new religious society and even the anti-clerical politicians of the Subalpine government were urging something of the same sort.
Several promising young boys between the ages of sixteen and eighteen—including Michael Rua, Don Bosco's future successor in the government of the Salesian Society and lohn Caglicro, his first missionary leader and future cardinal —were already working and studying at the house in Turin; Dominic Savio must have seemed a useful addition to the little group upon whom Don Bosco rested his most daring hopes.
The Saint, in the Life that he wrote of Dominic in 1859, confessed that, on the first occasion he spoke with the little boy, he was " amazed to see the progress that grace had already made in his soul !" This interior life showed itself most evidently in a constant solicitude to model his own
life on the life of Christ. For example, at the village school at Murialdo he was unjustly accused of a rather serious escapade and. when he made no attempt to exculpate himself, was soundly punished.
Later, when the truth was discovered and a mystified schoolmaster asked him why he had not protested his innocence, he replied : "I remembered that Our Lord remained silent when He was wrongly accused."
At that time Dominic was eleven. It was the same at the Oratory. Don Bosco once found him, in the depths of a hard winter, sleeping with a sheet as his only bed-covering. The Saint rebuked him rather sharply for this piece of imprudence and asked him if he wanted to die of cold.
" F shan't die of cold, Father," he answered, "Our Lord at Bethlehem had less to cover Him than I have,"
Yet there was nothing morbid in this anxiety to stiffer with Christ. Don Bosco had told Dominic that he
wished to see him gay and cheerful, that he was to take an active part in all the games, and Dominic obeyed with gusto. After his death one of his companions remarked that, to see him in the playground, no one would have believed that there was anything wroreg with him, and a number of the boys who Came to the so-called festive oratory of a Sunday. told Don Bosco frankly that their chief object in coming was to be with Dominic.
Nor did his quite evident holiness and the rigorous obedience that he showed Don Bosco, create a barrier between him and the more unruly spirits—and there were plenty among the ragamuffins that Don Bosco picked out of the gutters of Turin. The two boys, for instance, who quarrelled so violently and decided to fight the matter out in e duel with stones. were intimate friends of Dominic and Dominic exploited the affection that both had for him to prevent a very ugly affair of which Don I3osco and the other boys at the Oratory seem te have known nothing at the time.
Don Bosco had a honor of that sentimental piety that wears itself out in a short-lived and sterile fervour. He aimed, instead. at forming ,voung apostles. whose active zeal would clinch and safeguard their own perseverance.
What his theories as a Christian educator considered desirable, the circumstances in which he was working made absolutely essential. Alone. with seven hundred boys to care for on Sundays. he must have help, and the only help then available were boys such as Savio. Rua, Cagliero and one or two more, upon whom he could rely to do exactly as he told them.
Dominic had a vivid sense of apostolate and went enthusiastically about the tasks that Don Bosco gave him. He taught catechism to the younger boys. he helped the backward lads of those Who came to Don Bosco's evening classes during the week, he made friends deliberately with the roughest and most intractable urchins in the place, and by his gaiety and chafm of manner, insinuated himself into their affections. He continually made use of the influence he exercised over these boys. to obtain, often in the guise of a special favour to himself. sacrifices which he knew could not be gained in any other way a much-needed visit to the confessional, the abandonment of some habitual blasphemy. It was the all things to all men of S. Paul and S. Francis of Sales. copies down to the last faithful detail. Don Bosco often said " Dominic catches more fish with his games than many preachers do with their sermons."
The Sacrament To his boys Don Bosco wrote that the secret of Savio's holiness was the frequent use he made of the sacraments of Confession and Holy Commenion. It was during his thanksgivings after Holy Cornmunion that. on several occasions, some of which Don Bosco himself witnessed, he seemed to undergo extraordinary spiritual experiences. To the Saint in whom he confided, he called them " my usual distractions " and, describing them, said: " Heaven seems to open just above my head."
One of these " distractions " concerned the return of the faith to England. and Don Bosco later recounted the incident to Pope Pius IX.
To a deep personal love for Our Lord, Dominic joined a practical love for Our Lady of Sorrows. He wished to suffer for and with her and his eagerness for a life. of penance had to be sternly restrained by Don Bosco. who forbade any mortification other than the acceptance of those inconveniences that came to him from the normal circumstances of his daily life. Instead Don Bosco taught him the great Salesian doctrine, the specific teaching of S. Francis of Sales, of sanctification through the exact fulfilment of the ordinary duties of one's state.
"Take part in the games," Don Bosco told him, " he punctually where obedience calls you, do your daily tasks as exactly as you can. As for penance. there are the heat of summer, the cold of winter, food that is nor to your liking, the occasional ill-humour of those about you, sickness and ill-health, accept all these things with a cheerful heart. never letting them sadden you or put you out of humour yourself, and you are doing ample penance."
Now that the Church has set Dominic Savio upon a pedestal, will he appeal to the modern Catholic boy. or will he, as was said of his fellow countryman, S. Aloysius, to whom he had such a great devotion, " need explaining " ?
Dominic's great virtue was that he saw clearly the principles by which his life ought to be governed and he never shrank from following them. That really ought not to shock or dismay anyone. His piety—and this particular virtue had struck 'fry deep and powerful roots in his soul —made him strong. resolute, even at times, a little obstinate, when he thought he saw where his duty lay. But with all this he had a delicious sense of fun.
Dominic's death occurred at his home in Mondonio, on March 9, 1857. The first doctor. who examined him in Turin at Don Bosco's request, said : "There's nothing organically wrong with him: his illness is due to his delicate constitution together with his natural precociousness and the constant tension of his mind which are wearing away his strength."
Another doctor, sometime later, when Dominic was on his deathbed, diagnosed " inflammation of the Iungs " and ten times, in four days. the frail, exhausted little boy was bled. What strength remained to him collapsed under this treatment and the end came in the evening of the fourth day whilst his father, at Dominic's request, was reading the prayers for the dying.
Don Bosco declared publicly his belief that one day the Church would raise Dominic to her altars. and encouraged his boys privately to ask his intercession. In 1914, when the Cause was introduced at Rome. Dominic's body was taken from Mondonio to Turin. where it now lies, in the basilica of Our Lady, Help of Christians, not far from that of his saintly Master.