St. Dominic Savio is the youngest person canonized without being a martyr. He was born April 2, 1842, and he died just before his 15th birthday from tuberculosis. Despite such a short life, he a great role model for us today.
St. Dominic Savio

How could a 14-year-old be a saint?

Dominic did not accomplish great works. He was still a child. And yet, he made a significant impact on the world. He did this by inspiring others to be better.

We see Dominic’s impact on others in many ways. One that stands out is a club he started at age 12. The club was dedicated to Mary and named The Immaculate Conception Sodality. This club had twenty-three initial members. Of these twenty-three, every one of them eventually became a Catholic priest, with the exception of Dominic because he did not live long enough to pursue ordination.

It’s difficult to imagine living a life of such holiness that all your friends are inspired to become priests. Of course, Dominic had help. He was attending a school led by St. John Bosco, and this saint played an instrumental role in the faith formation of the club members. Despite this, Dominic’s friends held him in very high regard and thought of him as a saint. John Bosco wrote in his biography of Dominic, “As soon as news came of his death a few of his friends were already calling him a saint. They met to recite the Litany for the Dead but instead of saying ‘Pray for him’, that is, ‘Holy Mary pray for the repose of his soul’, they said, pray for us: ‘Holy Mary, pray for us’. ‘Because’, they said, ‘by now Savio is enjoying the glory of Paradise and no longer needs our prayers’.” (LIFE OF DOMINIC SAVIO by St. John Bosco)

Advice of a Seven-Year-Old

Dominic worked hard at his faith and the development of virtue. With God’s grace, anyone can be a saint, but it does take work. We must choose to develop virtues. This is what Dominic did. He worked from a very young age to align himself with God.

At age seven, as he prepared for his first Communion, Dominic resolved to do four things. These four things are a great path to virtue.

1. I will go to Confession and Communion as often as my confessor will allow.

2. I will sanctify Sundays and holy days in a special way.

3. Jesus and Mary will be my friends.

4. Death but not sin.

(LIFE OF DOMINIC SAVIO by St. John Bosco)

Dominic’s four resolutions are very simple. They were written by a seven-year-old. They also show great wisdom.

Holding Jesus as a friend along with our Mother Mary is a great first step. In our faith, we need to remember that Jesus is a person that we can have a relationship with. We are made to be in a loving relationship with God. This should be a friendship (and much more).

Jesus calls us to be like a like a child. Dominic was a model for this. He loved Jesus as His friend. Dominic trusted Christ and loved Him.

This love led to the other resolutions. Frequent reception of the sacraments is how we reconcile and unite with God. To receive the sacraments worthily, we need to sanctify the Sabbath and holy days. Dominic, at age seven, understood this.

Finally, Dominic resolved to accept death but not sin. In this, he strove to accept any suffering in this world before he would commit a sin. What a great goal. He wanted to be perfect and set out to be perfect. None of the biographies claim that Dominic achieved sinless perfection, but he set his goal on achieving that perfection. We should do the same. We may never become perfect in this life, but we must try. Too often we set our sights on mediocrity. Dominic, in this childish simplicity, understood that following God is not something to be done casually or lackadaisically. He resolved to be as great as grace would allow him.

Humility

One virtue that recurs over and over with the saints is humility. We all have different gifts from God and develop the virtues in varying degrees. Despite this, humility is at the foundation. We saw in St. Hildegard’s Pillar and in St. Therese’s Little Way. Dominic also pursued humility. This humility was in relation to God and to others.

We see this in one of Dominic’s quotes, “I can’t do big things, but I want everything to be for the glory of God.”  (ST. DOMINIC SAVIO)

This sounds so much like St. Therese. Dominic also found a little way. He was humble in everything he did, and this humility, paradoxically, made him great.

This may be the greatest challenge we face and the most difficult paradox to accept. To be great, we must seek humility and weakness. If we pursue wealth, power, fame and honor, we will be left frustrated. Our strength ensures our defeat and our weakness allows our triumph.

Dominic has the answer to this paradox. We must rely on God. It is not up to any of us to do big things. Apart from grace, we could never do anything, let alone big things.

When we surrender to God in our weakness, we can rely on His strength, and thereby, we overcome any obstacle.

St. Dominic Savio’s Path to Virtue

We have already seen Dominic’s plan from when he was a seven-year-old. At age twelve, Dominic started a club at his school. St. John Bosco describes the goal: “The aim was to obtain the special protection of the Mother of God in life, and especially at the hour of death.” (LIFE OF DOMINIC SAVIO by St. John Bosco)

The club initially had 23 members, and they consecrated themselves to Mary. Marian Consecration is a great act of humility and seeks to unite a person to Jesus through His mother.

The club, the Immaculate Conception Sodality, had three primary obligations that the members resolved to do, and then twenty-one rules that they would keep. The primary obligations are very practical and would be beneficial in almost any area of life:

  1. To carry out with the greatest exactness the rules of the school.
  2. To help and encourage our companions: helping them by pointing out in a friendly way whatever needs correcting; encouraging them by being first in doing the right thing and supporting their own efforts.
  3. To be always busy with something useful.

This is a simple path to sanctity. Follow the rules, help others and work hard. We can look at these in terms of sacred Scripture. We should follow the rules, in particular, the ten commandments. This is a good starting point, but Jesus teaches that we must do more and Dominic’s second obligation addresses this higher call. We must also love our neighbor (and our enemies). Finally, we must work. The pursuit of holiness and sanctity does not just happen. We must keep busy with things that are useful, or our complacency will be our downfall.

Dominic provides further guidance with the twenty-one rules he lays out for the club. These can be categorized based on the virtues: Devotion, Diligence, Charity, Honesty, Temperance, and Patience.

Devotion

Eight of Dominic’s rules relate to devotional activities. Dominic recognized that we need to actively practice our faith and honor God through our worship.

Saturdays will be kept in honour of Our Lady and on that day we will offer her some special act done in honour of the Immaculate Conception.
Those who want to join our society must first of all make a good Confession and receive Holy Communion, spend a week on trial, read these rules carefully, and promise Jesus and Mary Immaculate to be faithful to them.
On the occasion of anyone being received into the Sodality, the others will assist at Mass and receive Holy Communion, praying that God will give their new companion and the grace of perseverance, obedience and real love of God.
Our Sodality is placed under the care of Mary Immaculate whose name we bear and whose medal we always carry with us. A sincere, filial and limitless confidence in Mary, a constant devotion and loving affection for her, will make us overcome all obstacles, clinging tenaciously to our resolutions, be firm with ourselves, gentle and kindly towards others, exact in everything. The members are urged to write the holy names of Jesus and Mary first of all in their hearts and minds and then on their books and similar objects, so that they can be easily reminded of them. Our Rector is asked to go over these rules and if necessary change them according as he thinks best. We accept completely whatever he decides in the matter.
We will meet each week for half an hour and after a prayer to the Holy Spirit and a short spiritual reading we will consider how the Sodality is getting on in its work for Jesus and Mary.
There are no special prayers to be said; whatever time is left over after having carried out our own duties should be devoted to whatever will be most useful for our souls.
However, we do take upon ourselves these few practices: We will go as often as possible to the sacraments. We will receive Holy Communion every Sunday, holydays of obligation, the novenas and feast-days of Our Lady and our patrons. We will also receive Holy Communion on Thursday, unless we are prevented by some necessary obligation.
Every day, especially in the Holy Rosary, we will ask Our Lady to bless our Sodality, and give us the grace to persevere.

Diligence

Dominic had eight rules related to diligently working. Dominic knew that it is easy to take shortcuts or to just go through the motions. He provides rules that will encourage the students to work hard and to pour their hearts and minds into their efforts.

We will be very exact in carrying out what we are expected to do and have great confidence in those over us.
When praying and at the services in church, during lessons and at study time, we will try to make our exterior behaviour and manner such as to edify others.
We will treasure the word of God and we will go over again together the talks we have heard.
We will carefully avoid any wasting time, to safeguard ourselves from the temptations which come so easily and so strongly at times of idleness.
Therefore whatever time remains after the discharge of our own duties will be spent in useful and good reading or in prayer.
We will not abuse the goodness of those over us by constantly asking for those permissions which in their goodness they are willing to give. The exact observance of the school rules to which we have pledged ourselves should help us to avoid this abuse of too many exceptions.
The carrying out of our own duties will be our first and special concern.
We will help each other to get rid of any faults or wrong habits which we have. This we will do privately.

Charity

One of the rules requires the members to have a spirit of charity. This included requiring them to correct other members to help them. Often, we want to extend kindness and love toward others, and fail to rebuke them when they persist in sin. Dominic understood that true love cannot allow a friend to continue to on a path to death. Correcting others must be done in a way that will lead to positive change, and this charity.

A true spirit of charity will unite the members of the group in genuine friendship among themselves and also with their companions. We will not hesitate to correct anyone when so doing in a friendly way would help.

Honesty

Dominic required members to be honest with superiors that can help guide them in the spiritual life. Many people have a tendency to hide their weaknesses and failures, but this only serves to prolong the struggle. By seeking help honestly from a competent spiritual director, we can learn to overcome obstacles in our spiritual life.

We will make known to our superiors whatever will help our spiritual progress.

Temperance

Dominic recommended time for recreation and play, but wanted this time moderated. Recreation is essential to the spiritual life. We cannot work all the time or we will become exhausted and burned out. We need times to rest and reflect. We also cannot play all the time. We need temperance and moderation.

Recreation times are best or at least allowed after meals and after lesson time and study time.

Patience

Two of the rules call for patience. Dominic recognized that grumbling, anger, frustration and impatience are obstacles in the spiritual life.

We will not grumble about food and we will try to prevent others from doing so.
We will try hard to be even-tempered and good-humoured, being patient with each other, and with those who are awkward and troublesome.

Summary of the Path to Virtue

Dominic provides great instruction for the spiritual life. His advice, both at age seven and at age twelve, offers substantive actions anyone can do. His plan is very simple.

Dominic’s plan is written with specifics for his age and situation. We can follow this plan, and it can be beneficial for anyone, but it can be helpful to generalize it to any situation. To do this, we can look at Dominic’s advice as a plan for developing virtues:

  • Practice the faith: Receive the sacraments consistently, pray often, foster a relationship with Jesus and Mary, and develop true devotion to our Lord
  • Obedience: Avoid all sin, and follow the rules (particularly the 10 Commandments)
  • Love and Charity: Love one another and live a life of charity
  • Diligence: Work hard and be diligent
  • Honesty: Be honest and seek spiritual direction
  • Temperance: Ensure you provide appropriate time for rest and play
  • Patience: Seek to be patient in all things

Bear Witness to Christ

Pope St. John Paul II writes how we can model ourselves after St. Dominic Savio. He is a great witness to the faith. By following his example, we also can become witnesses to the faith for others.

“Like Saint Dominic Savio, be missionaries of good example, good words, good action at home, with neighbours and colleagues at work. At every age we can and we must bear witness to Christ! Commitment to bear witness is permanent and daily.”  (His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Homily 7 December 1997)