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Bert Ghezzi, author of Voices of the Saints, tells us about his favorite teenage saint, Dominic Savio.
As a father who has endured the adolescences of seven children, I am convinced that the notion of a “teen saint” is an oxymoron. Yet teenager Dominic Savio, a remarkable exception, proves me wrong. Spiritually mature beyond his fifteen years, he lived the Christian life with as much commitment and with more balance than many adult saints. The real test of Dominic’s holiness was the joy he expressed in his wonderful sense of humor.
At age twelve, Dominic came under the care of John Bosco at his oratory in Turin. Don Bosco immediately discerned the extraordinary qualities of the boy and carefully formed him in the Christian life. Dominic was inclined to severely mortify himself, but the priest forbade him to undertake any penance without permission. He also insisted that Dominic participate in recreation with all the other boys.
Dominic quickly emerged as a leader among his fellows. He inspired younger boys with his entertaining storytelling. His friendliness helped older teens conform to Christian principles. Dominic also organized the Company of the Immaculate Conception, a group of teens who did whatever menial service Don Bosco needed and helped misfits feel at home in the oratory. In 1859, when Don Bosco established the Salesians, he selected all the members of the company in the core group. All except Dominic Savio. The youth suffered with tuberculosis and, according to the medical practice of the day, was bled to excess. He had died at his parents’ home in 1857.
Religion must be like the air we breathe, but we must not weary boys with too many devotions and observances. . . . The penance God wants is obedience. There is plenty to put up with cheerfully—heat, cold, sickness, other people’s tiresome ways. There is quite enough mortification for boys in school-life itself.