Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 3, 2008
St. Dominic Savio set the pattern for young Christians
Patron of the falsely accused, the school boy displayed great piety
St. Dominic Savio - March 9
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
A statue of St. Dominic Savio stands in the Affton, Mo. church.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
A passer-by could almost overlook the one-story modern parish church — school complex of St. Dominic Savio on tree-shaded Pebble Hill Drive in the eastern Missouri town of Affton.
The modest church with its low-peaked roof and delicate little spire was built in 1956 to serve some 5,000 area men, women and children.
It embraces an unusual patron, a 19th century Italian school boy who, in a short 15 year life displayed such a level of piety and character that, even when alive, he was identified as a model for young Christians to emulate.
Centred around two daily and five weekend Masses, the parish maintains a busy schedule of events — homecomings, graduations, as well as traditional liturgical celebrations.
The parish mission statement defines St. Dominic’s as a community, institutional, sacramental, servant and herald church.
A place to inspire
A visit to the church is an uplifting experience. From the low peak, the ceiling, with its ornamental wooden beams, slopes at a gentle angle to side walls punctuated by stained glass windows. Additional illumination is provided by two rows of modern, quadruple — bulbed hanging lights.
On a patterned, light brown fabric wall in an alcove behind the plain altar, a large crucifix provides the focal point of the building. The right hand lateral wall displays two statues while to the left is the tabernacle in its simple cubicle. At the front of church, a hand-crafted, life-size wooden statue represents the parish patron, St. Dominic Savio.
Death but not sin
A slim young man in a rich golden colour, he is holding a scroll on which is inscribed his personal motto, Death but not sin, selected at his first Holy Communion at age seven. He wears a casual, single-breasted suit, holds his left hand over his heart and gazes serenely towards the altar.
After showing great piety in his religious parent’s home, at 12 he was admitted to the St. Francis de Sales Oratory School, directed by the future St. John Bosco at Turin. He stood out for his piety and charity to all he encountered and was soon identified as a special talent by his teacher.
His mentor selected Dominic to be a participant in a religious order ( the Salesians) that he was intent on founding but his prime student died prematurely in 1857 of tuberculosis.
Although he lived 150 years ago, anecdotes from his biography written by John Bosco could relate closely to conversations heard in today’s schools. In a sense he is a relatively close model for young people of any time.
Once his fellow students stuffed a stove with garbage and snow and reported Dominic as the culprit, an event that resulted in his designation as Patron of the Falsely Accused.
Called slander (or libel if in written form), it is a relatively easy, cowardly, often anonymous act that falsely attributes words or actions to another person.
It contravenes the ninth commandment, “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbour” (Exodus 20:-16) and is intended to damage another’s reputation. Dominic accepted the slander without retort until it was uncovered by others.
A short 20 years after his mentor became St. John Bosco, Dominic was also included among the ranks of the holy by Pope Pius XII in 1954. At the time, he was the youngest non-martyr to be recognized in this way by Rome, a commentary on his unique piety and godliness.
Thus he is remembered, not a martyr, not a bishop, but a more or less average teenage student who stood out as one trying to live a life in conformity with his beliefs.