The Life of Dominic Savio
Dominic's School Career at Castelnuovo d'Asti. Trials and Difficulties.
His Treatment of Evil Council. His Master's Encomium.
As his early studies were now completed, Dominic should have been sent away to a higher school for more advanced classes, which a small country place could not provide. He was very desirous that this should be arranged, and his parents were greatly in favour of it, but their condition did not allow of the realisation of such ambitious plans. Divine Providence, however, intended to provide the means, so that the boy might attain the end appointed for him.
Dominic had often said in his playful manner: "If I were a bird I should like to fly every morning to Castelnuovo d'Asti so as to go on with my studies."
His eager desire to continue his studies made overcome all difficulties, and it was arranged that he should attend the Municipal schools, although they were two miles away from his home. He had to walk there and back; he was not yet ten years of age, and all the variations of weather, both for summer and winter, had to be put up with; but all difficulties were to be overcome; Dominic was satisfied that he was thus performing an act of obedience to his parents which meant advancing in the science of the Saints, and this appeared to him more than enough reason for putting up with any inconvenience.
One day an elderly person saw Dominic going along the road, about two o'clock in the afternoon, under a broiling sun, and, meaning to give him a little encouragement, said to him: "Are you not afraid to go so far alone?"
"I am not alone," said Dominic, "I have my angel guardian with me, accompanying every step."
"But surely you find the journey long and tiresome in this very hot weather."
"Nothing seems tiresome or painful when you are working for a master who pays well."
"And who is your master?"
"It is God, our Creator, who rewards even a cup of cold water given for love of Him."
This little incident was related by the person who had the conversation with Dominic, and he concludes by saying: "A boy who has such thoughts in his head, when he is only ten years old, is certainly destined for some great career."
At school Dominic soon found how to distinguish between desirable companions and those whose influence was bad. If he noticed one who was diligent and respectful, who knew his lessons well, and always worked hard, Dominic sought his companionship; an unruly, insolent boy, or one who neglected his work, he left severely alone. He was always kindly in his manner towards them, and seized any opportunity of doing them a little service, but he took care not to become intimate with them.
His conduct at the higher school of Castelnuovo d'Asti might serve as a model to any young student who desires to advance in knowledge and virtue. For this reason, the account given by his master is useful and noteworthy. He says:
"I very willingly send you an account of Dominic Savio, because in a very short time he gained a high place in my estimation and affection, and because I still have a vivid recollection of his excellent behaviour, his zeal in good works and his many virtues. I cannot say much about the performance of his religious duties, for he attended the parish church of his own district, which was two or three miles from the school; for that reason he did not belong to our confraternity, though he was just the sort of boy we should have been glad to admit.
He came to this school as soon as his elementary course was over, beginning on the feast of St. Aloysius, June 21st, 1852. That was, in itself, a little extraordinary, for the great patron of young students found no more devoted follower than Dominic. He was gentle in appearance and manner, and had an air about him of mingled gravity and affability. His disposition was always marked, by calmness and good nature; both in school and out of it, his conduct was such as to produce a most agreeable impression, and for me to deal with him in the course of his school work was like a reward for the many fatigues so often to be endured in the training of boys, who are often dull and not eager for lessons. Hence it may very well be said that he was Savio (wise), not only in name, but in fact, viz., in his studies, in piety, in conversation and his dealing with others, and in all his actions.
From the day he entered the school to the end of that scholastic year, and during the four months of the next year that he spent with us, his progress in his studies was little short of phenomenal. He speedily gained the first place in his class, and the other honours of the school, and invariably got full marks for the subjects which were examined from time to time. These eminently successful results must be attributed to his exceptional abilities and to his love of study and virtue.
Deserving also of special praise was his exactness in every duty, no matter how trivial, and his constant attendance at the classes, in spite of all difficulties and of his long walk to the school. He was by no means a robust or vigorous boy, and this going to and from school, a distance of nearly three miles each way, would in itself be ample proof of his assiduity in his studies. But during that year, 1852-1853, he showed signs of weakness and general failing health, so that his parents decided on a change of abode. I was disappointed at losing so promising a pupil, too whom I had become attached, but I had expected to lose him, for I had seen that his delicate constitution was beginning to give way under the strain; and when I heard later on that he was to go to the Oratory at Turin, I was quite satisfied, as I knew he would there have the opportunity for the cultivation of his rare intellect and piety."
Such is the account given by the master of his class.