The Life of Dominic Savio
Dominic's Intimate Associates.
FROM much of the foregoing it will be concluded that Dominic was a friend to all, and was regarded by all as a friend. If anyone did not feel drawn to him in a particular manner, it was impossible not to treat him with respectful regard. He was of such excellent dispositions, partly from his natural gifts, partly from his training and efforts, that he was often given charge of boys who needed some special care and skilful handling, so that he might gradually bring them up to the standard that flourished at the Oratory. In carrying out these charges he was particularly apt at profiting of every occasion that presented itself, whether in recreation, or walks, or church.
But if he was regarded as a friend by the boys in general, he was something more to those who were associated with him in the Sodality of the Immaculate Conception. These were his co-workers, counsellors, and intimate friends. They were brought together for their extra devotions, their talks and arrangements, their discussions concerning the boys who were entrusted to their care for special guidance, and all other items concerning the apostolate of those who belonged to the Sodality, and which was far reaching in its scope. These conferences and propositions were made with the approval of the Director, but were held by the boys themselves.
Savio was the prime mover in these meetings, and, in fact, was looked up to as the teacher and guiding spirit. There were, however, several prominent members, who were very like him in their zeal and piety, and in their skill and capabilities in assisting in the training of their younger companions. Many of these are still living, and engaged in the priesthood, or in prominent positions; it would therefore, perhaps, not be tactful to speak of them directly. But I have thought it useful to call attention to two of them who have already been called away to their eternal reward. They are Camillus Gavio, and John Massaglia. The former only remained at the Oratory two months, but it was long enough to leave a lasting remembrance.
His piety had always been conspicuous, and with this he possessed remarkable talents, particularly for painting and sculpture; so much so, that the municipality of Tortona, his native city, had awarded him a scholarship, so that he might come to the Schools of Turin, to continue his studies and artistic training.
Shortly before his arrival at the Oratory he had recovered from a serious illness. This doubtless accounted for much of his quiet, retiring life, for he was practically only then convalescent, and at a distance from his home and friends. Moreover, he knew none of the boys at the Oratory, and all these circumstances combined to make him rather a spectator of, than a partner in the games, and he was often noticed with a far away, abstracted look. Savio soon made his acquaintance and got into conversation. He had quickly elicited the main facts of the boy's life, including his late illness. But this last item should be described in the words of the actual speakers. The new-comer had described briefly his illness, which was concerned with a weakness of the heart, and had brought him to death's door.
"You desired very much to be cured, I suppose?" enquired Dominic.
"No, not a great deal; I only desired that the Will of God might be done."
No more than this was required to convince Savio that his new acquaintance was gifted with extraordinary piety, and he secretly rejoiced at this acquisition to the Oratory; he therefore followed up the boy's response by remarking: "Whoever desires to do the Will of God, is anxious for his own sanctification; do you ever feel this desire?"
"Oh yes, it has long been my chief ambition."
"Very good; the number of our friends increases daily; you will join our inner circle of those who have the same ambition as you have."
The new boy agreed, and a discussion was held as to his future conduct. Savio pointed out to him, that at the Oratory sanctity consisted principally in being happy; that the boys took every care to avoid sin, as the great enemy, to do all duties as well as possible, and to perform the practices of piety with exactitude. Servite Domine in laetitia is to be our motto.
This advice of Dominic's seemed to fall like a healing balm on the soul of Camillus. He became a close companion of Dominic's, and from him learnt the secrets of great holiness that he had himself acquired. With such a guide, and with his own excellent good will and dispositions, it was no wonder he made rapid progress in virtue, so as to become prominent even among those who were themselves all of a very high standard of exactitude and piety.
However, his rapid progress in piety was like his swift course towards heaven. The illness he had described to Dominic had left effects that could not be removed by medical aid, and it was soon evident that he was in a very dangerous condition. Every care from physicians and friends was his, but in vain. It was time for him to go to that Divine Lord whose Will he had so faithfully sought to do, and after receiving the Sacraments with great edification, he died on December 30th, 1856.
Dominic was his constant attendant during his illness, and would readily have watched by him all night, but he was not allowed. When he was told that his companion had died, he asked to go and see the body, and looking at the face of his friend he said with emotion: "Farewell, Gavio; I am quite sure that you have gone to Heaven; so prepare a place for me. However, I shall always be a friend to you, and shall pray for the repose of your soul as long as I am left here on earth."
The Sodality of the Immaculate Conception had special rules for the prayers and Communions to be offered for the deceased members, and Dominic immediately arranged for them to be carried out. His words and recommendations to his companions on this occasion were typical of that gravity, which he always displayed in regard to things of the spiritual life, of the importance of which he always had an intimate conviction.