Leon Bloy once wrote: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”
Indeed, coming closer to God is the whole reason for our existence!
Yet, it can seem so hard. But Jesus has paid the price, and God’s grace is available to us gratuitously. All we have to do is cooperate.
While many of us adults are still works in progress, there are examples of young children who lived such holy lives that, even though they didn’t made it to adulthood, were such great examples of heroic virtue and love of Christ that the Church has canonized them.
Here are a few inspiring examples:
1) St. Dominic Savio – Age 14
St. Dominic Savio died at the age of 14 in 1857. When he was canonized a saint in 1954 by Pope Pius XII, he was (and remains) the youngest person ever to have been canonized a saint by the Catholic Church without being some sort of martyr.
Born and raised in Italy, Dominic showed signs of sanctity early on. When he was just 4 years old Dominic was frequently found by his parents in solitary prayer. He learned to be an altar boy at age 5, and if he got to the church before the priest unlocked the doors in the morning, he would kneel (in the mud, snow, whatever) until the priest arrived. When he was just 7 years old, he wrote in his journal that he had four rules:
1) I will go to Confession often, and as frequently to Holy Communion as my confessor allows.
2) I wish to sanctify the Sundays and festivals in a special manner.
3) My friends shall be Jesus and Mary.
4) Death rather than sin.
He happened to attend the school of St. John Bosco, and John became a mentor for Dominic.
As a pre-teen, he experimented with severe physical penances (putting rocks in his bed, wearing a hair shirt, etc), but when his superiors found out, they forbade him from continuing them. Instead, he decided to simply perform all of his duties with as much love and humility as possible, which he summed up with the motto, “I can’t do big things but I want everything to be for the glory of God.” (Remind you of another saint?)
Unfortunately, he contracted a lung disease and died soon after. After he died, John Bosco wrote a biography of Dominic, which was instrumental in Dominic being canonized.
2) St. Maria Goretti – Age 11
St. Maria was the third of seven children in a poor farming family. When she was nine years old, her father died, leaving her family even more destitute. To survive, their family moved in with another family. During the day, most of Maria’s siblings along with their mother would work the fields, while Maria would watch her baby sister, manage the house, and cook meals. It was a hard life, but they were devoted Christians and were close to one another.
One day when Maria was just 11 years old, the 20-year-old son of the family whose house they were sharing, Alessandro, came home early from his work when he knew that she would be alone (except for the infant she was watching). He had asked her to have sex with him twice before and she had always refused. Wanting to rape her now, he brandished a knife and demanded that she submit to him. She refused, telling him that what he wanted to do was mortal sin, and warned him that he could go to hell for it. She fought him, screaming, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!”
Furious, Alessandro first tried to choke her. When she continued to resist, he stabbed her 11 times. Injured badly but still alive, Maria tried to move toward the door. But he approached her again, stabbed her 3 more times, and then fled.
The baby woke up from the commotion and started crying. When Maria’s mother and Alessandro’s father came to check on the baby, they found Maria and rushed her to the hospital. She explained to her mother and the police what had happened, expressed forgiveness for Alessandro, and died soon after.
Alessandro was captured and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Though he was unrepentant for the first several years, he says that Maria visited him in a dream. Years later when he was released from prison, he apologized and sought forgiveness from Maria’s mother, and received communion the next day. He said he would pray to Maria every day, calling her “his little saint.” Amazingly, he attended Maria’s canonization in 1950 and became a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.
3) St. Vitus – Age 7-13?
St. Vitus was born at the end of the 3rd century and was martyred at the beginning of the 4th century as a child. Even though he has been a very popular saint for centuries in certain parts of Europe, that’s pretty much all we know about him for sure.
According to legend, however, Vitus lived in a small town in Italy and was a Christian while he father was a pagan. His father tried to persuade him to leave the faith, but when he refused, he ordered that Vitus be tortured. He survived the torture and fled with his Christian tutors to Rome. Unfortunately, Diocletian was the emperor. Vitus was arrested and tortured again along with his tutors, but remained steadfast in the faith.
Miraculously, before their torturers killed them, they were miraculously transported back to their home town, and died there of their wounds. Three days later, Vitus appeared in a vision to a wealthy woman, who then found their bodies and buried them.
4) St. Rose of Viterbo – Age 18
St. Rose of Viterbo died when she was 18, which means she was just on the cusp of adulthood. But her incredible life of holiness during her childhood and teen years show why she deserves to be on this list. Besides, how many of us were saints by the age of 18??
Born around 1233, even as a small child Rose wanted to pray and help the poor. More than that, early on she displayed miraculous gifts. At the age of three, she apparently appeared to bring her aunt back from the dead.
At the age of 7, she decided to live the life of a recluse, closed off from the world most of the time, engaged in prayer and penance. When she was 10, it is said that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her and instructed her to enter the Third Order of St. Francis and to go preach in a nearby town. She entered the order, started wearing a habit, and would walk around town holding a crucifix, exhorting people to live a Christian life faithful to the Catholic Church.
When she was 15, she attempted to found a monastery, but failed. After that, she continued to live a recluse lifestyle, only infrequently going in public, and only to exhort people to penance. Two years later, her town erupted in revolt against the pope. Because she and her family supported the pope, they were exiled. Soon after, though, they were allowed to return.
When she heard that a nearby town was being oppressed by a sorceress, she visited and won the conversion of everyone in the town – including the sorceress. Her method? She stood unharmed for 3 hours in a large fire.
At the age of 18, she died of a heart condition. Within a year, Pope Innocent IV opened the cause for her canonization, which eventually took place in 1457.
5) St. Agnes of Rome – Age 13
St. Agnes was born to a noble Christian family in A.D. 291. She was a beautiful young girl and, combined with her noble background, had many suitors. She had intense devotion to her faith however, wished to remain a virgin for the kingdom of God, and showed little interest in the suitors. Offended, some of them reported to the Roman authorities that she was a Christian.
Refusing to renounce her faith, a Roman official ordered that she be stripped naked and dragged through the streets to a brothel. In one version of her story, her hair miraculously grew long and covered her body. At the brothel, any man who tried to rape her was immediately made blind.
Undaunted, she was eventually tried in court and sentenced to death. Soldiers tied to her to stake, but when they lit the fire, she wouldn’t burn. So a Roman officer stabbed her with his sword, finally killing her.