Dominik Liam Pettey was born August 5, 1997. In the fullness of time, Dominik was the middle of three children born to Patrick and Magdalena Pettey. He was 14 months younger than his brother Nicholas and 18 months older than his sister Veronika.
From his first moments of mobility, Dominik was an active, athletic and all around “fidgety” child. He was a very happy and affable kid who loved to play outdoors whether hitting a baseball, kicking a football, shooting hockey pucks, building forts or simulating military exercises with his buddies. He was a vibrant youth with an adventurous spirit and an undeniable passion for ice hockey.
Early on Dominik’s happy and gentle nature gave way to a generous and sensitive spirit that was attentive to the needs of others. He had a big heart and cared for those who felt isolated, marginalized, or were going through a difficult time. One father of a kindergartner recalled when his son was sitting anxiously and alone in the corner of a classroom, young Dominik walked over to his fellow classmate, kept him company and comforted him.
In his high school years, Dominik spent time with his friends hanging out, having fun and always lifting their spirits. Dominik was generous with his time, limited allowance and other resources. He would give away gift cards he received to others or put whatever money he had in the collection basket at school for a cause.
One characteristic that defined Dominik was his lightheartedness. With this came a genuine sense of humor that was at times impish. He would act out in the silliest ways and say the most ridiculous things–all for fun. He never took himself too seriously. Dominik’s authenticity was always at the forefront and he did not hide behind any false pretenses, rather he was a regular, ordinary kid with all the great hopes and challenges of youth hidden beneath an ever-present smile.
From a young age, he showed a love and devotion to God from building churches with Legos, serving as an altar boy, even “playing priest” at pretend Mass at home. Dominik’s pastor, Fr. Mark Knestout, recalled that Dominik would go to Mass every Sunday, and “would even drive himself on the occasions when his parents were not in town.” Dominik attended and graduated from St. Bartholomew primary school in Bethesda, MD. Upon receiving the sacrament of Confirmation and taking the name St. John Bosco, he entered Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC.
For most of his high school years, Dominik was a solid “B” student and worked hard to maintain his grades. When he found a subject intriguing, he applied himself to his studies; when the subject was not to his interest, he caused his teachers much grief and consternation by playfully joking around sometimes to an extreme.
In December of his junior year of high school, Dominik was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night with a ruptured appendix. In the window of time before the emergency appendectomy, he asked his mother to call a priest to come and hear his confession. Fr. Don Worch arrived within thirty minutes.
The routine surgical procedure had many complications which resulted in a week-long stay at the hospital, significant weight loss, and a considerable amount of physical suffering for a kid who rarely experienced illness in his young life. During the weeks that followed, he recovered enough to rejoin the Gonzaga ice hockey team for their historic undefeated season culminating in back-to-back regional championships. This event was a tremendous joy for him in the midst of some deeper and quieter sorrows.
The ruptured appendix complications and physical toll meant that Dominik missed his final exams first semester Junior year, receiving a report card with grades that were incomplete. As most young people know, this is a time in high school when students are encouraged to work extra hard to improve their grades in anticipation of their college applications and selection. Dom entered this period of second semester Junior year with some serious academic challenges, and often found the pressure to catch up and perform well to be overwhelming. He was also still weak, underweight and experiencing occasional abdominal pain.
During this difficult time, Dom attended Kairos, a retreat sponsored by his school. This event had a great impact on him, and would prove to be especially consoling in his struggles in the months ahead. Dominik was absent from school for weeks as he relied on his family, doctors, teachers and others to help him heal and grow stronger.
Back at school for Senior Year, Dominik had developed a keen awareness of the needs of others and often offered encouragement to many people in all walks of life. On one occasion while waiting for hockey practice to start, Dominik tutored a boy he had not previously known. He routinely helped and encouraged many friends who would confide in him about their doubts and struggles. Students who were timid or may have felt awkward at school experienced a genuine empathy when he reached out to them through a brief conversation or simply raised their spirits with his smile.
Dominik was social and enjoyed many friends with whom he loved to gather and just be himself. It wasn’t until after his passing that his family came to know just how many friends he really had and to how many people he had quietly ministered. The family heard many stories of his compassion and care for others.
Dominik lived out his faith but he did not wear religion on his sleeve. He lived it in person with humor, joy and an engaging smile in everyday, ordinary situations. There were as well the struggles and challenges with self and family that all encounter. Like many young people, he experienced doubts, temptations and distractions. Dominik loved his siblings along with the rivalry and teasing that were ever present.
Dominik passed away on All Saints Day, November 1, 2014. His requiem Mass was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception November 8, 2014, which in the Dominican liturgical calendar commemorates the feast of All Souls. During the funeral Mass, a relic of St. Dominic was placed at the altar and in the forefront of the Basilica sanctuary, was displayed a large painting of the Divine Mercy image. The holy card provided to the congregation bore Dominik’s image and the Divine Mercy chaplet. Dominik is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, MD.