|BLESSED PIER GIORGIO FRASSATI, Layman
FEAST DAY: July 4th
CANONIZED A SAINT: Has not yet been formally canonized a saint.
BEATIFIED: In 1990 by Pope John Paul II
PATRONAGE: Youth Groups, Mountain climbers, skiers and all Italian Confraternities
O merciful God,
Who through the perils of the world deigned to preserve by Thy grace
Thy servant Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati pure of heart and ardent of
charity, listen, we ask Thee, to our prayers and, if it is in Thy designs
that he be glorified by the church, show us Thy will, granting us the
graces we ask of Thee through his intercession, by the merits of Jesus
Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew
How blest are the poor in spirit: the reign of God is theirs. Blest are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled. Blest are the lowly; they shall inherit the land. Blest are they who hunger and thirst for holiness: they shall have their fill. Blest are they who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs. Blest are the single-hearted for they shall see God. Blest too are the peacemakers; for they shall be called sons of God. Blest are those persecuted for holiness’ sake; the reign of God is theirs. Blest are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven…
~Matthew 5: 3 – 12
OUTLINE OF TEACHING
Born in 1901, in Turin, Italy, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati compacted in his twenty-four short years on this earth what many never accomplish in an entire life time. Brought up in a wealthy home, yet one lacking in faith, he used his resources to care for the needs of the poor, which sprung from the depths of a life of prayer and devotion. He loved to ski and climb mountains with his friends and joined them in street brawls with thugs to defend the truth of the Catholic faith against the ravages of Fascism and Communism. He gave up the woman he loved and intended to marry for the sake of family unity. Through contracting poliomyelitis, his life was cut short in 1925 at the age of twenty-four. Pope John Paul II referred to him as the “man of the eight beatitudes” at his beatification in 1990. He is an outstanding example of Catholic faith in action as well as a superb model for the youth of today.
BLESSED PIER GIORGIO FRASSATI,
Layman and Third Order Dominican
Invitation to meet Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
Pier Giorgio Frassati lived an amazing life of contrasts. Although his family was financially wealthy, he chose to live close to the poor. He could have lived a life of privilege, yet he chose a career in which to better the life of the working class. He was deeply pious and prayerful, while his parents gave little attention to the practice of their faith. Along with his love for the Mass, the rosary and Eucharistic Adoration, Pier Giorgio climbed mountains, skied, got into fights and smoked a pipe. Pope John Paul II called Pier Giorgio Frassati the “man of the eight beatitudes” at his beatification in 1990. Pier Giorgio Frassati has been declared the patron of youth as he has a great deal to teach the young people of today how to live a live of service for God in their everyday life. Together, let us meet this young man of prayer and adventure.
A mixed bag of wealth
On April 6, 1901, Adelaide Frassati, an accomplished artist and wife of a prominent publisher of the La Stampa newspaper in Turin, Italy, Alfredo, gave birth to the first of her two children, Pier Giorgio. The Frassati family was wealthy, financially, yet relatively poor in the realms of faith. Although Alfredo was an agnostic and his mother was a nominal Catholic at best, Pier Giorgio was baptized at home as he was in danger of death from the time of his birth. Adelaide would give birth to Pier Giorgio’s younger sister, Luciana, seventeen months later. The two Frassati children grew to become close, life-long companions. Alfredo and Adelaide provided their children with the best of everything life had to offer, and did strive to include some religious influence. Even though Alfredo and Adelaide were not the least bit concerned about living their faith, they did provide that their children would attend Sunday Mass, learn their catechism as well as say their morning and evening prayers. Pier Giorgio’s father traveled quite a bit due to his work and political involvement. His parents’ marriage was anything but solid and there was always a fear with the Frassati children that their parents’ marriage would break up, a constant pressure the two children lived under. Pier Giorgio loved his parents and would do anything to keep them together. In a letter to his father, five year old Pier Giorgio wrote; “I will pray to the Child Jesus for you, and so that you are happy, I promise that I won’t hit Luciana anymore.” Pier Giorgio made his First Holy Communion on June 19, 1911 at the Chapel of the Sister Helpers of the Souls in Purgatory.
Love for the Mass and the Rosary
Pier Giorgio started his education in a public school and was held back to repeat his second grade year in grammar school. He eventually left the public school and began to attend the Social Institute directed by the Jesuit Fathers. It was the Jesuit Fathers who influenced Pier Giorgio the most in terms of the spiritual life. While at the Social Institute, he began to attend Mass and Holy Communion on a daily basis, much to the dismay of his mother, who was fearful of her son becoming “fanatical.” Pier Giorgio used to view morning Mass as his “early-morning appointment with the Lord” by which he was strengthened throughout the remainder of the day. He later began to serve daily Mass so that he could even be closer to the priest and Jesus on the altar. During his early teen years, Pier Giorgio began his daily practice of praying the Rosary, never letting a day go by without saying the Rosary, even if he had to pray publicly while riding the train. Later in his youth, Pier Giorgio became very devoted to Eucharistic Adoration and was very faithful about making holy hours before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Throughout his entire life, Pier Giorgio was wholly devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Attracted to the poor
Prior to his enrollment in college, Pier Giorgio began to enter more deeply into a life of prayer and service to the poor. He joined the Apostleship of Prayer as well as the Marian Society. His life of prayer, which was disciplined and rich eventually led Pier Giorgio into action, most notably through his activity in the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Turin, where he would bring food to the poor, many times at his own expense. His parents and his sister paid little attention to his work with the poor, hoping that it was a passing thing and that soon Pier Giorgio would take his place on the social ladder prepared for him. Pier Giorgio always preferred to work more in secret as he never wanted to bring undue attention to himself or what he was doing for the poor. Later in his life, it was not uncommon for Pier Giorgio to use his own financial resources to ease the plight of the poor. Pier Giorgio also became interested in the plight of the working poor, especially those who worked in the mines. During the period that his father served as Ambassador to Berlin (1920 – 21), Pier Giorgio used to visit the miners in Germany as well as study the Catholic organizations which supported and aided them. Pier Giorgio’s love for the Eucharist also translated in his love for the poor. When asked about his daily attendance at Mass, he would say; “Jesus comes every day to visit me sacramentally in the Eucharist; I return the visit by going to find him among the poor.”
A deliberate life lived
In 1918, Pier Giorgio entered the Polytechnic University in order to study Mining Engineering so that he could better serve the needs of miners. Not only was Pier Giorgio concerned about the needs of the working class, he was just as interested in the politics of the day, which meant a head on confrontation with Fascism which plagued Italy at that time. On several occasions during various student marches and protests, Pier Giorgio was not afraid to use his fists, when needed. He was anything but a pushover. His faith drove him to stand for the truth, especially in the ways of politics and social involvement. To Pier Giorgio, standing up against Fascism and Communism of the early 1920’s was an essential component of living his faith as a Catholic. It is safe to say that Pier Giorgio understood the constant threat Fascism and Communism imposed upon the Catholic Church; a church he felt called to defend and promote. In 1921, Pier Giorgio, along with 50,000 other students attended a youth congress in order to defend the faith against the onslaught of the social and political ills of his time. As the students marched through the streets of Rome, Pier Giorgio carried the flag of the youth movement. Fights broke out in the streets and Pier Giorgio not only fought with his fists, he also used the flag pole to defend the flag as well as some of the priests who were being attacked by thugs. He, along with many others, was eventually arrested. Yet, when the police discovered that Pier Giorgio was the son of an ambassador, he was released immediately, however, not without his cohorts. The newspapers plastered over the front page the events that had taken place and Pier Giorgio was the center piece of the reports. He responded to the publicity; “I have done a little thing well, simply my duty.”
For the sake of family unity
As devout and prayerful Pier Giorgio was, he never entertained for long any sort of vocation to the priesthood, rather he felt called to marriage and fatherhood. Earlier, it was made mention that Pier Giorgio’s parents’ marriage was built more on quick-sand then on solid rock and there was always an underlying fear that his parents would divorce. Pier Giorgio was so concerned about the welfare of his family that he even sacrificed his love for the woman he had wanted to marry; Laura Hidalgo who never measured up to his parents’ standards. He even went to work for a time at the newspaper his father founded, La Stampa, just to keep the peace in his family. Although he did not really feel called to the priesthood, he did, on May 28, 1922 become a Third Order Dominican (members of Third Orders, such as Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, etc. are lay people who desire a special bond and community life with a particular religious order, while living in the secular world).
A man of the mountains
Pier Giorgio would, by today’s standards, be considered a “man’s man.” He was athletic, strong and willing to fight for his beliefs. He loved the outdoors and was an avid skier and mountain climber. Mountain climbing expeditions were always in the works, as Pier Giorgio would gather other youth with him. Many times, he was able to secure a priest to join on the expeditions or ski trips in order to have Mass celebrated on the top of the mountain they were hiking or climbing. This was also true of the many ski trips he put together. In Pier Giorgio’s day, the Eucharistic fast went from midnight, until after the Mass the following day. Pier Giorgio would often climb mountains with no food or water until after they had assisted at Mass on the mountain top. If a priest was not available to join them, they would make sure that they attended Mass before their expedition. Pier Giorgio also loved to smoke a pipe, especially while in the mountains. There is a wonderful picture of him on the top of a mountain with his pipe clinched between his teeth. Unfortunately, there have been those, who for whatever reason are fearful of presenting the entire picture of Pier Giorgio, have had the pipe air-brushed out of the picture.
An unexpected death
At the end of June, 1925, Pier Giorgio’s maternal grandmother was dying and thus the focus of his family when he became ill with poliomyelitis, which is a serious infectious virus disease, caused by inflammation of the gray matter of the spinal cord and characterized by fever and motor paralysis. His parents, who placed the care of Pier Giorgio in the hands of the family’s maid, did not believe her report of how seriously sick their son was. Even from his sick bed, Pier Giorgio continued to provide for those most in need. Within a week’s time, on July 4th, Pier Giorgio had died, at the age of twenty-four. Thousands of people came to the funeral, many of whom were the poor of Italy who had been assisted by Pier Giorgio. It was only then did his family come to realize the impact of his life over the poor of Italy as well as his deep piety. Ironically, it was only through the death of Pier Giorgio that his parents began to seriously examine their relationship and heal their marriage. Father Karl Rahner, S.J., the great Jesuit theologian whose family was close to the Frassati family had this to say of Pier Giorgio; “Frassati represented the young, pure Christian youth: cheerful, devoted to prayer, open to all that is free and beautiful, attentive to the social problems, a young man who bore the Church in his heart and destiny. His was a life so rich, so serene, almost care-freely happy (despite regular family problems) as he rode his horse, went skiing, hiked in the mountains, was in the company of his friends, sang songs, engaged in political discussion, was involved in brawls with the police and so many other beautiful things. And even in his golden youth, he acquired a depth and seriousness which derives from the absoluteness of the Christian faith in God, in eternal life.” On one of the photos taken at the occasion of his last mountain climb on June 7, 1925, Pier Giorgio wrote “Verso l’alto” (toward the heights). It was toward the heights of heaven that Pier Giorgio set the course of his life.
Readings from Pope John Paul II on the life of Pier Giorgio Frassati
Have models from whom you are inspired. I think for instance of Pier Giorgio Frassati, who was a modern young man, open to the values of athletics (he was a valiant mountain climber and skier), but he knew how to give at the same time a courageous testimony of generosity in the faith and in the exercise of charity toward his neighbor, especially toward the poorest and those who suffered. The Lord called him to Himself at only twenty-four years of age, but he is still living well in our midst with his smile and his goodness to invite his contemporaries to the love of Christ and to the virtuous life. (Given at the Olympic Stadium in Rome – April 12, 1984)
When the heart is full of God the faith is translated in generous service to our brothers, especially to the neediest. In Frassati the Gospel became firm and welcome, he made an attempt in the search of truth as well as the demanding commitment to justice. Prayer and the practice of the sacraments gave substance and tone to his manifold apostolate and to his whole existence. Enlivened by the Spirit of God, he was transformed in a marvelous adventure. Everything became an offering and a gift, even in his illness, even in his death. This is the message as he continues to speak to all and particularly to the youth of our time. (To the pilgrims gathered in Rome for the beatification on May 20, 1990)
Quotes from Pier Giorgio Frassati
“Christ comes daily to visit me in the Holy Eucharist. I return the visit by going to find Him in the poor.”
“All around the sick and all around the poor, I see a special light which we do not have.”
“True happiness, dear friends, does not consist in the pleasures of the world or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which we only have if we are pure in heart and mind.”
“To live without Faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for Truth, that is not living but existing.”
“The faith given to me in Baptism suggests to me surely: of yourself you will do nothing, but if you have God as the center of all your action, then you will reach the goal.”
Suggested Discussion Questions
How was Pier Giorgio able to exercise his Catholic faith, even though his parents did not really practice their faith?
Why do you think Pier Giorgio had such a devotion to the plight of the poor?
What role did the practice of daily prayer and participation at Mass have on Pier Giorgio’s life?
Can you think of anything that you believe in so strongly that you would be willing to take to the streets and possibly even face being arrested?
How did Pier Giorgio’s love for the outdoors contribute to his relationship with God? Does the outdoors have that same effect on you and your relationship with God?
What brand of pipe tobacco do you think Pier Giorgio smoked?
A Man of the Beatitudes – Pier Giorgio Frassati – Frassati, Luciana (Ignatius Press, San Francisco - ©2001
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati – Di Girolamo, S.J., Father Pasquale, Translated by Father Roger Arnsparger (New Hope Publications, New Hope, KY - ©1990
Voices of the Saints – Ghezzi, Bert (Doubleday, New York - ©2000)
The life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was compiled and submitted to DTS by Gary Gaudreau – Coordinator of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin and National Director of Resources for the Dead Theologians Society.