By Renae Kranz
Of the many holy people on the path to sainthood, few are as easy to relate to as Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Whether it was his good looks or his love of sports or his fun-loving spirit, both young and old can find connection points to him. But for Pier Giorgio, all his connection points were with Jesus, and he used them to serve the least of those in his midst—the poor, the sick, the forgotten.
Pope Saint John Paul II called him “the man of the eight beatitudes” at his Beatification Mass for good reason. Pier Giorgio fused his faith and his daily life so seamlessly that it was easy for him to use his love of sports, art and politics to bring others to the Lord, all while helping an untold number of people whom society ignored find hope and comfort.
Pier Giorgio Frassati was born April 6, 1901, in Turin, Italy, to Alfredo and Adelaide (Ametis) Frassati. His father was the founder of an influential newspaper in Italy, “La Stampa,” and he held office in the Italian Senate and was ambassador to Germany. His mother was a painter. He had a sister, Luciana Gawronska, with whom he was very close.
Neither of his parents was religious, but even at an early age, Pier Giorgio was drawn to Catholicism. He joined Catholic groups early on and got permission to receive the Eucharist daily, which at the time was rarely done. His strong devotion to the Eucharist drew him to spend many hours in adoration of our Lord.
Pier Giorgio went to a Jesuit school and later became a professed member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic in 1922. He had his own devotion to several saints, including Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena and Paul the Apostle.
His desire for holiness spilled over into his extracurricular activities. He was an avid mountaineer and loved to hike, ski and ride horses with friends. He also loved practical jokes, all played in good taste and humor. While doing these lighthearted and active things, he often shared his spiritual life with his friends, spreading joy to them through the ordinary moments of life.
Care for the poor
Beyond the good looks and vitality of Pier Giorgio was a boy, and later a man, with deep concern for the poor and forgotten. His sister Luciana said of him, “Catholic social teaching could never remain simply a theory with [Pier Giorgio].” He devoted much of his time and money to feed and care for the people of Turin and joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society to work closely with others to make a difference.
When he graduated from university with a degree in engineering (which he did to be able “to serve Christ better among the miners”), his father offered him either a car or a sizable amount of money. Pier Giorgio chose the money so he could give it to the poor instead of use it himself.
He also understood that World War I and the politics of the time were impacting his country and its people, increasing the human suffering he saw around him. He hated fascism and actively worked against it, participating in protests and working for equality for the Italian people.
Much of Pier Giorgio’s service to the poor was hidden from the world. His family’s wealth and influence were of no concern to him. He freely gave everything he had, living a simple life, praying fervently and making the most of time spent with friends.
Man of the beatitudes
Understanding Pier Giorgio’s life and actions can help us make the connection between him and the beatitudes, and ultimately help us understand how we can imitate him in our own lives. Let’s take them one by one. (Be sure to read this month’s feature story on the next pages for helpful explanations of each beatitude.)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Pier Giorgio was not attached to wealth. In fact, he would often give away even his bus fare to the poor and run home instead. He never hesitated to give to others whatever they needed.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Pier Giorgio’s life was oriented to do the will of God. His hours in adoration and selfless love of the poor are witnesses to that reality.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. This beatitude is about detachment from power. From everything we know about Pier Giorgio, his life revolved around helping others rather than becoming known for his own accomplishments. Power never seemed to be a priority for him.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. Pier Giorgio only wanted to be honored by God. He didn’t care about honor or praise from the world. In fact, his family often misunderstood his desire to help the needy. And although he was well liked by many, approval was not something he strove for or clung to.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. This beatitude is all about receptivity to God and the desire to do the right thing. The many hours Pier Giorgio spent in adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist helped dispose him for receptivity to God’s will. His actions outside of adoration show a clear desire to do what was right for those around him.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Pier Giorgio heaped mercy and compassion on the forgotten of Turin. Because he had opened his heart to God, God gave him the grace of strength to persevere in the work he was meant to do.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. This is all about the desire for God’s will to be done in us. Pier Giorgio felt this so intensely that he ended up dying in the service of the sick, knowing all along the dangers of what God’s will meant for his life.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. This is about living a life of truth and joy. Pier Giorgio lived a joyful life that brought peace to himself and everyone helped by his generosity and care.
Pier Giorgio gave everything he had to others, even his own life. He contracted polio in June of 1925, possibly from the sick he was ministering to in the slums. His grandmother was dying at the same time, so he turned the attention away from himself, suffering quietly. By the time others realized how serious his condition was, it was too late.
The night before he died, his chief concern was still for the needy he served throughout his life. He got a message to a friend to make sure a poor man he had been helping would get the injections he had secured for him.
Pier Giorgio Frassati died on July 4, 1925. News reached the neighborhoods and city of Turin, and thousands of people gathered outside the family home on the day of his funeral Mass to pay homage to the man who had helped so many.
This man, who was declared blessed on May 20, 1990, was a bright light in an often dark and cynical world. He drew his strength from Christ, from prayer, and from devotion to the will of God to be done through him.
During his Beatification Mass, Pope Saint John Paul II said of Pier Giorgio:
“By his example he proclaims that a life lived in Christ’s Spirit, the Spirit of the Beatitudes, is ‘blessed,’ and that only the person who becomes a ‘man or woman of the Beatitudes’ can succeed in communicating love and peace to others.”
May we strive to live the daring and joyful life of the beatitudes.