By Alex Hamilton
Aside from being arguably one of the most good looking saints, Pier Giorgio has one of the most attractive personalities in the Catholic Church from the last century. Though he only lived till his mid 20’s, he lived a full, rich life of giving himself to others. He fully embodied the joy and love of the Gospel and shared it with each and every person he encountered.
Born in 1901 in Turin, Italy, Pier Giorgio Frassati was the son of wealthy parents. His father was an Italian senator and owner of a newspaper and his mother was an artist and from a family of great wealth as well. His upbringing pointed towards a secular lifestyle. His father was an atheist and his family never prayed at home together, not even at meals. Neither did they observe Lenten practices, such as abstaining from meat. Pier Giorgio’s faith was undoubtedly a gift from God.
The stories of his childhood are as charming as he his. When he was a young boy, his tutor was taking him through town on an errand when a priest was coming by, altar boys, candles and all, to take communion to the sick. As all the townspeople began to kneel, the tutor told Pier Giorgio to kneel as well, saying, “Our Lord is coming, passing by, let’s kneel because He is a king.” To which Pier Giorgio replied, “Yes, He is the king of kings!” During a Corpus Christi procession when he was four years old, everyone was throwing flowers into the street to honor the Blessed Sacrament, so Pier Giorgio reached into his relative’s pocket and threw the golden pen into the street exclaiming, “This is for you, Jesus!” From a very young age, he had a simple, beautiful devotion to God.
In addition to attending mass on Sunday with his mother and siblings, Pier Giorgio began to attend daily mass frequently as an adolescent. Mind you, this wasn’t a convenient activity he did when his homework was finished or if he had enough time in the day. He would wake up in the middle of the night or early in the morning to attend mass before school started. Sometimes this involved running miles to get to a church. When he got back, he would kneel in his bedroom and pray a rosary. His father would often find him asleep on his floor in the morning, rosary in hand, and assume he had fallen asleep that way the night before. Little did he know the sacrifice his son was making!
Bl. Pier Giorgio is the perfect example of how to be a friend to all. His faith did not leave him in the chapel all day or completely removed from society, although he spent countless hours in prayer every day. Rather, he brought Christ to others in a very real sense. In the Gospels, we see Jesus living everyday life with sinners in order to draw them closer to Himself. Pier Giorgio would ski, go mountain climbing, swim, ride horseback, drive cars, and all other activities a young man did at his time with his classmates. And he always did his best to sanctify every activity. When he and his friends would hike up a mountain, he would rejoice in the rest at the top and invite them to pray a rosary with him. My favorite anecdote of his is about how he would play games. When he would play pool with his friends, he said that if they won, he would pay them money, but if he won, they would have to go pray a holy hour with him. So, when he won, he brought all of them to the cathedral, sat them down with rosaries and prayer books, and knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament to pray. If they all went on ski trips, he would first make sure there was a church nearby or pay for a priest to join them. If neither happened, he simply wouldn’t go. Furthermore, his friends never heard him curse or saw him drink more than one glass of wine in a sitting. Pier Giorgio never hid his faith, nor did he ungraciously impose it upon others. Rather, he gently invited others to share his joy.
Pier Giorgio was deeply devoted to loving the poor in his town. On his 18th birthday, his father gave him a new car. That day, Pier Giorgio sold the car and gave all of the money to the poor. During his high school and college years, he spend time with the poor every day after class. He would read to them, do chores for them, bathe them, or just give them money. He didn’t do charity passively. Rather, he lived with the poor, getting to know families, playing with kids and talking to everyone. By the age of 21, he was helping over 100 families, even supporting some children so they could go to school.
Due to his birth, Pier Giorgio was actually quite well known in Italy. His father was very wealthy and part of one of the most prominent families in the country. Pier Giorgio led several demonstrations against Mussolini’s fascist government, inspiring thousands of young people to oppose Mussolini’s policies. However, whenever he visited the poor, he told them that his name was Brother Jerome in an effort to avoid attention. Imagine if someone like Ivanka Trump were visiting destitute neighborhoods every day, living with the poorest of the poor. That’s how prominent he was! Nevertheless, he remained a humble man.
At the age of 24, he was caring for a sick person with polio and caught polio himself. This was the first time he was seriously ill. However, his grandmother was on her deathbed at the same time. One account tells of how he went to visit her and collapsed several times walking down the hallway to see her. His family was so busy grieving over the death of his grandma that they didn’t notice his illness until two days before he died because he was fighting it so hard. On July 4, 1925, Pier Giorgio died. One might ask why he died so young. In the words of St. Gregory the Great, “When the fruit is ripe, comes the sickle because it’s time to harvest. In fact, God Almighty, when the fruit is ripe, sends the sickle and reaps the harvest because when He has led each of us to the perfection of the work, he truncates our temporal life to take his grain in the granaries of heaven.” An astounding 10,000 people came to his funeral. These were family, friends, and the countless people he had served all those years. His parents were so moved that they began to live the faith once more. 40 years later, his body was exhumed to discover that he was incorrupt, meaning that God had preserved his body so as to show us his sanctity in life. Pier Giorgio was beatified in 1990.
What can we learn from Pier Giorgio? Well, he is literally immortalized as a vibrant, youthful man. Pope St. John Paul II wanted him to be a model for young people, and he does it so well. In the year before he died, Pier Giorgio had finished a degree in engineering because he wanted to work with the poor. He was discerning many things: the workforce, marriage, the priesthood, being a missionary. And yet, his discernment never slowed him down. He was always loving people with every minute of his time. He teaches us that whatever our station in life, we can reach out and give our all, especially to the poor. He was deemed the “Man of the Beatitudes” because he embodied the ideals that our Lord gave us in the Sermon on the Mount. He was humble, loving, and sacrificial. As young men and women, we are called, as he would say, “Verso l’Alto”, meaning, “to the heights!” Life is busy, sure, but if it’s not lived for Jesus and for others, what are we living for? In Pier Giorgio’s words, “To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth, that is not living, but existing.”
Alex is a senior, about to graduate with degrees in History and Political “Science”. While he’s not working out or reading about Saints, Church Fathers, etc, you’lll find him…sleeping? He pretty much only does those things