From an early age Pier Giorgio exhibited a great devotion to God and love of others, especially the poor.
Someone who sets out to discover the heart of a saint is bound to find a fascinating individual who stands out. One of the traits found in genuinely holy people most frequently ( and perhaps surprisingly) is joy. “Saints are not sad!” So enthused the great Catholic apologist Frank Sheed. This is most true of “the man of the eight beatitudes,” Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.
He was born in 1901 in Turin the son of Alfredo, a talented and accomplished father and Adelaide, his artistic mother. And while he was deeply loved by his parents, Pier Giorgio was not able to succeed as they would have liked him to- in academics or money. He struggled in school, and had no interest in business, but came alive in the mountains: hiking, skiing, photography.
And then there was his Faith. His mother was a dutiful but rather tepid Catholic and his father an agnostic. Whereas from an early age Pier Giorgio exhibited a great devotion to God and love of others, especially the poor. He had an ardent love of the Eucharist and Our Lady and loved to spend time in adoration and to pray the Rosary. He was very apostolic too. He made great efforts to bring his friends further along in the faith by inviting them to join him in his work and prayer. It wasn’t long before his parents became concerned with what they viewed as his growing religious extremism.
The natural enthusiasm of the young is often judged by the cynical and worldly-wise as nothing more than naiveté. And religious zeal is often regarded by the lukewarm as fanaticism. Such dismissiveness indicates both a foolish blindness to tremendous, but undeveloped human potential and a rigor-mortis of the soul. This was true not just in Pier Giorgio’s time, but is true for all times.
Thankfully, the Church did well to recognise Pier Giorgio’s natural joie de vivre, his zeal and growing devotion and help them to develop in a healthy way. As a young man he joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Apostleship of Prayer, the Marian Sodality, and became a third-order Dominican. Within these groups his spirit which sought to soar verso l’alto – “to the heights” – found not discouragement but instruction and direction.
He spent himself especially among the poor and became their friend and advocate. He studied mining engineering so as to “serve Christ among the miners.” He joined Catholic Action, a movement dedicated to realizing God’s plan for the right and just ordering of society. His charity towards the poor of Turin is described as “not simply giving something to others, but giving completely of himself.” When he died in 1925 the poor of Turin offered a silent eulogy, an unwritten epitaph, by coming in their hundreds to his funeral, praying for this young man who had loved them with the love of God.
May the example of his life as well as his words fire the souls of Catholics in Ireland today: “We who, by the grace of God, are Catholics, must not squander the best years of our lives as so many unhappy young people do… We must prepare ourselves to be ready and able to handle the struggles we will have to endure to fulfill our goals, and, in so doing, to give our country happier and morally healthier days in the near future. But in order for this to happen we need the following: constant prayer to obtain God’s grace, without which all our efforts are in vain; organisation and discipline to be ready for action at the right moment; and finally, we need to sacrifice our own passions, indeed our very selves, because without this sacrifice we will never achieve our goal.”
By Fr. Shane Sullivan