Monday, July 4, 2011

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (Lay Dominican) - July 4th feastday.

In this trying time that our country is going through we Catholics and especially we students, have a serious duty to fulfill: our self-formation.......We, who by the grace of God are Catholics... must steel ourselves for the battle we shall certainly have to fight to fulfill our program and give our country, in the not too distant future, happier days and a morally healthy society, but to achieve this we need constant prayer to obtain from God that grace without which all our efforts are useless; organization and discipline to be ready for action at the right time; and finally, the sacrifice of our passion and of ourselves, because without that we cannot achieve our aim.” Pier Giorgio Frassati (1922)

That quote above could be as easily spoken in 2011 - an indication of how little changes despite appearances! July 4th marks the feast of the Italian lay Dominican Pier Giorgio Frassati. An extraordinary young man. He is a model for young people of our modern world who are looking for a role model. In knowing more about Blessed Frassati, they will find someone to identify with in this vibrant young athlete and student who combined a deep love for Christ, a desire to serve the needy, and a mission to imbue society and politics with Christian ideals.

Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in Turin, Italy on Holy Saturday, April 6, 1901. His father, an agnostic, was the founder and director of the liberal newspaper, La Stampa, and was influential in Italian politics, serving a term as senator, and later was Italy's ambassador to Germany. He spent the flower of his youth between two world wars when Italy was in social ferment and Fascism was on the rise.

Pier Giorgio developed a deep spiritual life which he never hesitated to share with his friends. In 1918 he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and dedicated much of his spare time to serving the sick and the needy. He decided to become a mining engineer so he could "serve Christ better among the miners," as he told a friend. His studies, however, did not keep him from social activism.

Although the Frassati family was well-to-do, the father was frugal and never gave his two children much spending money. What little he did have, however, Pier Giorgio gave to help the poor, even using his train fare for charity and then running home to be on time for meals in a house where punctuality and frugality were the law. When asked by friends why he often rode third class on the trains he would reply with a smile, "Because there is not a fourth class."

When he was a child a poor mother with a boy in tow came begging to the Frassati home. Pier Giorgio answered the door, and seeing the boy's shoeless feet gave him his own shoes. At graduation, given the choice by his father of money or a car he chose the money and gave it to the poor. He obtained a room for a poor old woman evicted from her tenement, provided a bed for a consumptive invalid, supported three children of a sick and grieving widow. He kept a small ledger book containing detailed accounts of his transactions, and while he lay on his death bed, he gave instructions to his sister, asking her to see to the needs of families who depended on his charity. He even took the time, with a near-paralyzed hand, to write a note to a friend in the St. Vincent de Paul Society with instructions regarding their weekly Friday visits. Only God knew of these charities; he never mentioned them to others.

He felt a strong, mysterious urge to be near the Blessed Sacrament. During nocturnal adoration, he would spend all night on his knees in profound prayer. He influenced other students to make the annual university retreat given by the Jesuits. He loved the rosary, a family practice, and prayed it three times daily after becoming a lay Dominican.

It was in 1922 that he joined the Dominican Third Order choosing the name Girolamo after his personal hero, the Dominican preacher and reformer of Florence's Renaissance. Despite the many organizations to which Pier Giorgio belonged, he was not a passive "joiner"; records show that he was active and involved in each, fulfilling all the duties of membership. Pier Giorgio was strongly anti-fascist and did nothing to hide his political views.

He died at a very young age (24) from polio.

His family expected Turin's elite and political figures to come to offer their condolonces and attend the funeral; they naturally expected to find many of his friends there as well. They were surprised , however, to find the streets of the city lined with thousands of mourners as the cortege passed by. Those who mourned his death most were the poor and needy whom he served so unselfishly for seven years; many of these, in turn, were surprised to learn that the saintly young man they only knew as 'Fra Girolamo' came from such an influential family. It was these poor people who petitioned the Archbishop of Turin to begin the cause for canonisation. The process was opened in 1932 and he was beatified by Blessed John Paul II on May 20th, 1990.

 For a more full account of the life of Pier Giorgio, please visit


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post.

You may be interested in the similarities between Blessed Pier Giorgio and the remarkable Irish Jesuit Fr Willie Doyle

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Blessed Pier Giorgio was one of the patrons of WYD in Sydney. We need attractive persons like him to inspire us on our way as we try to follow Jesus.