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.
Pier Giorgio Frassati, Turin, 1922
Pier Giorgio was an amazing young man, born into wealth and privilege, who forsook it all for the sake of the kingdom. He was a revolutionary, sought true social reform in his home of Italy, and who inspired a generation of young Catholics, and continues to inspire us today.
Pier Giorgio was born in Turin, Italy in 1901. His mother was a nominal Catholic and his father was an agnostic, who ran a liberal political newspaper. His father served a term as a senator, and was the Italian ambassador to Germany for a time. Pier Giorgio’s world was one that had been rocked by WWI and was giving into fascism. Pier Giorgio developed a deep spiritual life and after the War joined numerous Catholic organizations with which he was able to better serve the poor and needy in the community.
Despite being from a wealthy family, Pier Giorgio’s father never gave him and his sister much money to spend. What little he was given was always given to those in need. When Pier Giorgio was only a boy, a poor mother and her son came to his home. Seeing the little boy without shoes, Pier Giorgio gave the boy his own shoes to wear. When he graduated, his father gave him the choice of money or a car. He chose the money and gave it all away. He took on many of the poor and destitute, giving them what they needed. He kept track of all of his transactions, and on his death bed, he asked his sister to make sure that they were all provided for.
He did more than just social charity. He was very spiritual. He would attend Mass nearly every day to take Communion. He would spend long hours in the middle of the night on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament. He prayed the Rosary three times each day, and encouraged his friends to do more spiritual acts, such as these. He was also a Dominican tertiary. Outside of social activism and spirituality, he loved to spend time in the mountains, skiing and climbing with his friends. Even in these times of recreation, Pier Giorgio would often have spiritual conversations with his friends. This was truly a man who loved God.
In the early 1920′s, Pier Giorgio became more and more politically active. He, along with other Church members participated in a protest in Rome. After the police knocked a banner out of some youth’s hand, Pier Giorgio retrieved the banner and held it even higher, resisting police violence, and fighting their blows with the pole. Upon the protesters being arrested, Pier Giorgio refused special treatment he might have received due to his father’s prominence.
In June of 1925, Pier Giorgio was struck with polio, likely caught while working with the sick. He had neglected his health to help the sick, and it was now to late to do anything to help him. On July 4, 1925, at the age of 24, Pier Giorgio died from polio. His parents and family expected some of Italy’s elite to attend the funeral as well as some of Pier Giorgio’s friends. They were surprised to see the streets lined with thousands of mourners, the city’s poorest and neediest, whom Pier Giorgio had served selflessly for seven years. The mourners were equally surprised to learn that this young man who they only knew as “Fra Girolamo” came from such a well-to-do and prominent family. These poor and needy pressed the Archbishop of Turin to open his cause for canonization, which began in 1932. John Paul II beatified him in May 1990.