Hardworking and studious, yet fun-loving. Young, strong, and fit. A man of prayer and a man for others. Italian. And supremely faithful.
Too good to be true? Hardly. He is a flesh and blood hero of the Catholic faith now held up for the entire Church as a “man of the beatitudes” – Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.
Born in Turin, Italy on 6 April 1901, Pier Giorgio was the second of the three children born to the newspaper publisher Alfredo Frassati and his wife Adelaide. From an early age, Pier Giorgio seemed to transcend the environment in which he had been placed, showing a remarkably sensitive soul and a tremendous solicitude for others. When only four years old, for example, he accompanied his grandfather on a visit to an orphanage. Seeing a child there who had been ostracized because of a contagious disease, Pier Giorgio sat down at the child’s table and began helping him eat, sharing his own spoon with him.
His frequent and touching acts of charity, especially to the poor and the sick of his hometown, continued into young adulthood. On his eighteenth birthday he accepted a large gift of money from his father, but instead of buying a fashionable car he bestowed monetary gifts on a number of poor families. These acts of charity were kept all but hidden from his father, an agnostic in matters religious who was generally absorbed in worldly affairs, as well as from his mother, a temperamental artist. His family was also unaware of the extraordinary efforts Pier Giorgio took to attend daily Mass: often waking well before dawn to attend Mass in a mountain chapel more than an hour’s hike away.
He was known as well for his great love of hiking and his immense capacity for friendship. His friends would testify to both after his death, recounting how Pier Giorgio would often fall back in the line of his fellow hikers to accompany the last one or to help carry another’s pack. When he wasn’t pulling practical jokes, he would be reading from Paul’s Epistles while riding on the trolley or walking on the street.
While his entire life was a testament to his fervent faith, hope, and charity, one scene in particular is especially moving. Shortly after his death on 4 July 1925 – from polio he had likely contracted after making one of his many visits to the sick – his stunned family was given another shock: some 10,000 people – the great majority of whom had been anonymous beneficiaries of Pier Giorgio’s many acts of kindness – came to attend the funeral of this simple and joyous man of God.
Blessed Pier Giorgio, pray for us!
– adapted from Michael J. Mazza, Rosario’s Gambit: Immigrant Catholics and America’s Hidden Idols (Edizioni Rosario, 2014). Reprinted with permission from the author.