A few years ago, I was driving with some friends from Austria to Milan, Italy and we were headed to a soccer game. Part of the duration of our drive was spent talking about the Saints. As we entered into the city, my friend said something I will never forget. He said, “Claire, we have to make the Saints our best friends.” That sentence changed the trajectory of my life. I had always loved the Saints, I loved learning about them, and I attempted to imitate them – but I never thought to make them friends – let alone my best friends. From that moment on – I asked my favorite Saints to become my dearest, best friends. And my life has been completely different since.
Announcing my pilgrimage to Italy for September 2023 (that YOU are invited to!) this past week was one of the most exciting things I have done. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is such a big part of this trip. We are following in his footsteps and visiting his tomb in the city of Turin and ending our trip in his family’s summer home of Pollone. I know many of you have a devotion to this holy Blessed in heaven, many of you call him your best friend. I have called upon his help and intercession and have leaned into his friendship often. His life story is a powerful one, precisely because he radiates Christ so intensely. He lived radically for Him. I’ve learned many lessons from his life and story, and I wanted to share five of them with you. Before I share my list, here is a little information about his life.
Pier Giorgio Michelangelo Frassati was born in Turin, Italy (which is in northern Italy) on April 6, 1901 to Adelaide Ametis and Alfredo Frassati. His mother, Adelaide, was a successful artist and his father ran an influential Italian political newspaper, as well as serving as an Italian Senator and the Italian Ambassador to Germany. Blessed Pier Giorgio had a younger sister, Luciana, who he loved dearly.
Luciana described their childhood as, “strictly controlled and isolated” and at times “painful.” Their parents fought often, creating a tense atmosphere at home. Blessed Pier’s father was agnostic and his mother was not deeply religious. This reality of Blessed Pier Giorgio’s childhood shows that: 1. Sanctity, holiness, and faith are truly gifts freely given to us from God. 2. The importance of sharing the faith with others when you do have that gift, as Blessed Pier Giorgio learned his faith from many holy, upright people outside his home.
School was difficult for Pier Giorgio, he failed his Latin exams twice, at age twelve and then again at age sixteen (if you are struggling in classes, school, or work – ask his intercession!). Yet God often brings goodness out of hardship. Everything He allows is for His greater glory and/or our sanctification and the holiness of others. Because of his difficulty in Latin, Blessed Pier Giorgio was transferred to a school run by Jesuits. It was there that his prayer life grew and his works of charity deepened. He joined several religious societies: the Marian Sodality, the Association of the Blessed Sacrament, the Apostolate of Prayer, and the Dominican Angelic Warfare Confraternity.
Blessed Pier Giorgio grew to be a handsome, athletic young man. He was an outdoorsman who loved adventure! He was a leader among his friends, always sharing his spiritual life with his companions in a natural, gentle, deep way. He created a group of his dearest friends, and named them the “Tipi Loschi” the “Shady Characters” – a group that was united in prayer and faith, adventure, and formation. People were drawn to his joy. He allowed Christ to live so fully in him that his personality – his true self – shown brilliantly and drew people deeply in. (I think of C.S. Lewis’ quote: “The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be…It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”)
Blessed Pier Giorgio is known as the “man of the Beatitudes” – a name given to him by Pope Saint John Paul II. He truly lived out Christ’s call – especially His call to live in charity. From his youth he went out to serve the poorest of the poor. When it came time for Pier Giorgio to decide on a career path – his decision was completely based on what vocation he could best serve God. He was always drawn to the most vulnerable, so he decided to become a mining engineer – a profession where he could serve those considered lowly during his time.
He started taking courses at the Polytechnic University of Turin in 1918. It was during his time at the university that he joined the Federation of Italian Catholic University Students and the Saint Paul Society. He was very active in the political realm and became a member of Catholic Action. In his free time he worked with the elderly, the poor, orphans, and aiding his country’s servicemen who were returning from World War I.
One of Blessed Pier Giorgio’s favorite saints was Saint Catherine of Siena – a woman who was fearless in correcting social injustices and corruptions during her time. Inspired by her life and her Dominican spirituality – one of actively living out truth – Pier Giorgio joined the Third Order of St. Dominic when he was 21 years old, as well as getting involved in the tumultuous political scene of Italy. He did not shy away from speaking the truth in love.
In 1925, the same year he was due to graduate university, Pier Giorgio contracted polio from the poor he served and began to die. His grandmother was dying that same week – so his week-long illness, filled with terrible suffering, was not taken seriously and was diagnosed only the day before he died. Blessed Pier Giorgio died at the age of twenty-four.
At his funeral, thousands came to venerate the life of this young, holy man who fully lived out Jesus’ Beatitudes. The streets were crowded with the poor, disabled, lonely, and ill Pier had served so faithfully throughout his life. So many pressed forward in the crowd just to touch his coffin. His parents, along with many others, experienced a profound conversion after seeing the hidden life of charity that Blessed Pier Giorgio lived for Christ in the service of the poor and sick.
Blessed Pier Giorgio’s source of strength was the Eucharist. He was able to accomplish all the works of charity that he did and endure all of his sufferings because he was completely in love with Jesus in the Eucharist. I will never forget the first time I “met” Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. I was about twelve years old. My mother handed me a small prayer card of him. I took one look at it, and I thought – “what a handsome guy – thank God I’m Catholic.” She told me to pray to Jesus through his intercession. I began to research him in my spare time. I would look up his story online and I ordered and read all the books I could find about him. I wanted to be like him – adventurous and loving – a person who would give my time and love to the poor and lonely. I wanted to bring people closer to Christ just as he did.
What I found out as the years passed is that in order to accomplish these things, I had to fall in love with Jesus. Our love for Jesus is what animates all of our good works. It is what gives life and verve to all of our passions and acts of charity. Without loving Christ, we will be a clashing cymbal. I looked to Pier Giorgio – how did he fall in love with Jesus? Through adoring Him in the Eucharist, through receiving Him each day at Mass. THIS was his secret, this was his source of strength.
Every evening since his youth, Pier Giorgio went to Benediction of the Eucharist. He spent hours in the middle of the night adoring Jesus. A woman once observed him on his knees adoring and hot candle wax was slowly dripping on him – yet he was so deep in prayer he didn’t move.
When he was twelve years old, he obtained permission to receive daily Communion – something that was very rare during this time in history. Pier Giorgio’s mother opposed this, thinking that he would become a “narrow minded Catholic.” Blessed Pier begged his mother for four days to be allowed to receive and she finally gave her permission after talking with a priest. Blessed Pier Giorgio’s sister writes of him, “He got from Communion the energy to face the day. His passions were mastered and every difficulty, every obstacle to right living, was overcome.” He went to Communion every morning and if he could, would altar serve at Mass.
In a speech Pier Giorgio wrote to the Catholic Youth of Pollone he instructs: “Feed on this Bread of Angels and from it you will gain the strength to fight your inner battle, the battle against passion and all adversities, because Jesus Christ has promised to those who feed on the Holy Eucharist eternal life and the graces necessary to obtain it. And when you are totally consumed by this Eucharistic fire, then you will be able more consciously to thank God who has called you to become part of that multitude, and you will enjoy the peace that those who are happy in accordance with this world have never experienced, because true happiness does not consist in the pleasures of the world or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which we only have if we are pure in heart and mind.”
Blessed Pier Giorgio missed no opportunity to spread the joy he received from the Eucharist. When he was in town passing a Church on horseback, he dismounted the horse and genuflected towards the Eucharist so often that eventually his horse began to stop on its own in front of the Church. He always invited others to join him for Mass or Adoration. After his death, many of his friends shared that though their parents couldn’t get them to attend Mass, nor their teachers – Pier Giorgio’s joyful invitation sparked in them the grace to desire to attend – it was he who inspired them to go. The Eucharist was always on the forefront of his mind and the center of his day. If he had a ski trip with friends planned, something he did often, he would make sure he went to Mass first, often missing the more convenient train times to the mountains. Daily Mass was his priority and he ordered everything else in his day around it.
Jesus said to his first disciples, “come and see” when they asked where He was staying. We have the incredible opportunity to “come and see” Jesus in the Eucharist in Adoration, and to receive Him in the Eucharist. Rest with Him there. Lay your burdens before your King who is so eager to help you. Adore your Creator. Listen to what He has to tell you. Saint John Marie Vianney said “We should consider those moments spent before the Blessed Sacrament as the happiest of our lives.” Blessed Pier Giorgio’s life witnesses to the veracity of this.
After his death, one of Blessed Pier Giorgio’s dearest friends reflected, “I would not hesitate to say that the secret of Pier Giorgio’s spiritual perfection is to be found in his devotion to Mary. A day never passed that did not find him at the feet of his heavenly Mother with his rosary, his favorite prayer, entwined in his fingers… There were many times when members of his family would find him in his bedroom, asleep next to his bed, with his rosary beads held tightly in his hands.”
Earlier I mentioned that we must make the Saints our best friends. I truly believe that one of Blessed Pier Giorgio’s best friends was Mother Mary. And the way he would converse with her is through the rosary. As Catholics we have such an incredible gift in the rosary. I remember hearing once that a husband or wife would never complain if their spouse repeatedly said, “I love you, I love you, I love you”. This is what we do when we recite the rosary. We repeat, “I love you” with each Hail Mary we pray. We walk in the steps of her Son.
As soon as Pier Giorgio stepped off the train and into the slums to work with the poor, he would begin reciting the Sorrowful Mysteries out loud. He knew that there was no better companion to serve Jesus in the poor than His mother. When he was young he made rosaries out of stones and seeds from his garden. Mother Mary was always on his mind.
Father Rinaldo Ruffini remembered this about Pier Giorgio: “How many times in hotels or in mountain shelters, in the evening, all of a sudden Pier Giorgio’s voice rose above the commotion which he himself had instigated, chanting the holy rosary with his out-of-tune voice so loudly that even the boarders who were not from his group were compelled to join in.”
Miracles happen through Mother Mary’s intercession. Miracles happen through praying the rosary. Today, July 13th is a day we honor Our Lady of Fatima, her Feast! Our Lady’s request is to pray the rosary. Please take time to pray with her. Even if all you can do some days is HOLD your rosary – do that. Only if you can say a decade – do it.
Saint John Marie Vianney confirms the importance of a Saint’s love for Mary, “Jesus Christ, after having given us all he could give, that is to say, the merit of his toils, his sufferings, and bitter death; after having given us his adorable body and blood to be the food of our souls, willed also to give us the most precious thing he had left, which was his holy Mother.”
One of the most inspiring aspects of Pier Giorgio’s life was how he fully and joyfully lived out his faith through acts of charity. He had a special devotion to the poor, sick, disabled, lonely, and forgotten since his youth. He would often come home late to dinner because he had given his bus money to the poor and had to run home.
There is a particular story that I love about Pier Giorgio. He was just beginning school and he noticed a little boy eating alone in the corner during lunch. He had sores all over his body and his face. Pier Giorgio not only went over to sit by him, but shared his spoon and food with him. He saw the heart of the person. Like Jesus, he chose and even desired to be with the lonely, the forgotten, the people that are made fun of – he longed to be with them, to sit with them, to talk with them, to show them dignity. He ministered to the suffering Christ in the lonely and forgotten. Do we know the poor? Do we talk to the lonely? When is the last time we have actively sought out the poor?
Blessed Pier Giorgio life was one of charity – love in action. This united him closely to God. Just like Jesus who performed an act of charity on the cross by forgiving the man who hung beside him, so too Blessed Pier Giorgio with his last breath thought of the poor and vulnerable. One of his last requests as he lay dying was to send money and medication to a sick man he had been ministering to the week before he died.
In 2009, I was blessed to visit the tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio in Turin, Italy. (Though entombed, Blessed Pier Giorgio’s body is miraculously completely incorrupt and intact!) The experience I had as I prayed before his tomb was one like I had never had before. As I knelt before his body, an image of a large cross came to my mind and heart in prayer. I heard the words so clearly, “there will be suffering in your life, but always look towards the cross as I did.” Since this time, I have often failed at this. When I encounter suffering, I immediately want it gone – especially physical suffering. I often complain when I suffer.
Each and every suffering we encounter or endure can be used for the greater glory of God. Suffering gives us the opportunity to love God, to give God glory, to merit glory, and to participate in His work of redemption. Blessed Pier Giorgio suffered greatly in his life. He had many crosses – his parents fought often, his mother disapproved of his love, Laura Hildalgo, and refused for them to marry. And he died in suffering – polio is a very painful death. Yet Pier Giorgio knew there was merit in his suffering. He knew that his suffering was not meaningless – he was truly participating in Christ’s work of redemption. How can we suffer beautifully for Christ?
My all time favorite quote is one by Pope Saint John Paul II: “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.” Amazing, incredible things happen when we live our life for Christ. We become free and fully alive! Blessed Pier Giorgio lived his life fully. He was an adventurous outdoorsman who loved hiking, mountain climbing, skiing, ice skating, horseback riding, and running. He loved being with his friends and being active with them! He loved attending the opera and plays. He loved reading, writing, and learning about the faith. He would recite poems and sing at the top of his lungs in joy!
The best gift you can give someone is the gift of yourself. But you cannot fully give yourself to others if you do not know yourself. Blessed Pier Giorgio knew who he was. He knew that he was a sinner, yet he also knew that he was Christ’s and that he was redeemed in Christ. Because he knew this, he was able to give himself FULLY to others. And what he gave them was Christ Himself.
I encourage you to be adventurous. Live fully, joyfully, and beautifully. Your life is a gift from God. Rejoice in that! God is preparing the most beautiful crown for you and place for you in heaven. Live for Him!
Listen to the latest
Tune into the Finding Philothea Podcast where my husband, Mike, and I share the mercy, beauty, and joy of a life lived for Christ.