Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati (feast day 4th of July), was an Italian Third Order Dominican who was born on Holy Saturday (April 6th) 1901 in Turin, and died at his family home in Turin at the age of 24 on the 4th of July 1925. Known to the poor of his town as “Fra’ Girolamo” rather than the affluent young man from the political and media elite, he was the object of devotion from the time of his death: it was the poor he served (quite literally) to his death that petitioned the Archbishop to open the cause of his canonisation (which saw him beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990).
To the top
Most biographers, starting with his own sister, recount how pious he had been since childhood, when he instinctively gave his shoes to a child whose mother was begging at their door. However, what makes him a great role model for young adults in our times is that he achieved the perfect balance of contemplation and action. His life was oriented “verso l’alto” (to the top): he was a keen mountaineer, and on the mountains he would see the greatness of God. He lived his life always as St Paul admonished in his letter to the church in Colossus: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2). His time on the mountains was not just contemplation as were the long hours in prayer before and after (and daily, too), but also of service to his companion and occasions of joyful communion.
Seeing Christ in all people
The mountains were not Blessed Piergiorgio’s only interest: he enjoyed the arts, and was often attending the theatre and the opera, or entertaining others with recitations from Dante. It was not living a second life, though: his prayer, his activity in Catholic groups and his friendships were all oriented towards seeing Christ in others. This is a key lesson: there is no separation of religious and secular, we are called to be saints in the ordinary life we lead, not necessarily to give up ordinary life to be saints (although if that’s your calling, embrace it). In the life and vocation of Blessed Piergiorgio, his calling was a lay one, and he became a Third Order Dominican in 1922.
Politics as the duty of all Christians
Blessed Piergiorgio was an active member of many religious groups like the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Catholic Action and the Apostleship of Prayer among others, but he believed that charity was not enough, and a Christian was also called to influence politics and fight for social reform. He founded a newspaper (Il Momento) inspired by the principles laid out in Rerum Novarum, the first encyclical to formally introduce Catholic Social Teaching. He also joined the Italian Popular Party, a centrist Christian Democracy party that has had a short life between the First World War and the spread of Fascism. He was adamantly anti-fascist, which got him into trouble a number of times, but he never used his father or connections to get a more lenient treatment than those he was with. His father, who owned the secular newspaper La Stampa, was opposed to Blessed Piergiorgio’s political activity, but, despite the deep love for his father, he never forgot his mission to build the Kingdom of God.
The Man of the Beatitudes
Far from being a proponent of a politicised Catholicism, Blessed Piergiorgio’s involvement in politics was born out of the desire to “Catholicise” politics instead: the inspiration of the nascent Catholic Social Teaching brought him to see power as a means to the end of bringing about the social reform that would make the life of the poor better than individual charity ever could. Still, he never used any political achievements as a way to get out of personal responsibility for others, and he was known among the people at the margins for his generosity and sainthood: his funeral procession had to tour the whole of Turin because of how many people took to the street to mourn him. and to this day he his known as “the Man of the Beatitudes”.
The short and intense life of Blessed Piergiorgio is a testament to the fact we are never too young to make an impact wherever life calls us to be witnesses of Christ.
“The faith given to me in baptism suggests to me surely: by yourself you will do nothing, but if you have God as the center of all your action, then you will reach the goal.” - Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati