Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in Turin, Italy, on April 6, 1901. He was the son of the founder and director of an influential Italian newspaper, “La Stampa.” His desire for holiness began at an early age, and as he grew he developed a deep spiritual life, which he never hesitated to share with his friends and was centered on the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As his love for prayer continued to grow, so did his love for the poor. By the age of 17, he dedicated much of his spare time to serving the sick and the needy, caring for orphans, and assisting the demobilized servicemen returning from World War I. He decided to pursue a career as a mining engineer so he could “serve Christ better among the miners.” Although he considered his studies his first duty, they did not keep him from social and political activism. He joined the Catholic Student Foundation and the organization known as Catholic Action.
What little money he did have, Pier Giorgio gave to help the poor, even using his bus fare for charity and then running home to be on time for meals. His charity did not simply involve giving something to others, but giving completely of himself. This was fed by daily reception of the Eucharist and prayer. All this being said, Pier Giorgio still lived life. Mountain climbing was one of his favorite sports. Outings in the mountains with friends also served as opportunities for his apostolic work. He never lost the chance to lead his friends to Mass, to the reading of Scripture, and to pray the rosary. He loved the theater and the opera. He enjoyed museums, art, music, and could quote whole passages from Dante.
Pier Giorgio’s sickness and death
Just before receiving his university degree, Pier Giorgio contracted poliomyelitis, which doctors later speculated he caught from the sick whom he tended. Neglecting his own health because his grandmother was dying, after six days of terrible suffering Pier Giorgio died at the age of 24 on July 4, 1925. His last preoccupation was for the poor. On the eve of his death, with a paralyzed hand, he scribbled a message to a friend and asked him to take the medicine needed for injections to a poor sick man he had been visiting.
Pier Giorgio’s funeral
Pier Giorgio’s funeral was a triumph. The streets of the city were lined with a multitude of mourners who were unknown to his family: the poor and the needy whom he had served so unselfishly for seven years. Many of these people, in turn, were surprised to learn that the saintly young man they knew had actually been the heir of the influential Frassati family.
Blessed Pier Giorgio
Pope John Paul II, after visiting his original tomb in the family plot in Pollone, said in 1989: “I wanted to pay homage to a young man who was able to witness to Christ with singular effectiveness in this century of ours. When I was a young man, I, too, felt the beneficial influence of his example and, as a student, I was impressed by the force of his testimony.” On May 20, 1990, in St. Peter’s Square, which was filled with thousands of people, the Pope beatified Pier Giorgio Frassati, calling him the “Man of the Eight Beatitudes.”
His mortal remains, found completely intact and incorrupt upon their exhumation on March 31, 1981, were transferred from the family tomb in Pollone to the cathedral in Turin. Many pilgrims, especially students and the young, come to the tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio to seek favors and the courage to follow his example.