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Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Feast day 4th of July

What! A university student beatified, you’re joking! 
On May 20th 1990 John Paul II beatified twenty four year old Pier Giorgio Frassati. Pier Giorgio was born in Turin, Italy, in 1901. His father, an agnostic was the founder of the newspaper La Stampa, his mother an artist. At school with the Jesuits, he was a healthy happy young man excelling at sport. Pier Giorgio was a Lay Dominican.

School was followed by the study of engineering. Pier Giorgio was remarkable, he was a daily communicant. Mischievous and a joker he was known as “Robespierre” or the “Terror” to his friends. Besides the busy life of a young student he formed a group to discuss the faith. In 1918 he joined the Vincent de Paul and spent much of his free time helping the sick and the needy. At graduation given the choice of money or a car he chose the money and gave it to the needy. He found a room for an old woman evicted from her tenement, provided a bed for an invalid with tuberculosis and supported three children of a sick widow.

In 1919 he joined the Catholic Student Federation and the Popular Party which promoted Catholic Teaching. His plea was: “Charity is not enough, we need social reform.” In 1922 he joined the Lay Dominicans.

An enthusiastic sportsman he was at the centre of students activity, his great love was mountain climbing. While cultivating a deep inner life, Pier Giorgio was involved in Catholic action. He did not preach at people, but his unselfconscious goodness, good humour, genuine kindness and interest in others exerted a strong influence on his companions. “His special work, love for the poor, responsibility in facing the wretchedness of others were so genuine and so deep, so charged with the spirit of sacrifice in Pier Giorgio as to make him an exception among the many Christian young people of his time…”

The truth is that he was an average student. In college he constantly put off exams. His mother’s letters frequently scold. Then he would spend nights studying. The tune never changed. He was accused of wasting time, stubbornness, even lying. Neither, father or mother understood their son. Unhappily married their relationship was ending.
Marianne Cerutti, a poor woman who polished the floors at La Stampa scolded his father for failing to understand him. Marianne, a socialist revolutionary knew many things about Pier Giorgio’s secret life. She knew whose homes he went to, when he jokingly told her he went out to make his “conquests”. She knew the network of good works that caught him in the city. Study was only part of his day and although he considered it his first duty, he often came to it only after a considerable time spent with the poor, a session in the St Vincent de Paul conference or a night spent in Adoration. Daily Mass and communion was the breath of his life.

Beneath the smiling exterior of the restless student was concealed the amazing life of a committed Christian in a society which was indifferent and sometimes even hostile to the Church. John Paul II suggests that Pier Giorgio’s life finds a voice in the words of St Peter:“Sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for your hope.” 1.Pet. 3.:5.
My Model is Savonarola
On the 28 May 1922 in San Domenico he joined the Lay Dominicans and took the name Girolamo after his personal hero, the Dominican preacher and reformer, Savonarola. To anyone who greeted him in that name he replied: “May I imitate him in the struggle and in virtue.” He shared his enthusiasm with a friend who wanted to follow his example. “I am so happy that you want to become part of the big family of St Dominic… This name (Girolamo) recalls a figure who is dear to me… the figure of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, whose name I most unworthily bear. I am a fervent admirer of that friar, who died as a saint at the stake. In becoming a Lay Dominican I wanted to take him as a model, but I am far from being like him.”

Just before receiving his degree in June 1925 Pier Giorgio developed polio. His illness coincided with that of his grandmother and went unnoticed. When diagnosed it was too late. On the eve of his death, his hand paralysed, he scribbled a note to a friend reminding him about injections for a needy student, and asked his sister to care for the families he helped.
He died at the age of twenty four. His charity towards others was nourished in the Eucharist, night adoration, the Letters of St Paul, in particular his frequent meditation on the Way of Charity outlined in 1.Cor.13, and by the writings of St Catherine of Siena. He loved the Rosary and prayed it three times a day after becoming a Lay Dominican.