When I first heard about Pier Giorgio Frassati, I was a sophomore in college. I don’t remember exactly how I heard of him or who told me about him, but I recall being instantly interested in learning more about his life. Initially, I simply loved the fact that he was a young saint, that he smoked a pipe, that he was good looking, and that the love of my life loved him. At the time, I was battling some spiritual uncertainty, and frequently turned to Frassati both in example and in prayer. I know his intercession had a lot to do with the Lord’s rescue of my heart that summer, and because of Frassati’s intervention, I was hooked forever.
Fast forward a few years later, and I’d started a blog named after his mantra, married a man who spent a few days exploring Frassati’s house in Italy and touching his skis, passed out more prayer cards than I can count, corresponded with an insider into Frassati’s canonization progression to get the deets, made him the eternal patron saint of our family, and had a baby that we named after him.
He’s had a pretty big impact on our life. I am continuously reading and re-reading any books I can find about his life. His sister wrote a beautiful recount of his final days on earth, and I remember my heart being physically seized because of Frassati’s selfless love described by her. We also have a children’s book about him that I cannot wait to read to George. There’s also a new novel out about his life that looks pretty phenomenal and is already on my Christmas list
So why do we love this guy so much? What about his life makes us want to be better? How does he challenge us to live more radically for Christ? I’ve narrowed it down to my top ten:
1. His adventure. Pier Giorgio was a man of the outdoors. He loved to hike, ski, and climb mountains. He was always leading his friends on escapades up steep cliffs and snowy slopes. Along the way, he’d also be leading them in the rosary. He did not find fidelity to the Gospel to conflict with adventure; rather, it was his faith that fueled his exploration. He understood that God created the world for our enjoyment and stewardship, and he wasn’t going to waste one bit of it.
2.His hilarity. Frassati was a prankster. He loved pulling (harmless) practical jokes on his friends and family and was always the life of the party. His natural charisma was a joyful one, and people were naturally drawn to him because of his sense of humor and desire to include everyone in the fun.
3. His passion. He had a fiery passion for truth and justice. There’s a story that Frassati once punched an aggressor during a peaceful political protest. He also used physical force to scare away a robber that broke into his home, threatening to harm his mother. He didn’t take any crap, and he wasn’t afraid to defend himself and his family. I like that. He tirelessly sought to grow in his knowledge of the Faith and had a love for the Dominicans (he was a lay Dominican).
4. His diligence. Pier Giorgio was not afraid of hard work. Although his family was disgustingly wealthy, he didn’t shy away from yard work or other tedious tasks. Another awesome thing about him? School did not come naturally for him. He struggled to maintain good markings in his course work. He wanted to be a miner so that he could work with his hands, but had to first obtain a proper degree. He often suffered through his studies, but he never gave up and he never made excuses.
5. His detachment. Like I mentioned, Frassati came from a very wealthy and very prominent family. His father had been the Italian ambassador to Germany for many years, and then ran a popular newspaper. Everyone knew the Frassatis. They were like royalty. However, none of this seemed to phase Giorgio. He was not attached to his wealth in the least. Once, a poor woman came with her young son to the front door of the Frassati home to beg on a cold winter night. Giorgio answered the door and saw that the boy had no shoes. He knew that his father would soon come to the front door and dismiss the mother and child, so he quickly slipped off his own shoes and gave them to the boy. Frassati was also known to give the allowance he received from his parents for train fares away to the poor, and he would walk home. He used what he had to bring Jesus to the suffering, and he never held any back for himself.
6. His devotion. Pier Giorgio loved the Eucharist. He would often spend whole nights in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He attended Mass daily and was encouraged by his parish priest to become a priest himself, but this notion was quickly dismissed by his mother. Y’all, he loved the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength. His whole life was a reveling in the goodness of God. Prayer was central to his day, and he never ceased attempting to bring his family to the Lord as well.
7. His humility. Giorgio was super obedient, both to God and to his parents. One of the most heartbreaking tales of his life involved such humble obedience. You see, Pier Giorgio loved a young woman named Laura. He and Laura were great friends and they ran around in the same circles. He would have liked to marry her. But Laura and her family were in a different social class than the Frassatis, and Giorgio’s mother discouraged any potential involvement with her. Out of sheer obedience to the authority of his parents, he never pursued a relationship with her. Can you imagine that kind of humility? I can’t.
8. His priorities. Giorgio had his priorities in check. His first aim was his spiritual life and evangelization, followed by the his family, then by his studies, and fun time with his friends. As spontaneous and wild as he was, there was also a very certain order to his days. He made sure that all his bases were covered because he knew that it pleased God. His whole focus was on loving the Lord better, and he was able to foster this love by keeping himself in check.
9. His compassion. Frassati is perhaps known best for his love for the poor. He was so dedicated to serving them. He would give them money, bring them food, and supply them with medicine. But he did more than that. He didn’t just provide for their physical needs and then leave to hang out with the “in” crowd. He became friends with the poor. He spent quality time getting to know them and having fun with them. The word “compassion” means “to suffer with”. Frassati put no barriers between himself and the poorest of the poor. They were not too lowly for him. Instead, he desired to share in their most intimate and intense sufferings, which he literally did at the end of his life.
10. His silent suffering. When Giorgio was 24 years old, he contracted polio from one the poor he ministered to and died three days later. At the time he began feeling ill, his grandmother was also dying. She lived with the Frassati family, and Pier Giorgio’s mom, dad, and sister were utterly consumed with the status of grandma. They simply thought Giorgio had a fever and told him to rest until he felt better. Understanding the grief that his entire family was going through over the loss of his grandmother, he suffered silently for three days under the yoke of polio, a disease that slowly paralyzes its victims. It was only in the final hours of his life that his family realized the severity of his condition. By then, it was too late. In her book, Pier Giorgio’s sister recalls the evening before their grandmother passed, which was when Frassati’s health really began to go downhill. Wanting to say goodbye to his grandma, Pier Giorgio dragged himself out of bed once everyone else had gone to sleep (he didn’t want them to see him and understand how terrible was his condition; he didn’t want them to worry) and made his way down the hallway to his grandma’s room. On his way there, his immense pain caused him to fall down three times. Sound familiar? His suffering was so evidently united to that of Christ’s that I can’t even type those words without crying. His concern was first and foremost for the wellbeing of his family. He put himself last, suffering in silence until his final breath and glorious entrance into the heavenly party.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the the author’s blog, To the Heights, and is reprinted here with kind permission.