US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us

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In the last installment of our All Saints guest blog, a relatively obscure figure in the church is held up as a model for young adult Catholics.

Most people don’t know Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.  I had no clue until recently. But ever since I found out, he has become an influential patron in my work as Executive Director of the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association (NCYAMA). 

As many know, connecting young adults to faith is an increasingly difficult task.  Not only are fewer young people active in the church today, but they are also feeling stretched, stressed, and unbalanced--and often unnoticed.

When working with young adults who feel this weight, I often suggest following the way of Pier Giorgio Frassati.

When I bring him up, I get a lot of blank stares.  While most people have heard of saints like Francis, Jude, Peter and Paul, Mother Teresa, and John Paul II, few have ever heard of this Italian young adult, in part because he didn’t do anything astronomical. 

Unlike those other notable figures, Pier Giorgio Frassati didn’t found a religious order, perform miracles in his lifetime, have a staring role in the Bible, or grace the cover of TIME magazine.  In fact, he is quite unimportant and all-too-ordinary by comparison, but that’s exactly why he’s ideal for people today.

Born in the foothills of the Italian Alps in 1901, Pier Giorgio was an unnoticed child and an average student in school.  His father was an ambitious newspaper editor and played a role in government, but that’s as far as the family’s notoriety stretched.  Few, including his own family, could have ever imagined that--decades later--Pier Giorgio would be declared a candidate on the route to canonization. 

It wasn’t his academics or family connections that propelled Pier Giorgio towards sainthood.  Rather, it was how he lived his life to the fullest.

Instead of pouring over his studies, Frassati spent much of his time in school organizing groups and Catholic social action movements.  During the First World War, he took much abuse from his peers for advocating nonviolence, and as Mussolini came to power, he took even more grief for standing against the fascist dictator.  He also spent time with the sick and homeless of his area, providing them with warm food and quality conversations, often donating his own limited income to pay for their needs. 

When asked how he could stomach the destitute living conditions and lack of hygiene of these poor people, he remarked, “Don't ever forget that, even though the house is sordid, you are approaching Christ. Remember what the Lord said: 'The good you do to the poor is good done to me.' Around the sick, the poor, the unfortunate, I see a particular light that we do not have."

Yet despite his very busy life, Pier Giorgio found time to balance it all through personal prayer and the camaraderie of friends.

Rising before dawn each day, Frassati would make his way to the local church for daily mass and Eucharistic adoration. He would also take quiet moments while climbing in the mountains to pray, read Scripture, take photographs, and journal.  Added to this, Pier Giorgio made plenty of time for rabble-rousing with friends.  Known by his peers as the “holy terror,” Frassati was known as the life of the party and a friend to anyone he met. 

It was this ability to balance all these aspects of life, while drawing ever closer to God and inspiring others in their journey, that makes Pier Giorgio so necessary in our postmodern, polarized world where everyone seems stretched and in over their heads.   

In my role in NCYAMA, I hear from so many “ordinary” young adults across the country, wondering, in this world of over seven billion people, “Do I even matter?  Can I really make a difference?” 

It’s at times like these that Pier Giorgio Frassati, the unofficial patron of the ordinary person, is so helpful to have by my side.  This simple Italian young adult, struck down at age 24 by a disease he contracted while serving the poor, is a powerful example that you don’t need to be seen as extraordinary to be extraordinary.  Frassati’s story is one of the church’s best kept secrets, but now more than ever, that secret must be told to generations in search for balance, meaning, friendship, hope, and a feeling that they really do matter. 

Guest blogger Paul Jarzembowski is the executive director of National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association (NCYAMA), and diocesan director of Young Adult Ministries for the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.