Recently we all received an email from Tony Krzmarzick from our Campus Ministry team informing us that during the first quarter of the 2019-2020 school year our morning prayer will seek the intercession of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. To say the least, Blessed Pier is a little less well known than last year’s intercessor, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, but he was no less remarkable than Aloysius for his accomplishments and no less worthy of our admiration and, more importantly, our emulation.
Like Aloysius, Pier died in his early 20s, but despite their different backgrounds and different time periods, they served others in ways so similar that the Church recognizes them both as patrons of young people, especially students. They were both men of their times, even to the point of succumbing to diseases relevant to the age in which they lived: Aloysius to the plague in 1591 and Pier to polio in 1925.
Both were Italian, but for his part, Aloysius was raised as a member of the prestigious House of Gonzaga, receiving his first Communion from Cardinal (eventually Saint) Charles Borromeo, while Frassati was the son of an artist mother who had several of her paintings purchased by the King of Italy and of a journalist father who founded the eminent Italian newspaper La Stampa.
While Gonzaga joined the Society of Jesus, the only contact that Frassati had with the Jesuits was as an average student in one of their schools. Where Frassati did excel and mirror Gonzaga was in his concern for those in need. As a young boy he gave his shoes to a mother who came to the Frasatti home begging for a pair for her son, and as he got older his inherent empathy took shape both through his reading of Pope Leo XIII’s groundbreaking social encyclical Rerum Novarum and his work with Catholic Action, a lay group whose intention is to bring a Catholic influence to secular society.
He chose to study engineering so that he could “serve Christ better among the miners.” Upon the completion of his degree in engineering his father, as a graduation present, offered him a choice – a car or money. He chose the money so that he could give it to the poor.
What makes Frassati such an interesting person is the fact that he was the opposite of someone who only sees the bad in the world. He was an avid mountain climber and swimmer, and he loved the arts, especially poetry – often quoting Dante to his friends. While on a boating trip with several companions on the Po River in Gonzaga’s homeland of Lombardy, Pier was stricken with terrible back pains and within five days he succumbed to the deadly ravages of polio.
As happens all too often, a great young person was taken before what those around him believed to be his time. During the homily of the Mass celebrating the beatification of Frassati Pope John Paul II had this to say: “He left this world rather young, but he made a mark upon our entire century, and not only on our century. He left this world, but in the Easter power of his Baptism, he can say to everyone, especially to the young generations of today and tomorrow: ‘You will see me, because I live and you will live’ (Jn 14:19).
Following upon last year’s choice of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, it would be difficult to find a better young adult role model for our Ignatians than Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. In his often quoted line “Charity is not enough; we need social reform” Frassati put his finger firmly on the pulse of the modern world and gave his remedy to the ills of our age. If Fr. Robert Welsh, S.J. ’54 was correct in believing that the purpose of our school is to provide the platform whereby each of our students can ask what God wants from them, then this quarter’s focus on the example of Pier Giorgio Frassetti is a great place to begin answering that question.