Pier Giorgio Frassati, the saint whose sorrows never made him sad

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati's tomb in Turin

Whatever happens in the affairs of the world, some things don’t change for Christians: the recognition that the purpose of life is union with Christ, not worrying about who wins a political election. (I mention this as it seems that many Americans have been seeking therapy to cope with the stress of recent days.) Thus I was delighted to read that Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati may be a step nearer canonisation after the healing of a young man’s brain injury was attributed to his intercession.

Cristina Siccardi’s new biography of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati has just been published by Ignatius. It tells the story of a privileged Italian youth, born into a wealthy family in 1901 (his father, Alfredo Frassati, was the founder and editor of Turin’s influential newspaper La Stampa) who died suddenly of polio in 1925.

From a worldly perspective he did not achieve much in his short life, but such was his radiant personality, his love of his faith and for the poor of Turin and his complete indifference to worldly ambition (he qualified as a mining engineer for the sole purpose of looking after the neglected members of Italy’s mining community), that his influence rapidly spread after his death. He has inspired many apostolic youth movements and societies around the world.

St John Paul II, who shared his love of mountaineering and skiing as well as his great capacity for friendship, celebrated Pier Giorgio’s beatification ceremony in 1990, describing him as “a man of the beatitudes.”

What draws one to this exuberant young man was the way he never allowed the sorrows he suffered in his life to make him sad; indeed, he wrote to his sister in the year of his death that “sadness should be banished from Catholic souls…[it] is a sickness worse than any other. That sickness is almost always produced by atheism…”

Although his friends knew he had special qualities, he was anything but conventionally pious: he smoked a pipe, enjoyed cigars and wine and was always the life and soul of the party – yet quietly going to daily Mass early in the morning before studying or joining trips to his beloved mountains.

It is also noteworthy that despite his father’s agnosticism and determination that his son should follow in his footsteps, his mother’s neurotic, self-centred personality and his parents’ unhappy marriage, Pier Giorgio never criticised them. He tried to obey them in all that did not touch his faith and his secret charitable works. It was only when he died and thousands of Turin’s poor flocked to his funeral that his parents began to understand their unusual and saintly son.