We don’t celebrate feast days with so much enthusiasm as we used to. That’s just a fact of life, I guess. Even feasts like St. Joseph’s Day isn’t marked with attention as it once was. If that is the case with fests like St. Joseph’s Day then it certainly will not be for a feast day not even marked on our calendars in the United States.
Permit me to give you a glimpse of the saint whose feast day is July 4th, the anniversary of the day this saint left us and was called by the Lord to heaven. He is blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He was born on April 6, 1901, in Turin, Italy, the son of Alfredo and Adelaide Frassati. His father was the publisher of the daily newspaper “La Stampa” and his mother was a serious artist. Born the first child in this family Pier Giorgio was given a sister Luciana, born when Pier Giorgio was a little over one year older. They were very close not only in their childhood years but as close confidants until Pier Giorgio’s death on July 4, 1925.
The Frassati family was well to do and we would say they didn’t lack for very much in the terms of material needs. It was an unusual family, the relationship of the parents seemed to be a rather strained one. The father very much caught up in his business and the mother very much taken up with her painting, not without reason. At one point one of her paintings was purchased by the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, but none of this kept little Pier Giorgio displaying even from his earliest years his great desire to help the poor.
One example of this happened when Pier Giorgio was only about three years old. One day someone knocked at the front door, Pier Giorgio was closest and opened the door only to see a man there who was begging, his poverty very obvious even to a three year old. Pier Giorgio didn’t have any money so he did what to him was the most natural thing to do. He sat down and took off his shoes and gave them to the beggar. Only a good and generous heart prompts a person to act this way. How his parents reacted when they found out we don’t know.
Pier Giorgio grew into a strong, outgoing boy, very athletic, popular with many friends. He attended the University of Turin studying to become an engineer. At the same time his faith was growing ever stronger and his desire to care for the poor and neglected all the more evident. While a student at the university, instead of taking public transportation to the campus each day, Pier Giorgio would walk and save the money and give it to the poor and sick of the city. He regularly traveled into the poorest areas of Turin to serve the poor, the sick and the needy.
In the later days of the month of June in 1925, Pier Giorgio was stricken with the deadly germ of poliomyelitis which killed him in just six short days, on July 4th. His funeral was a kind of spectacle of hundreds of people who lined the streets of Turin and crowded into the church for his funeral Mass. His family was stunned by this display of devotion. Why all these people? They were the ones from the poor districts that Pier Giorgio served with his goodness in his short life.
The cause for canonization started some years after his death. Pope St. John Paul II, who was greatly influenced by the story of his life beatified Pier Giorgio on May 20, 1990. We await the day when Pier Giorgio is proclaimed a saint by the church.
There is so much more I would like to share with you about Pier Giorgio’s life. I will do so in the coming weeks so be looking for new chapters about this saint of the 20th century.