"Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others." - St. Augustine
Since I've built up a large collection of extra books and resources, every week I give some away absolutely free, no strings attached.
Each giveaway lasts seven days with a new one beginning every Friday. You can enter any time during the week. Check out my past giveaways here.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Archbishop Peter Sartain about our mutually favorite saint, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. Well today, thanks to the generosity of Ignatius Press, I'm giving away THREE Pier Giorgio prize packages.
Each contains a copy of the best book on Pier Giorgio, A Man of the Beatitudes, written by his sister, Luciana. It also includes a DVD copy of "Sanctity Within Reach", an EWTN special on Pier Giorgio's life featuring Christine Wohar, Executive Director of FrassatiUSA, and Wanda Gawronska, Pier Giorgio's niece.
by Luciana Frassati
Ignatius, 179 pages, paperback
The remarkable life of Blessed Pier Frassati for young adults. A beguiling and moving biography of Pier Giorgio Frassati, a handsome, athletic and fun-loving young man from a rich, aristocratic Italian family in the 1920's who was recently beatified by Pope John Paul II. Pier Giorgio turned from a life of privilege to one devoted to working with the poor, and was a courageous witness of Christian faith and charity to many others. Discouraged by his affluent parents from his religious involvement and deep spiritual life, Pier Giorgio secretly ministered to the poor and marginalized, and was a leader of youth whose love of God transformed the lives of all those around him. He died of the polio virus at the age of 24, and the story of his life and death spread throughout Europe, influencing the young Karol Wojtyla, who as Pope John Paul II described Frassati as "a man of the eight beatitudes, a modern youth and great mountaineer who was keenly interested in the problems of culture, sports and social questions, as well as the true values of life."
“This inspiring biography provides a highly enriching account of how the Beatitudes are the way of peace and joy. Frassati's biography is a wonderful source of inspiration and encouragement for a world in search of hope.” — Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., Author, Arise from Darkness
by Luciana Frassati
EWTN, 90 minutes, DVD
John Paul II called Blessed Giorgio Frassati, “The Man of the Eight Beatitudes,” and his friends described him as “an explosion of joy.” He ascended the mountain of personal holiness with zealous tenacity—in much the same fashion that he scaled his beloved Italian Alps.
This three-part EWTN film unpacks the life and spirituality of this avid mountain climber and fun-loving Italian youth who died at the age of 24 in 1925, and was beatified by John Paul II. Christine Wohar, Executive Director of FrassatiUSA and Wanda Gawronska, niece of Pier Giorgio, examine the life and astounding legacy of good works and deep spirituality of this outstanding Catholic young man.
“To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth, is not living but just existing.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
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I recently had the pleasure of sharing dinner with Archbishop Peter Sartain, the affable leader of Seattle's archdiocese, and I'm not sure I've met a more gracious churchman. Upon entering my car the first thing he did was hand me a second-class relic of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, my favorite saint. That launched a long conversation about the man Pope John Paul II christened "the man of the beatitudes," and we quickly discovered a mutual love for the young saint.
I also learned that Archbishop Sartain is one of the world's leading Pier Giorgio experts. He has read almost all the relevant literature, in both English and Italian, and is close friends with the saint's surviving family. The archbishop also frequents Turin, Italy, where Pier Giorgio lived and died.
As another sign of his graciousness, Archbishop Sartain agreed to chat with me about Pier Giorgio's impact, his love for the poor, and some recommended books on the young saint.
BRANDON: What first drew you to Pier Giorgio Frassati and how has he impacted your life? ARCHBISHOP SARTAIN: I was first introduced to Pier Giorgio when I was a seminarian in Rome in the mid-1970’s. The quickest route from the seminary to St. Peter’s Basilica took you along the Via Pfeiffer, on which the 12th century church, San Lorenzo in Piscibus, is located. The church is named “in Piscibus” because many years ago the fish market was nearby!
I passed that way frequently, but the church was always locked. One day, however, I found it open and noticed that many young adults my own age were going inside, so I followed them. It turned out that the church was hosting an exhibition on the life of Pier Giorgio, who at that time had not yet been beatified. I was impressed and inspired by his story, told in words and pictures in the beautiful exhibit. As a young man about his age, I was moved by his extraordinary life, and how at such a young age he integrated his deep love for God, a profound life of prayer, an active life of sports, leadership in various Catholic groups, his love and service of the poor, and his treasuring of good friendships.
I remember leaving the church and going immediately to a nearby bookstore to buy as many books as I could about his life. The more I got to know him, the more I wanted to imitate him, and the more I wanted to tell others about him.
After I was ordained and returned to the States, I kept up with the cause for his canonization, and during several return trips to Rome I discovered some interesting magazine articles about the progress of his cause. As a young priest, I found many things in his life to imitate and knew that young people would find him to be a great example. When I was pastor of St. Louis Church in Memphis, I inaugurated a “Frassati Society” in response to a group of young adults who approached me about creating new outreach to their generation. The Frassati Society was a great success—we met every Sunday evening. We spent time in prayer, always had some catechetical input, enjoyed some social time, planned service projects and retreats—and always ended our evening with prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in Church.
Since my first encounter with Pier Giorgio in the mid-70’s, I have thought of him as a friend, and he continues to be an example and important intercessor for me. I still enjoy telling his story to anyone who will listen!
BRANDON: Pier Giorgio's life was full of wonderful anecdotes. Which is your favorite?
ARCHBISHOP SARTAIN: There are many favorites! One occurred just four nights before he died. He had been reading Johannes Jorgensen’s recently-published Life of St. Catherine of Siena. Frassati was already ill with the acute case of poliomyelitis that would soon cause his death, though he did not know it, and during a visit with two close friends, he excitedly read passages from the book. One passage recounted the day that St. Catherine, praying the Office as she walked back and forth inside a church, had the sense that someone was walking with her—and realized it was Jesus! Here’s what Jorgensen writes:
"Like two young ecclesiastics saying their office together, the Saviour and Catherine walked up and down the brick floor of the chapel...and when, at the end of each psalm, she had to say the doxology: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son,” etc., she altered the words and making a deep reverence towards the Lord, said in a trembling voice: “Glory be to the Father and to Thee and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”
Pier Giorgio was understandably captivated by Catherine’s closeness to Christ and the fact that Christ showed himself so clearly to her. After a moment of silence, he turned to his friend Massetti and, with a seriousness that perplexed his friend, said, “See, St. Catherine already had in life the gift of seeing Jesus.” And after another pause, he added, “but we have to wait until we go to Paradise.”
I love that passage myself, because it showed how much he longed to see Jesus—how Jesus for him was Everything—and how he was about to be called to eternal life by Jesus, in just four days.
BRANDON: Like all saints, Pier Giorgio understood the deep congruence between the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. How did his faith and his charity flow into each other?
ARCHBISHOP SARTAIN: You’re right. I don’t think Pier Giorgio made any distinctions in his life between faith, prayer, mountain climbing, friendships, and active love—for him, they were all of a piece, all a part of being a disciple of Jesus.
Most of all, he could not conceive of a life that did not include faith and deep prayer. He loved the poor intensely and saw Jesus in them—from prayer Jesus sent Pier Giorgio to them, and in them he met Jesus. This kind of spiritual maturity was extraordinary—it’s something I aspire to.
BRANDON: Pier Giorgio's cause for canonization hit a few early snags when people chafed at his pipe smoking and partying. What should we make of these activities?
ARCHBISHOP SARTAIN: Honestly, I don’t think we should make anything of them other than see in them a young man like us who led a full life and made his spiritual life the integrating factor of everything.
As for “partying,” he knew how to enjoy life and desired to help others enjoy life, too. We have to be leery of thinking of his “partying” in 21st century terms. Here we’re talking about the way he enjoyed social time with his friends. He was a jokester and wanted others to enjoy themselves. He wanted to encourage their friendship because he knew that true, faith-filled friendship is a gift of God. He also knew that joy is a sure sign of a person in love with God.
BRANDON: On May 20, 1990, Pope John Paul II beatified Pier Giorgio and described him as "a man of the beatitudes." Why this title?
ARCHBISHOP SARTAIN: During his homily on that occasion, Blessed John Paul said:
"Entirely immersed in the mystery of God and totally dedicated to the constant service of his neighbor, he is a man of the eight beatitudes. Thus we can sum up his earthly life."
Back in 1983, when Blessed John Paul inaugurated the San Lorenzo International Youth Centre (yes, in the same San Lorenzo Church where I had first met Pier Giorgio!) he said:
"Together with the memory of the ancient cross of San Damiano and the example of St. Francis, I want to recall to you as an incentive for striving toward high ideals also the figure of a young man who lived in our era, Pier Giorgio Frassati. He was a “modern” youth open to the problems of culture, sports, to social questions, to the true values of life, and at the same time a profoundly believing man, nourished by the Gospel message, deeply interested in serving his brothers and sisters and consumed in an ardour of charity that drew him close to the poor and the sick. He lived the Gospel Beatitudes."
BRANDON: You've read almost all the literature on Pier Giorgio, in multiple languages. What would you recommend to a beginner who is looking for an introduction to Pier Giorgio?
ARCHBISHOP SARTAIN: The best introduction to Pier Giorgio’s life are two books by his sister, Luciana Frassati: A Man of the Beatitudes: Pier Giorgio Frassati (Ignatius, 2001) and My Brother Pier Giorgio: His Last Days (New Hope Publications, 2002). These two beautiful books, written by one who knew him best, give an intimate glimpse into his personality, family life, spirituality, and impact.
A couple years ago, on my 24th birthday, I decided to spend one year studying two unfamiliar saints: St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. I chose them first because I didn't know much about them, but second because they each died when they were just 24. I wanted them to challenge me with all they accomplished in the same 24 years I had, and they certainly did that.
Throughout the year, we grew close and I learned many lessons. St. Therese revealed her "little way" of holiness. She helped me see the value of secret sacrifice, that God delights in small things done with great love.
Yet Pier Giorgio ultimately left the bigger mark. We just had so much more in common. St. Therese was a contemplative, French nun, who entered the convent at 15 and never left. But Pier Giorgio, like me, was an "ordinary" layman in the world. He was a young mechanical engineer, juggling the spiritual life with intense study. He was a skilled outsdoorsman who loved to scale large mountains, rosary in hand, pipe in mouth.
Pier Giorgio also loved the poor, which many stories affirm. Pier Giorgio's mother often scolded him for showing up late for dinner. She didn't know that he spent his afternoons serving the hungry and that he usually ran home after giving away his bus money. His father frequently chastised him for returning without his coat. It wasn't because he lost it; he gave it away. One episode sums up his compassion: a friend once asked Pier Giorgio why he always chose third-class on the train when he could clearly afford better. He answered, "Because there's no fourth class."
Yet even with this deep holiness and charity, young people are especially drawn to Pier Giorgio's ordinariness. On the surface, he seems like any other young person. He climbed mountains and played sports. He advocated for political causes. Pictures show him laughing, drinking, and joking with friends. He was a prankster known to "short-sheet" friends' beds. One day a lazy friend awoke to find a donkey in his bed, a sign from Pier Giorgio that he was being a "jackass" by not keeping up with his studies.
There's no other saint quite like Pier Giorgio Frassati. C.S. Lewis could have been thinking of him when noting, "How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints."
In his most recent video commentary, Fr. Robert Barron shares his own esteem for this unique and "ordinary" saint:
If you'd like to learn more about Pier Giorgio Frassati, check out my past posts on him (or click on his image at the bottom of my site, between Sheen and Aquinas.) You'll also find my favorite Pier Giorgio books below:
by Luciana Frassati
As Pier Giorgio's sister and best friend, Luciana had a front row seat to his parent's deep misunderstandings of him. Their father was an atheist and their mother a nominal Christian. Both were uncomfortable with Pier Giorgio's piety, extremely worried that he might be go overboard and become a priest. His regular mingling with the poor also troubled them and it often boiled over into verbal abuse.
Besides this tension, Luciana also frames Pier Giorgio's life in light of the eight beatitudes. At Pier Giorgio's beatification ceremony in 1990, Pope John Paul II called him a "man of the beatitudes." It's not hard to see why: Pier Giorgio was meek, a peacemaker, poor in spirit, and he hungered and thirsted for righteousness. The core of Jesus's most famous sermon was the core of Pier Giorgio's life. That's why he's a saint and that's why he remains attractive. Luciana's book shows how Pier Giorgio exhibited each of these virtues.
Of the all books and articles I read throughout my year with Pier Giorgio, A Man of the Beatitudes was definitely my favorite.
by Maria De Lorenzo
In many ways this book is similar to A Man of the Beatitudes, covering many of the same themes. However, it's more detached, not written by someone as close as Luciana, and it devotes an entire chapter to one little-discussed aspect of Pier Giorgio's life: his secret, suppressed love for a young woman.
During one of his regular mountain climbs, Pier Giorgio fell head over heels for a one of his fellow hikers, a beautiful girl named Laura. His journals and letters reveal the intensity of that affection. It wasn't long before he decided that he wanted to marry her, and she felt the same way about him.
But Pier Giorgio knew his parents wouldn't approve. Laura wasn't part of the upper class and she was a Catholic activist, both strikes against her in the eyes of the Frassati's. He knew the relationship would cause a serious rift within his family and so he decided never to reveal his secret love. He gave up the relationship quietly out of honor for his parents. Right or wrong, the decision highlights Pier Giorgio's utter selflessness.
This book has the fullest treatment of this episode among other titles which makes it a must read for Pier Giorgio fans.
by Robert Claude
This title is more difficult to find than the other two—I found it through inter-library loan—but offers some unique insights. For one, The Soul of Pier Giorgio Frassati centers on Pier Giorgio's piety more than his activism and social life. It's more of a spiritual biography than the other two.
In the book we find diary entries from a 17-year-old Pier Giorgio, which tally his monthly communions and Rosary decades (26 communions and 145 decades in December 1919) and make clear the two poles of his spiritual program: the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin.
The book also reveals his deep prayer life. Pier Giorgio was known to often lose himself in prayer. On one occasion, the book explains, he became so swept up that he didn't notice hot candle wax dripping onto his head.
Finally, the book presents an interesting look at Pier Giorgio's discernment process. When determining what to do with his life, Pier Giorgio considered becoming a priest. But he then he backed up, and asked a more basic question: what's my calling? He knew he was meant to serve the poor, so he wondered which vocation would allow him to have the most contact with the poor. That ultimately led him to an engineering career and a lay vocation.
Pier Giorgio's process may help young people today who usually attempt to discern their state of life before determining their individual charism. He did it the other way around, and with great success.
Other Recommended Books on Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati:
- Saints at Heart - My good friend Bert Ghezzi has researched and written about hundreds of saints, and he also considers Pier Giorgio his favorite. That says a lot. In this book he offers a nice, short introduction to Pier Giorgio's life and significance.
- Letters to His Friends and Family - A collection of Pier Giorgio's personal letters.
- Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: Journey to the Summit - A short, accessible biography for kids, perfect for young people.
- My Brother Pier Giorgio: His Last Days - Another book by Luciana, Pier Giorgio's sister, but one focusing solely on the last months of his life.
Are you familiar with Pier Giorgio Frassati?
July 4 is not just a national holiday. It's also the feast day of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, who has grown to become my favorite saint. This post is adapted from one I wrote a while back.
Beginning in May 2010, on my birthday in fact, I spent a year reading about two particular saints: St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Both were perfect companions. They each died when they were just 24—my same age throughout the year—and the three of us shared many similar inclinations.
Each taught me different things. I'll talk more about Therese in a separate post, but on this feast day of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925), I'll focus turn my attention to the young hero.
Pier Giorgio was a man after my own heart. He was a mechanical engineer, a skilled outsdoorsman, and his two great passions were prayer and serving the poor. In all my reading of the saints, I've yet to find another who shares so much in common.
He taught me many things throughout the year, but two things stuck out most. First, he showed how a suburban Christian can truly love the poor. Pier Giorgio's dad owned a famous newspaper, which meant he was never short on cash. But instead of spending it all on himself he constantly emptied his pockets for his beloved poor.
He could afford nice clothes, fancy meals, and stylish cars. But Pier Giorgio almost never indulged. In a telling episode, Pier Giorgio was once asked why he always rode in third-class. His answer? Because there was no fourth-class.
Despite his profound compassion, though, Pier Giorgio never moved into a poor neighborhood or took a vow of poverty. He showed that you can love the poor as you are, where you are. You don't have to be be a social service agent or move into the slums. Whatever job you have, however much money you make, however busy you seem to be, you can still live with compassion.
Pier Giorgio also taught me the magnetic power of joy. Throughout his life, young people flocked to him not only because of his holiness but because of his smiles, pranks, and contagious laughter.
Pier Giorgio once placed a donkey in the bed of an unstudious friend, a sign that the lazy boy was being an ass. He was also known to shortsheet the beds of friends and priests whenever they went on retreat.
Pier Giorgio's levity and rumbling laughter were two of his greatest evangelistic tools. People want joy, and when they taste it they want to know its source. We see this in Pier Giorgio's friends, many of whom found God through his joy.
There's plenty more that Pier Giorgio has taught me, including commitment to the Rosary, devotion to the Eucharist, the necessity of prayer, and love for the outdoors. What makes him so incredible as a saint is that even with that rich piety, he was still profoundly ordinary. He went to school, he climbed mountains, he played pranks, he frequented bars, and he loved to read poetry. He's hardly different than any twenty-something modern today, but he learned to find God even in the midst of the ordinary. That's his greatest lesson for us, and that's why he's my favorite hero.
If you'd like to learn more about Pier Giorgio, here are sthree books I read during my year with him. Unlike Therese, Pier Giorgio has not been featured in many books, so the pickings are few. But within the small selection, these three stand out:
by Luciana Frassati
As far as I know, Luciana is the only relative to write a book on Pier Giorgio. In this book, Luciana, Pier Giorgio's sister and best friend, offers an intimate portrait of his life and death. She also reveals how misunderstood Pier Giorgio was by his parents.
Their father was an atheist, and their mother was nominally Christian, but both were uncomfortable with Pier Giorgio's piety. They were extremely worried that their son might become a priest and were also troubled by his mingling with the poor.
This discomfort regularly boiled over into frustration. Pier Giorgio's mother often scolded him for showing up late to dinner after serving the poor (he usually had to run home after giving away his bus-fare money.) His father chastised him for coming home without a coat, a regular occurrence since Pier Giorgio gave away his own clothes to anyone in need.
Besides revealing the tension with his parents, the book also frames Pier Giorgio's life in light of the eight beatitudes, which I found both interesting and appropriate. At Pier Giorgio's beatification, Pope John Paul II deemed him a "man of the beatitudes" and it's clear why. Pier Giorgio was meek, he was a peacemaker, he was poor in spirit, he hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and he embodied all the rest of the beatitudes. The core of Jesus's most famous sermon was the core of Pier Giorgio's entire life. That's why he's a saint. And that's why his life is so attractive.
Of the all books and articles I read on Pier Giorgio throughout the year, A Man of the Beatitudes was definitely my favorite.
by Maria De Lorenzo
In many ways this book is similar to A Man of the Beatitudes. It covers many of the same themes. However, it does differ by being more detached (it's not written by someone as close as Luciana) and it devotes an entire chapter to one little-discussed aspect of Pier Giorgio's life: his secret, suppressed love for a young girl.
During one of his regular mountain climbs, Pier Giorgio fell head over heels for a fellow-hiker named Laura. His journals and letters reveal just how instantly and deeply in love with her he was, and it wasn't long befroe he decided that that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
But he knew his parents wouldn't approve. Laura wasn't part of the upper class, and she was a Catholic activist, both strikes against her in the eyes of his parents. Pier Giorgio knew this would cause serious problems within his family, and since his relationship with his parents was already tumultuous, he never once revealed to them his secret love. He gave it up quietly, quitting his pursuit out of honor for his parents. For better or worse, right or wrong, the episode puts Pier Giorgio's utter selflessness on full display.
This book had the fullest treatment of this whole episode, which makes it a nice addition to any Pier Giorgio collection.
by Robert Claude
This book is much more difficult to find than the other two--I got it through inter-library loan--but it offers some unique insights. For one, The Soul of Pier Giorgio Frassati centers on Pier Giorgio's piety. In that way, it's more of a spiritual biography than the other two.
The book includes diary entries from a 17-year-old Pier Giorgio, some of which tally his monthly communions and Rosary decades (26 communions and 145 decades in December 1919.) The book lays out Pier Giorgio's spirituality along two poles, the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin, and explores each in depth.
The Soul of Pier Giorgio Frassati also reveals his deep prayer life. Pier Giorgio was known to lose himself in prayer quite often. On one occasion, the book explains, he became so lost in prayer that he was oblivious to the candle wax dripping onto his head.
Finally, this book presents an interesting look at Pier Giorgio's discernment process. When trying to determine what he should do with his life, Pier Giorgio considered becoming a priest. But he then asked a key question: "which vocation will give me the most contact with the poor?"
He decided the answer was to pursue a lay vocation and a career in engineering. His method stands as an alternative pattern for young people who are usually first encouraged to discern their state of life before finding their individual charisms. Pier Giorgio, the book shows, discerned the other way around. He first determined that his calling was to directly serve the poor, and then he chose the vocation that best enabled him to do that.
Other Recommended Books on Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati:
- Saints at Heart - My friend Bert Ghezzi, who has researched and written about hundreds of saints, also considers Pier Giorgio his favorite. That says a lot. This book by Bert offers a nice, short introduction to Pier Giorgio's life and significance.
- Letters to His Friends and Family - A collection of Pier Giorgio's personal letters.
- Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: Journey to the Summit - A short, wonderful Pier Giorgio biography for kids, the perfect introduction for young children.
- My Brother Pier Giorgio: His Last Days - Another book by Pier Giorgio's sister, Luciana, but one focusing solely on the last months of his life.
(Image Credit: LOL Saints)