My Year with Therese and Pier Giorgio

A month or so before my 24th birthday last May, I considered how the Church designates a theme for certain years (i.e. the “year of St. Paul” or the “year for priests“). I thought that was a great idea and decided to do something similar in my own life.

So I set out searching for a good theme. After considering many options, I settled on this: for an entire year, beginning on my birthday, I would focus on one particular saint. I researched different options, and found many of them compelling. I considered Lawrence of Rome, my patron saint, whose boldness and compassion I envy. I looked at Pope John Paul II, envisioning immersing myself in his encyclicals and “theology of the body” for an entire year.

But during my search, I came across not just one saint, but two who stood out among the others. I just couldn’t get them out of my head.

Each of the two had eerie similarities. Both were widely popular among Catholics, yet unfamiliar to me. Both were laypeople who encouraged ‘ordinary’ holiness: sanctity in your family, in your work, in your daily comings and goings. Most intriguing, however, was that both died of crippling diseases when they were just 24 years old–precisely my age during the entire following year.

So, after a long search I ended up with two year-long patrons: St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.

Beginning on my birthday, I leaped into their lives and spirituality. My friend Bert Ghezzi, who has volumes on almost every saint, gave me a couple of biographies to get started. I picked up some more through Amazon, and then spent the rest of the year with them.

 This past Monday, I turned 25, which ended my year-long exploration. A year later, I count Therese and Pier-Giorgio not just as heroes, but as friends. I’m sure I could write a whole book describing the lessons they’ve taught me. There are many concrete ways that I live differently now because of their example and prayers.

However, instead of trying to fit their influence into a single blog post, I’ll simply let it season future writings (yet I do plan to post short reviews of the books I read on each saint.)

Because the year was so rich, though, I decided to do another.

Last Monday, May 23, kicked off my year with C.S. Lewis, a man who has been instrumental in my entire Christian life. As an Evangelical, he baptized my imagination and strengthened my mind. As I explored Catholicism, he acted as my Moses, walking me slowly to the promised land of the Catholic Church despite never entering himself.

I’m pretty familiar with Lewis already: I’ve read many of his works, I’ve shaken hands with his closest living relative, and I’ve even attended a conference celebrating his influence. But for the entire upcoming year, I’m planning to read everything afresh.

I’ll be reading through every single one of his works chronologically, which I began doing on my birthday with Spirits In Bondage, a collection of poetry. The book, what Lewis calls a “cycle of lyrics,” was his first published work. Lewis completed it as a 20-year old agnostic.

I also have the first massive volume of Lewis’ personal letters on my bedside, which I’ve already dipped into into each night.

So as Therese and Pier-Giorgio pass the torch to Lewis, I hope to learn as much from this next mentor as I did from the first two. And I’m sure you’ll hear more from all three of this motley bunch over the coming months.

  • AugustinesHeart

    Funny thing… I just did a similar thing and the reason I just turned 24 on October 22nd where I wanted to live a year full of life dedicated to their memory while reflecting on the sanctity they achieved at this age of 24. I don’t to date remember ever responding to a blog. I hate the computer. But I find my self doing so because I’m sitting here at the computer because I 10 minutes ago had an impulse to do so so that I could find an icon of Bl. Pier Giorgio to match the icon I was sent last month of St. Therese by I don’t know who. With in the month of October I was sent this beautiful icon of her and in a letter from a friend I was sent a prayer care of Pier Giorgio where she wrote that on a retreat in Birmingham she had seen it in a gift shop and thought she needed to by it for me. I just thought I’d share.
    Ave Maria,
    Candace E. Ochoa

    • Wow! How cool is that?! I’d love to hear about your experiences with each of them.

  • Pete

    Brandon, I'll see if I can find any of the pics and I'll email them to you. It was great fun.

  • Brandon Vogt

    Pete: Wow! That must have been an incredible trip. I'm two parts happy for you and one part jealous!

    I hope to make it over there someday–maybe after I finish this special year–and your info will surely come in handy.

  • Pete

    Brandon, in 2004 we took a family trip to England. My daughter is an apostle of Clive Staples (as she calls him) and was in university over there for a year.

    She took us all to Oxford and we had a tour of the Kilns (which is now owned by the C.S. Lewis Foundation out of California and is used as a home for theology/religion students at Oxford).

    One of the Doctoral students invited us in and gave the tour. Some of Lewis' furniture survives. The high point for her was sitting at the dining room table with Lewis' typewriter in front of her and her actually pressing a key. (We learned that C.S. didn't type much, he hand wrote his stuff and Warnie apparently typed it for him.) i have a picture of the moment and she is almost delerious with joy.

    There are many old unpublished B&W photos of the Lewis group on the walls.

    Interestingly, a family room has been added to the rear of the house and hanging on the wall is the weathered sign from the Bird & Baby which hung over the pub door during the Inkling years.

    We also walked in the woods he wrote about in front of the house.

    Of course, no visit would be complete without a visit to the Eagle & Child for a couple brewskis!

  • Brandon Vogt

    Buddy: I love Sheen, too! I might spend a future year on him; I have about 15 of his works, and a priest-friend of mine–one of the twin priests I just wrote about–has every single work Sheen has published.

    Regarding your question, though, I don't think Sheen ever met Lewis.

    Ruth Ann: It's a great idea. Jennifer Fulwiler created the "Saint's Name Generator" back in December to do something similar:

    Brent: Thanks! I'll admit though that I got it from Joseph Pearce and Mark Brumley. I heard Pearce use the description in person and Brumley used it here:

  • Brent Stubbs

    As I explored Catholicism, he acted as my Moses, walking me slowly to the promised land of the Catholic Church despite never entering himself.

    Very nice imagery Brandon…good writing

  • Ruth Ann

    Although I've been a Catholic all of my life, 60 + years, this has never been a custom of mine, nor had I heard of it until reading something similar at another blog.

    There is a "patron saint generator" which I decided to try. It randomly chooses a saint. Mine for 2011 is another young saint, Blessed Chiara Luce Badan, who died of cancer at age 18. There is not much material about her life, but I have her photo on my desk top. Her smile could light up a room, and it reminds me to have joy in the Lord.

    Happy birthday!

  • Buddy

    C. S. Lewis is a great choice. Three or four summers ago I tried to read as many of his books as I could before the start of fall classes (during the academic year, things get so hectic and I'm lucky if I can read anything unrelated to my field). I think that summer I must have read a dozen titles by Lewis. Counting those and the ones I had read previously plus those I have gotten to subsequently, I think I have read two thirds of his books. I haven't tackled the letters yet. Those volumes look pretty intimidating. Good luck with your project. I have learned a lot from C. S. Lewis. He has a great deal in common with my favorite writer, Fulton J. Sheen. I have been trying for some time to determine if the two men ever met, but so far I haven't found out anything. If you do discover in your readings of Lewis that he in fact did meet Sheen I hope you will mention it in a posting. Happy reading!