Good and Faithful Servant: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Elizabeth Kotelly

Good and Faithful Servant: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

“Governments today are not heeding the Pope’s warning: ‘True peace is more a fruit of Christian love for one’s neighbor than it is a fruit of justice,’ and they are preparing new wars for the future of all humanity. … Peace cannot return to the world without God.”

-Pier Giorgio Frassati


Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati lived intensely. By his 17th birthday, he had joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society to assist in the care and rehabilitation of wartime servicemen, widows and orphans. His zeal and enthusiasm for God and the needy was tempered by an equally temperate and prudent life of faith, which demonstrated an uncanny saintliness in the political activism in which he engaged. When faced with opportunities to engage the public sphere, his gaze set squarely on Jesus Christ stayed and steadied him in the turbulent waters of post WWI Italy where, whether in authenticity or not, most of Frassati’s politically oriented countrymen lacked eternal perspective and the virtues that come with it.

There often resides a subtle mindset in modern Catholic circles to presume that external environment sets internal character: idyllic churches, clean and polished people and sentiments mean interior excellence and moral goodness.  Arduous trials and impoverished scenes, circumstances, or poverty and strife mean a grotesque inner man. But the influence environment exacts isn’t always determinative of the character of a man going good or bad.  In Frassati’s case, the prolific career of his father—Italian Senator and Ambassador to Germany—managed to not get to his head. If anything, the Pier Giorgio enthusiastically sought the privileged place of servant. He gives witness to Christ’s words, for to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away (Mt 25:29)

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati had the opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps and pilot the latter’s influential political newspaper, “La Stampa,” and position himself to assume power in the Italian government (right on the threshold of WWII). Given his talent, charisma, handsome charm, zeal, and determination, he would have made an exceptional politician, perhaps recognized in history for other feats.  

Instead, he chose the life which made him a Blessed, and come 2025, a saint. 

Each one of us has the same choice set before us.

Perhaps you have been endowed with considerable giftings, which could generate substantial power, fortune, fame, et al.. Maybe you had or still have an opportunity to pursue a wonderful good or life goal. But what has God placed upon your heart?

I will never forget the story my former formator told me, which took place during his time in seminary at the North American College in Rome.  The seminarians sent there from dioceses around the United States represent the apex of intellectual aptitude, not to mention suitability for esteemed positions in the magisterium.  The smartest, most brilliant, extroverted, and likeable among them (according to my formator) discerned and entered religious life as a Carthusian. He remains hidden from the world to this day.

During Jesus’ time in ministry his apostles and disciples struggled to understand how this Man who raised the dead wouldn’t raise an army to overthrow Roman occupied Israel.  The Jews could not fathom a Messiah according to any pattern other than the one they not only had anticipated in prophecy, but had somewhere along the trajectory of time and suffering, idealized.  

Jesus’ overthrow of Rome came hundreds of years after His resurrection from the very hand of Roman Emperor Constantine himself; it came through the bloody baths of Christian martyrs—many poor, some rich and influential. Christ always conquers, but He conquers according to His ways, not ours.  

And so Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati stands, I believe, as a clarion call to the able-bodied and minded young of this world to cast all cares to the God whose will and call and election does not, in fact, make much sense to our sensibilities and logic. Frassati carried with his tireless service of the poor all his giftings, all his zeal, all his activism, all his undying cries for justice and for peace, but he used these talents to live fully the life God had set before him, not the life that fate and fortune had.   

In North America we are almost constantly presented with the easy opportunity to “have it both ways.” You can have the high-profile life you always wanted and still be Catholic.  Do you want to just “still be Catholic?” Is that enough?  What will the Master say when He asks for the return on the talents, and we show Him gold when He was expecting charity?  

Frassati had many opportunities to conclude his services: he could have focused solely on his studies instead of also joining the Lay Dominicans; he could quietly held fast to his Catholic faith instead of time and time again defending it in the streets during the rise of Fascism and Communism; he could have given just tithes instead of giving himself—at the cost of his life when he contracted poliomyelitis. There were a lot of opportunities for “just enough” service. Frassati knew as all the saints—these God-lovers—do that there is no “just enough.”  There is only everything. And that’s what he gave.

May we be inspired and led to do the same.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!