The Holy Terror: a model for young Catholic men

The Holy Terror: a model for young Catholic men

Br Barry Coldrey

Frassati Ministries Australia was founded only three years ago but has already made a significant impact on Australian young adult ministry.

Aimed at catering for young men between the ages of 18 and 35 who are studying or working in southern Queensland, it is one of many similar groups worldwide which call this demographic to a deeper devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and to Our Lady.

There are currently 14 members of Frassati Ministries Australia who live in community, in four separate houses around Brisbane. They support one another in their personal and prayer lives, live an active brotherhood and help other young men to participate in the life of the Church.

In early May, three leaders of this exciting new initiative, Nathan Costin, Abraham Hewitt and Dave Powick made a fortnight's pilgrimage to Turin, Italy, to visit the places associated with the brief, but inspiring and faith-filled life of the group's patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who died aged 24 in 1925.

Blessed Pier Giorgio's story made a deep impression on Nathan and his companions, challenging them to live a more authentic life.

"I first encountered Pier Giorgio in 2011, and I was blown away by his witness and his testimony," said Nathan. "Our group could see a young guy who was able to live life to the full, live out his faith, and at the same time bring his friends along with him."

Bl Pier was born in Turin on 6 April 1901. His father, Alfredo, was a successful businessman and his mother, Adelaide, was a painter. In due course, Alfredo purchased the newspaper La Stampa and was to have a brilliant career as an Italian senator and Ambassador to Germany.

Pier's parents, however, were not religious: Alfredo was an agnostic and Adelaide, a socialite. Pier was different. As he graduated from private tuition to a state primary school – and then to Jesuit college the Sociale – he was developing a deep spiritual life.

He was always a "joiner". As a teenager he became a member of the Marian Society and the Apostleship of Prayer and received permission – rare at the time – to be a daily communicant. His parents were concerned and agonised that Pier might wish to become a priest.

In 1918, Pier Giorgio decided to become a mining engineer and commenced university at the Royal Polytechnic in Turin but was already immersed in social and political activism. He joined the St Vincent de Paul Society and some of his spare time was spent nursing the sick and wounded from World War I and the victims of the 1919 influenza epidemic.

His was the hectic life of the tertiary student and his studies suffered. Daily Mass, private prayer –sometimes all night – and intense work for and among Turin's poor absorbed much of his time.

Pier was handsome and vibrant – a natural leader. He enjoyed numerous outdoor sports including hiking, horse riding, skiing and mountain climbing. He loved parties. As an upper-class young man, he went regularly with his parents to the theatre, the opera and cinema. Pier prayed hard, played hard and partied hard. His nickname, among friends, was "the Holy Terror".

He was active in the Catholic Student Federation, Catholic Action and the Populare, the forerunner of the Christian Democrats which promoted the Church's social teaching based on the principles of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum.

Pier Giorgio seemed destined for a striking career in Church or state, but the Divine plan was otherwise. In his torrential lifestyle he had neglected his own health and, in June, 1925 he fell ill with polio and his strength evaporated. In a time without antibiotics, he died after a short illness on 4 July.

His grieving parents anticipated a dignified upper-class funeral attended by the city's "great and good," but word of the young man's death had spread like wildfire around Turin. At the funeral, the piazza surrounding the cathedral was packed with colossal, seething crowds; so great was the impact of his short life. After the funeral he was buried in the Frassati crypt at Pollone outside the city.

In due course, the Cardinal Archbishop of Turin allowed Pier Giorgio's cause for canonisation to proceed and many years later, in 1981, his mortal remains were exhumed as part of the process. His body was found to be incorrupt and was moved from Pollone to the Cathedral in Turin.

Pier Giorgio was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990 and his story has inspired many young adult Catholics on their own faith journeys, as with the young men of Frassati Ministries in Brisbane.

Interestingly, when he died in 1925, Pier was still an undergraduate; it was not until his beatification in 1990 that the Royal Polytechnic finally awarded his engineering degree posthumously.

A highlight of the Frassati Ministries pilgrimage was the group's visit to Turin Cathedral, where they prayed before Frassati's incorrupt body – a moving encounter with "the man who inspired us so much." Their spiritual director, Fr Paul Chandler – himself a dynamic, young Brisbane priest – accompanied the group.

Together, they saw the Shroud of Turin and visited the offices of La Stampa newspaper. They were also able to interview Pier's niece, Wanda Gawronska, President of the Associazone Pier Giorgio Frassati.

In summarising the pilgrimage, Nathan described it as a great opportunity to pray for the appropriate direction of the new ministry.

"Hopefully by visiting the places associated with Pier Giorgio and immersing ourselves in his culture and life, we'll get a better understanding of the direction we want to go," he said.

"I feel we've grown so quickly and I can see the Holy Spirit moving, so now we want to see where God is going to lead us over the next few years."

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