Pier of Italy and Elizabeth of Portugal

On this July the 4th we have two saints, Elizabeth of Portugal (+1336), queen, wife, mother, widow, peacemaker, third order Franciscan who, after her fractious husband’s death (whom she sanctified, as much as his coarser soul could take, it seems), retired to an obscure life of prayer and penitence in a convent, feeding the poor. She twice placed herself physically between her warring family, specifically, her husband’s forces against those of his sons, and the second time was too much strain, bringing on a moribund fever. Elizabeth was immediately hailed as a saint, and canonized by Pope Urban VIII in 1625.

The other may be more known to our readers, Pier Giorgio Frassati (+1925), a handsome, young, athletic Italian from an aristocratic family, who died at the age of 24 of poliomyelitis he contracted from his (mainly hidden) work with the poor, to whom he would carry food and necessities himself, making a detailed list of who they were and what they needed. Besides his charitable endeavours, Frassati’s talents were unbounded: An avid mountaineer and hiker, scaling some of Italy’s grandest peaks; he could sing, and cite long sections of Dante with ease. Although he danced well, he never liked it quite as much as he put on, but good male dancers are thin on the ground, and one may surmise that it was chivalry that motivated him in many such things. Although in love once, he thought his parents would not approve of the marriage, and relinquished his hopes, something that cost him dearly, as he confided to his sister.

His chastity, purity and simplicity; his good humour and indefatigable help of others, (which really was his greatest joy); his devotion to the faith, to the Holy Mass and Rosary, his love of Italy and all things Italian, of music and song and the outdoors, attracted many to him, and he has become not just a patron of youth, but a very icon of how one’s first years may be well spent.

Like Saint Thérèse, Pier covered a lot of ground quickly, and God took his sanctified soul to heaven while young, so to leave us, perhaps, with a vivid picture and example of goodness and perfection in its integral and primordial form, of body and soul, an image, however distant, of what we were in the Garden; so we will be in heaven, but in a far more perfect way.

After his painful death, during which he peacefully accepted the denial of morphine by his mother, which she saw as unfitting, not realizing what agony her son was in, his parents expected a few dignitaries and friends at his funeral; to their surprise, the streets thronged with thousands of the people of Turin, including all those he had helped secretly; truly, his name was proclaimed from the housetops. When Pier Giorgio’s body was exhumed in 1981, it was found to be incorrupt.

On May 20, 1990, Pier Giorgio was beatified by Pope John Paul II, who in his own youth as Karol Wojtyla resembled the beatus in many ways. Perhaps they are climbing mountains together in heaven as I write, or at least will when their bodies are reunited with their souls at the end of time; I for one hope to join them one day, Deo volente, even if taking a bit longer time, and a more circuitous route, alas, than the good Pier Giorgio.

This is, of course, also America’s 242nd Independence Day, so spare a prayer for our neighbours to the south (well, mainly to the south, with Detroit being north of Windsor, and Alaska north of just about everything else).

Saint Elizabeth and Blessed Pier Giorgio, orate pro nobis!