It was 1994, and I was a theology student at Franciscan University of Steubenville. the minister-general of the Franciscan TORs, as I recall, came to give a talk to the university community about how he was healed through the miraculous intercession of Bl. Pier Giorgio, the miracle which led to his beatification. The minister-general was accompanied by an exposition of large poster-size photos of Frassati along with some quotes of his famous sayings. I was captivated by him immediately, by this young man who was so much like me around the same age, similar heritage, and similar outlook on life. I was so impressed I built a web site on my old AOL account, which became the first version of what remains the oldest web site dedicated to PGF, over 20 years!. You can find it today at bettnet.com/frassati.
Some time later, I got an email from Wanda Gawronska, PGF’s niece in Italy, asking about the site and thanking me for creating it. We kept in touch occasionally over the years and at one point she sent me some things, including a relic. I knew it was a relic when I received it, but had no idea of the history or even what the original material had been. I later found out that it was a piece of sheet that was on his bed when he died.
I think what really made me connect with PGF was how “real" he is to me, which is a funny thing to say given that all the saints are real. But I think what I mean is that he is relatable. As a young man of the 20th century, he dealt with many of the same aspects of life that I did at his age, including struggles with school, relating to family that maybe sometimes didn’t understand him, spending time with friends and balancing that with other obligations including faith activities, getting involved in politics. He showed what all the saints show us, which is that the perfection that Christ calls us to in Matthew 5:48 is attainable through Jesus Christ in our regular, old daily lives.
I first built my PGF web site back when web sites were still pretty rare. I’ll admit part of me was motivated by learning how to do it, but I chose the subject of the site, PGF, because I wanted other people to have the same experience of meeting this remarkable young man like I did. Even then I was fairly knowledgable about my Catholic faith and about saints and I’d never heard about him. It should have to take a traveling exhibition to get the word out and I had realized early on the power of the internet to be a vehicle for evangelization and the Catholic faith. So I built the site using whatever photos of PGF I could find, most of them scanned from a pamphlet from the official cause for his canonization. I knew that photos would be important because it’s the photos that really capture his relatability. But I also wanted to include his own words, which were an inspirational call to action, not to mention the stories of his amazing selflessness that began even at a very young age.
As I’ve grown older, got married, had kids of my own and am now old enough to be his father, my perspective has changed a little, but I still maintain a strong devotion. Over the past two decades, I’ve seen devotion to PGF blossom and explode and now a whole generation of young people look to him for inspiration and example. I like to think I’ve played a small role in that.