Make the Saints Your Best Friends: 4 Lessons I Learned From Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

‘I wanted to be like him — adventurous and loving, a person who would give my time and love to the poor and lonely. I wanted to bring people closer to Christ, just as he did.’

Claire Couche prays before the tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati in Turin, Italy.
Claire Couche prays before the tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati in Turin, Italy. (photo: Claire Couche)

A few years ago, I was driving with some friends from Austria to Milan, Italy, and we were headed to a soccer game. Part of the duration of our drive was spent talking about the saints. As we entered the city, my friend said something I will never forget. He said, “Claire, we have to make the saints our best friends.” That sentence changed the trajectory of my life. I had always loved the saints, I loved learning about them, and I attempted to imitate them — yet I never thought to make them friends, let alone my best friends. From that moment on, I asked my favorite saints to become my dearest, best friends. And my life has been completely different since. 

Just a few weeks ago, I returned from leading a pilgrimage to Italy that followed in the footsteps of my best heavenly friend, Pier Giorgio Frassati, an Italian “Blessed” in heaven whose life story is a powerful one precisely because he radiates Christ so intensely. The pilgrimage ended at Blessed Pier Giorgio’s summer home in Pollone and visiting his tomb in the city of Turin. While we were there, our group was able to meet his niece, Wanda Gawronska. It was a deeply moving experience, an encounter that I prayed about for years (I have emails to her from 2015 asking to meet her)! 

She asked me what I loved about him, and I was able to share the impact he had on my life. I would love to share the same with you today, on the Solemnity of All Saints.

1. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith.

Blessed Pier Giorgio’s source of strength was the Eucharist. He was able to accomplish all the works of charity that he did and endure all of his sufferings because he was completely in love with Jesus in the Eucharist. I will never forget the first time I “met” Blessed Pier. I was about 12 years old. My mother handed me a small prayer card of him. She told me to pray to Jesus through his intercession. I began to research him in my spare time. I would look up his story online, and I ordered and read all the books I could find about him. I wanted to be like him — adventurous and loving, a person who would give my time and love to the poor and lonely. I wanted to bring people closer to Christ, just as he did. 

What I found out as the years passed is that in order to accomplish these things, I had to fall in love with Jesus. Our love for Jesus is what animates all of our good works. It is what gives life and verve to all of our passions and acts of charity. Without loving Christ, we will be a clashing cymbal, as St. Paul put it. I looked to Pier Giorgio: How did he fall in love with Jesus? Through adoring Christ the Eucharist, through receiving Christ each day at Mass. This was his secret; this was his source of strength. 

Every evening since his youth, Pier Giorgio went to Benediction of the Eucharist. He spent hours in the middle of the night adoring Jesus. A woman once observed him on his knees adoring, and hot candle wax was slowly dripping on him — yet he was so deep in prayer, he didn’t move. 

Blessed Pier Giorgio missed no opportunity to spread the joy he received from the Eucharist. When he was in town passing a church on horseback, he dismounted the horse and genuflected towards the Eucharist so often that eventually his horse began to stop on its own in front of the church. He always invited others to join him for Mass or adoration. After his death, many of his friends shared that, though their parents couldn’t get them to attend Mass, nor their teachers, Pier Giorgio’s joyful invitation sparked in them the grace to desire to attend; it was he who inspired them to go. 

The Eucharist was always on the forefront of his mind and the center of his day. If he had a ski trip with friends planned, something he did often, he would make sure he went to Mass first, often missing the more convenient train times to the mountains. Daily Mass was his priority, and he ordered everything else in his day around it. 

Jesus said to his first disciples, “Come and see” (John 1:39) when they asked where he was staying. We have the incredible opportunity to “come and see” Jesus in the Eucharist in adoration and to receive him in the Eucharist. Rest with him there. Lay your burdens before your King, who is so eager to help you. Adore your Creator. Listen to what he has to tell you. St. John Marie Vianney said, “We should consider those moments spent before the Blessed Sacrament as the happiest of our lives.” Blessed Pier Giorgio’s life witnesses to the veracity of this statement. 

Frassati pilgrimage 2023
Clockwise from left: A recent pilgrimage group enjoyed following in the footsteps of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati; a highlight for Claire Couche was meeting Wanda Gawronska, the daughter of Luciana Gawronska, Blessed Pier’s younger sister.(Photo: Claire Couche photos)

2. Honor Mother Mary and pray the Rosary.

After his death, one of Blessed Pier Giorgio’s dearest friends reflected, “I would not hesitate to say that the secret of Pier Giorgio’s spiritual perfection is to be found in his devotion to Mary. A day never passed that did not find him at the feet of his heavenly Mother with his rosary, his favorite prayer, entwined in his fingers. …There were many times when members of his family would find him in his bedroom, asleep next to his bed, with his rosary beads held tightly in his hands.”

Earlier I mentioned that we must make the saints our best friends. I truly believe that one of Blessed Pier Giorgio’s best friends was Mother Mary. And the way he would converse with her is through the Rosary. As Catholics, we have such an incredible gift in the Rosary. I remember hearing once that a husband or wife would never complain if their spouse repeatedly said, “I love you; I love you; I love you.” This is what we do when we recite the Rosary. We repeat, “I love you” with each Hail Mary we pray. We walk in the steps of her Son.

Father Rinaldo Ruffini remembered this about Pier Giorgio: “How many times in hotels or in mountain shelters, in the evening, all of a sudden Pier Giorgio’s voice rose above the commotion which he himself had instigated, chanting the Holy Rosary with his out-of-tune voice so loudly that even the boarders who were not from his group were compelled to join in.”

3. There is merit in suffering.

While I was praying in front of the tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio in Turin, an image of a large cross came to my mind and heart in prayer. I heard the words so clearly, “There will be suffering in your life, but always look towards the cross, as I did.” Since this time, I have often failed at this. When I encounter suffering, I immediately want it gone — especially physical suffering. I often complain when I suffer.

But each and every suffering we encounter or endure can be used for the greater glory of God. Suffering gives us the opportunity to love God, to give God glory, to merit glory, and to participate in his work of redemption. Blessed Pier Giorgio suffered greatly in his life. He had many crosses: His parents fought often; his mother disapproved of his love, Laura Hildalgo, and refused for them to marry; and he died in suffering: Polio is a very painful death. Yet Pier Giorgio knew there was merit in his suffering. He knew that his suffering was not meaningless; he was truly participating in Christ’s work of redemption. How can we suffer beautifully for Christ?

4. Be adventurous!

My all-time favorite quote is one by Pope St. John Paul II: “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.” Amazing, incredible things happen when we live our life for Christ. We become free and fully alive! 

Blessed Pier Giorgio lived his life fully. 

He was an adventurous outdoorsman who loved hiking, mountain climbing, skiing, ice skating, horseback riding and running. He loved being with his friends and being active with them. He loved attending the opera and plays. He loved reading, writing and learning about the faith. He would recite poems and sing at the top of his lungs in joy.

The best gift you can give someone is the gift of yourself. But you cannot fully give yourself to others if you do not know yourself. Blessed Pier Giorgio knew who he was. He knew that he was a sinner, yet he also knew that he was Christ’s and that he was redeemed in Christ. Because he knew this, he was able to give himself fully to others. And what he gave them was Christ himself.


This post is adapted from the Finding Philothea website.