Charity is Not Enough

Today the church remembers a saint who fought hard to move the needle of justice, especially for his poor neighbors in Turin Italy: Pier Giorgio Frassati, Social Reformer and Activist.

Saint Pier was born in 1901 to an agnostic father and artistic mother. His father would go on to serve in the Italian government, and his mother would go on to produce artwork that would be bought by royalty. Saint Pier, though, had his eyes set on adventure and advocacy.

As a young boy a mother and shoeless son came begging at the Frassti household. Pier answered the door and, so moved by the sight, gave the young boy the shoes off of his own feet. One night he witnessed a beggar come to his door intoxicated, and was horrified when his father sent him away with nothing. Sobbing Saint Pier ran to his mother who wrapped some food in a napkin for him, and sent him out into the night to find the hungry man.

For as big of a heart Saint Pier had, he also had a wonderful sense of humor. He would play practical jokes on his family and friends, and earned the name “Terror” for his wisecracks.

Though he was a smart boy, he was only an average student, and rather than find his home inside books, he found it inside the organizations working for justice. Especially dear to his heart was the anti-fascism work going on in the day, and those causes seeking to bridge the inequality gap. He spoke out against the regime of Mussolini, and was arrested for protesting alongside the Young Catholic Workers Congress.

“Charity is not enough,” he was known to say, “we must have social reform!”

His friends called him a “saint with a cigar,” as he marched, wrote (riffing off of Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena), and spoke out against injustice.

In his leisure time he was an avid athlete, boating and mountaineering with his friends.

On one such boat trip in 1925 Saint Pier started to complain of a back ache. Returning home he was met with the death of his grandmother. Not wanting to add to the grief, he kept his pain largely to himself, though it grew in the following days.

Within a week Saint Pier found himself unable to rise from his bed, stricken at the age of 24 with Polio. He died in the arms of his mother, saying with his last breath, “May I breathe forth my soul in peace to you…”

Saint Pier is not a well-known saint, but is one who reminds me, and should remind the whole church, that moving the needle on social inequality often begins in the compassionate hearts of the young.

Which means we should listen to the young, as uncomfortable as that might make us.

-historical bits gleaned from 365 Saints by Koenig-Bricker

-icon written by Theophilia of Deviant Art (

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