By Maria Wiering | Catholic News Service
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — Pier Giorgio Frassati was an avid mountaineer, engineering student and political activist in Turin, Italy. He also was deeply devoted to the poor, his family and the Eucharist.
When he died of polio in 1925 at age 24, droves of mourners lined the streets outside his funeral to pay respects.
According to biographies, the Frassatis — an influential Italian family — were shocked to know their son had been so close to orphans, the sick and people in poverty. The poor were equally surprised to find that their friend was from such a prominent family.
Beatified in 1990, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is the subject of a play that is being livestreamed 6:30 p.m. CDT April 6 — the 121st anniversary of Frassati’s birth — from Open Window Theatre in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.
Written and directed by Jeremy Stanbary and starring Jeromy Darling, the play is the first professional theater production that aims to capture the life of this modern saint, Stanbary said. It initially ran at the theater Oct. 1-Nov. 1, 2021.
The “Frassati” performance is about 90 minutes long and includes four cast members. The April 6 virtual performance is free at Open Window Theatre’s Facebook and YouTube channels, and will be followed by a livestream Q-and-A with the cast.
Stanbary, who founded Open Window Theatre 10 years ago with his wife, Sarah Stanbary, and currently serves as the theater’s executive artistic director, said Blessed Pier Giorgio’s life resonates with the world today.
As Blessed Pier Giorgio entered adulthood, Italy was roiled by postwar political upheaval, a growing class divide and waves of anticlericalism.
Blessed Pier Giorgio’s father directed the newspaper La Stampa, was an Italian senator and a German ambassador. His mother was a painter. Neither was religiously devout. Blessed Pier Giorgio was outspoken — like his father, he was openly anti-Fascist and attended anti-Communist demonstrations, but he was even more zealous for his Catholic faith.
He attended daily Mass, frequently prayed in eucharistic adoration, was active in Catholic youth organizations and faith-based political movements, and became a lay Dominican. Even his studies in mining engineering were a ministry — Blessed Pier Giorgio said he hoped to “serve Christ better among the miners,” who had squalid working conditions, Stanbary said.
“The beauty of his sanctity and his ordinariness as well was just profound,” Stanbary said. “We can look to Pier Giorgio to see how we live the Gospel to its fullness in the ordinary, difficult, mundane things of everyday lives.”
When St. John Paul II beatified him, he noted that his own life had been inspired by Blessed Pier Giorgio, and called him the “Man of the Eight Beatitudes.”
Pope Francis highlighted him as a model for young people in “Christus Vivit,” his 2019 exhortation on young people, and he quoted St. John Paul: Blessed Pier Giorgio “was a young man filled with a joy that swept everything along with it, a joy that also overcame many difficulties in his life.”
He is the inspiration for and patron of the worldwide Frassati groups, including the Frassati Society of Minnesota, which unite faith and fellowship, especially through outdoor excursions.
The idea to create a play about Blessed Pier Giorgio took root in Stanbary’s mind years ago, when he was performing other one-man dramas about saints that he had written: “Lolek,” about St. John Paul II, and “Alessandro,” about the conversion of the man who attempted to rape St. Maria Goretti before murdering her in 1902.
“I’ve always felt that someday I would do a deeper dive into his life and write a play about him,” he said of Blessed Pier Giorgio.
Stanbary said he hopes the audience takes away “some answer to where peace of soul is found.”
“The problems in the world are never going to go away. And the Christian response is not to distance ourselves from the problems of the world,” he said. “Pier Giorgio had found a tremendous peace of heart, peace of soul in life. … We dig into that in the play because the play is much more than a historical biographical drama.
“The play is more so a spiritual biographical drama, but still rooted in the history and events of his life.”
More information about “Frassati” and the virtual performance can be found at https://openwindowtheatre.org/virtual.