BURIEN – Students, faculty and staff at Kennedy Catholic High School have a new patron to inspire them: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, an early-20th-century Italian young man known for his spirituality and service to the poor.
“I connected with his selflessness,” said Jaclyn Siefert, a Kennedy Catholic senior and parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Burien. “I see him as a role model of how I can live my life every day.”
Blessed Pier Giorgio was honored as the new patron of Kennedy Catholic at a Feb. 28 Mass celebrated by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who has a long-standing devotion to Blessed Pier Giorgio.
Born in Turin, Italy, in 1901, Pier Giorgio Frassati was a college student who organized mountain climbing trips that he interspersed with Scripture readings and praying the rosary. He was known for his devotion to the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary, as well as his work helping the poor. He died in 1925, at age 24, of poliomyelitis, which doctors later speculated he caught from the sick people he tended. Pier Giorgio was beatified in 1990 by Pope John Paul II, who called him the “man of the eight beatitudes.”
This prayer card with a relic of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was given to Kennedy Catholic School by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who received the relic from Blessed Pier Giorgio’s niece. Photo: Courtesy Kennedy Catholic High School
A few weeks before the Mass at Kennedy Catholic, Archbishop Sartain presented the school with a portrait of Blessed Pier Giorgio and a small prayer card containing a second-class relic of Blessed Pier Giorgio, a small piece of the sheet that was on his deathbed.
“The relic was given to me by Blessed Pier Giorgio’s niece, Wanda Gawronski, who lives in Rome and is a friend of mine,” Archbishop Sartain said.
Elevating its Catholic identity
Naming Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as Kennedy Catholic’s patron is the latest step school officials have taken to elevate the school’s Catholic identity, a recommendation made in a 2005 accreditation report.
The most recent accreditation, in 2017, suggested the students needed a charism, said Mike Prato, president of Kennedy Catholic. While other Catholic schools in the archdiocese are named for saints, bishops or religious orders, Kennedy Catholic was named for the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
So the school decided to adopt a religious patron. In surveys of students, staff, faculty and alumni, three names rose to the top: St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Frances Cabrini and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti. The names were forwarded to Archbishop Sartain, who told Prato of his devotion to Blessed Pier Giorgio.
Some months later, the archbishop said, Prato wrote that the school had chosen Blessed Pier Giorgio, “and of course I approved their choice.”
Blessed Pier Giorgio’s life shows how something extraordinary can happen from an ordinary person, Prato said. “Ordinary kids seek to go to great heights with God’s grace,” he said.
Kennedy Catholic Spanish teacher Jennifer Jinka (a 1998 alum) and Lindsay Smith, a member of the school’s advancement team, volunteered recently with other teachers and staff in honor of the school’s new patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Photo: Courtesy Kennedy Catholic High School
‘Toward the top’
In preparation for the patron Mass, Kennedy Catholic’s faculty and staff served at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Northwest Harvest. Students studied Blessed Pier Giorgio’s life in theology class. His message of love and peace, along with his relationship with his friends and the outdoors, resonated with Jake Williams, a Kennedy Catholic senior who enjoys snowboarding.
“I feel closer to God and I do a lot more meditation up there” in the mountains, said Williams, a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi.
A month before his death, Pier Giorgio wrote the phrase “verso l’alto” (toward the top) on a photograph taken by a friend, on what turned out to be Pier Giorgio’s last climb. The phrase took on a life of its own as it became representative of Blessed Pier Giorgio’s life — “a constant striving to reach the summit of eternal life,” according to FrassatiUSA.org, which promotes the canonization and apostolate of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti.
“I really admire that saying. It has so many meanings behind it,” Williams said.
Quotes from Blessed Pier Giorgio and images depicting aspects of his life are reproduced on banners that Archbishop Sartain has given to Kennedy Catholic. The banners were displayed during the Feb. 28 Mass, attended by some 800 students, faculty, staff and parents, at the school’s Goodwin Memorial Gymnasium.
The archbishop received permission to reproduce the artwork — prepared for a Blessed Pier Giorgio exhibit at 2008 World Youth Day — on vinyl banners while he was bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. The diocese gave him the extra banners, which he in turn gave to Kennedy Catholic.
Now the banners hang in the school’s main entrance and its chapel. School officials are still determining where to display the relic, said Jenny Farrell, Kennedy Catholic’s campus ministry director.
The school plans to honor Blessed Pier Giorgio with a Mass each year, probably during Catholic Schools Week, Farrell said.
Learn more about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
Read Brandon Vogt’s interview with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.
Watch Bishop Robert Barron explain how he learned more about Frassati during a stay with Archbishop Sartain.
Correction: The name of Kennedy Catholic's gymnasium was initially misspelled.