Young adult group receives relic of beatified namesake

Fri, Oct 16th 2015 08:00 am
Staff Reporter
Members of Frassati WNY meet to cultivate friendships and seek to grow in the Catholic faith. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)
Members of Frassati WNY meet to cultivate friendships and seek to grow in the Catholic faith. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)

Last month, a social group for Catholic young adults held a special celebration in honor of its namesake, a model of a pious Catholic young adult who dedicated his life to the poor.

In September, Frassati Western New York, named for Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, celebrated a special Mass in which the congregation received a relic of Frassati, from his native Italy, at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora.

Frassati WNY models itself on the life of a devout Catholic man who did not live past young adulthood himself, dying at age 24. Before his death, he gave the gifts of material help, friendship and faith to all he served. The group meets at Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Lancaster and is open to Catholics between the ages of 18 and 39. It has featured prayer gatherings, social events, discussions and many prominent speakers.

"Our past leader and the young lady who started the group - her name is Claire Couche - she arranged for us to receive a relic from Rome of Pier Giorgio Frassati, which just came into the diocese," said Elizabeth Zahm, the group's leader. "The bishop said he was astonished by how fast it came in."

Zahm took over leadership of the group since Couche moved to the Baltimore area. In May, as Couche was preparing for her wedding, she chose to give the relic, which she has always wanted, as a parting gift to the group after being its leader for two years. She got permission of Bishop Richard J. Malone after doing research online pertaining to how to get her own relic.

"I got a letter from (Bishop Malone) and went to Assisi first on the trip, and prayed so much there that through Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati's intercession, St. Claire and St. Francis, that we could get the relic," Couche said, believing it was through divine intervention that she happened to find the man to whom she had to give the letter. He arranged for the relic, a piece of Frassati's tomb, to be sent to Buffalo.

"My husband and I flew from Baltimore into Buffalo that day," Couche said. "A group of us met with the bishop and he blessed us with the relic, and handed it over to us."

The relic will be brought to each of the group's meetings and gatherings.

The Frassati group has been in the Diocese of Buffalo since February 2013, when the first meeting took place with eight members. It came about after Couche missed the strong Catholic young adult community she had experienced at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, after she moved to the Buffalo area to attend nursing school at D'Youville College.

Couche had looked into how Frassati groups in the United States and other countries worked. In fall 2013, Couche asked Zahm to join a smaller branch that coordinates events.

The group meets on Tuesday evenings and invites a speaker to talk about a topic. The group reflects on the upcoming Gospel and ends with a Divine Mercy chaplet before leaving to get ice cream, or another social activity. Zahm said she has made some of her closest friendships through Frassati, and together they try to live their lives as he did as a man of the Beatitudes.

Frassati was born on April 6, 1901, in Turin, Italy, to a well-known and respected family. His father ran a newspaper and was active in politics. He took an interest in Catholicism from an early age and became a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at age 17. The people he served included the poor, sick, orphaned children and World War I servicemen.

"He was constantly going mountain climbing and was very active in his young adult community," Zahm said. "He was a positive, holy influence on his friends. He would try to teach them about the faith and try to influence them to go to Mass with him, sometimes by challenging them to a game of pool. If he won, they would go with him. He was really full of life and enjoying God's creation, and fully living in the sacraments and brought that to his friends. He was very active in the poor community."

As he reached adulthood, Frassati aspired to be a miner and attended classes at the Royal Polytechnic University of Turin, during which he continued social activism, was active in Catholic student groups and joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, a lay branch of the Dominican Order. Before he finished college, Frassati became ill with poliomyelitis, which he likely contracted from one of the people he dedicated his life to serving. Even so, he cared for his ailing grandmother until he died on July 4, 1925.

After his death, Frassati's parents expected there to be some mourners. They were surprised by the huge crowd of strangers who came to pay their respects to the young man who helped them in their time of need. Before his death, some of them did not even know he was a member of such a privileged family since he hid his wealth and preferred their company. St. John Paul II beatified Frassati in 1990.

"His family didn't really have much to do with the faith like he did, so they were really shocked, and the streets were filled with thousands of people because he had touched so many lives," Zahm said. "If you look up pictures of him - I think that's one thing, right away, if a young adult sees a picture of him, they're drawn to him because he's got joy and he looks like he could have been the life of a party."

Zahm said the photos of Frassati, a handsome young man who appeals to both men and women, make him accessible and real. This spirit is part of what the international Frassati movement is about.

"They're increasing the knowledge of him and promoting his cause for canonization," Zahm said. "I think the groups are gaining the momentum of the young adult communities."

For more information visit Frassati WNY's page on Facebook or Twitter, or the American site for Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati at  

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