The students at Holy Family School in Sauk Centre are making a pact to pray and perform an act of charity every day, following the example of a young man who is on the road to sainthood.
The parishes of St. Paul and Our Lady of the Angels in Sauk Centre and St. Alexius in West Union, along with the school, have been following the sainthood cause of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati for more than a year.
Blessed Frassati — a young man from Turin, Italy, who died in 1925 at the age of 24 — needs one more miracle to be considered for sainthood, and the community is praying that the miracle comes soon in the form of a cure for a local man battling kidney failure.
Richard Polipnick, 20, has been suffering from IgA nephropathy, a kidney ailment also known as Buerger’s disease, since last November. The member of Our Lady of the Angels Parish was visiting Central America last year, and when he returned home began feeling ill and ended up at St. Cloud Hospital. Father Greg Paffel, pastor of the three parishes, visited him there and suggested that he pray to Blessed Frassati.
Father Paffel was introduced to Blessed Frassati through a young adult group that held a conference several years earlier in Fergus Falls when he was pastor there. Members of the group — a Twin Cities chapter of the Frassati Society — work to pattern their activities after the life of Blessed Frassati through outdoor, cultural and spiritual events.
Father Paffel said he hadn’t thought about Blessed Frassati much since the conference. But he thought a miracle cure for Polipnick could also be the next step on the journey to sainthood for Blessed Frassati, who was beatified in 1990.
“It was a whim of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“I had never heard of Frassati before Father Greg told me about him,” Polipnick said. “My family looked into him and decided to get some prayer chains going focused on my healing through his intercession.”
Kathy Knoblach, a faith formation director for the three parishes, wasn’t familiar with Blessed Frassati either, she said, but she wanted to help get the community on board praying for Polipnick.
She did research online and found FrassatiUSA.org, the official site in the United States to promote his sainthood cause. She ordered materials, including a novena the parishes have since prayed twice, and reached out to the organization’s executive director, Christine Wohar, hoping to have her visit Sauk Centre.
“Over the past year we’ve been just informally teaching the parishes about Blessed Frassati,” Knoblach said. “We were lucky that Christine said yes.”
Wohar met with parishioners Oct. 25 and with students at the school on Oct. 26. She gave a short presentation to grades K-3 and talked more in depth with grades 4-6.
She told them about Blessed Frassati’s life and what it takes to become a saint.
“Saints can look like everybody in this room, right?” she said. “We’ve got to forget about thinking of saints from a long time ago because we’re supposed to be saints. That’s what Pier Giorgio wants to teach us. He wants to teach us that we can all be saints.”
Pier Giorgio Michaelangelo Frassati was born in 1901. He grew up in a wealthy family. His parents were not religious, Wohar said, but his mother made sure he and his younger sister received first Communion and the sacrament of confirmation and that they attended church.
It was his grandmother who taught him to pray, and he became very devout, attending daily Mass and adoration and praying the rosary.
Blessed Frassati was active in local politics and he loved the outdoors, hiking, biking, skiing and sailing. One of his favorite things to do was mountain climbing, Wohar said.
“He would hire professional guides who would take him on very difficult climbs because he felt if he were doing something that was really dangerous, you should ask somebody to help you along the way,” she said. “That’s kind of the way I look at Pier Giorgio. We’re trying to get through life and we need somebody to help us along the way.”
He is most admired for his works of charity, Wohar told the students. “At 17 years old, he joined an organization called St. Vincent de Paul and every Friday he would go and get names of poor people and he would go and help them out, but he would never use his real name,” she said. His family had no idea he was doing these things.
“He visited the places that had the worst possible illnesses,” she said. “And he said he could do it because Jesus came every morning in Holy Communion, and he just tried to do little things to help pay Jesus back by visiting the poor.”
Blessed Frassati died of polio in 1925. His family was surprised to learn about the acts of charity he did for the poor and others in need after his death.
Polipnick has been on dialysis for almost a year and said he is hoping to get a kidney transplant soon. A cousin has been identified as a donor match.
“It is very touching to have so many people praying for my health,” he said.
“Kathy was extremely influential in this entire process and gave me the hope to dedicate so much prayer to Blessed Frassati.”