The stained glass panels at Frassati House in Kingston, Ont. — depicting, from left, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Oscar Romero, St. Maximilian Kolbe and Blessed Karl of Austria — were produced by Joseph Aigner of Artistic Glass in Toronto and commissioned by Fr. Raymond J. de Souza. Photo by Savio Cyril Kocherry

Windows of inspiration for Catholic men

By  Savio Cyril Kocherry, Catholic Register Special
  • November 19, 2020

In the lead-up to the Nov. 22 feast of Christ the King, young men in Kingston, Ont., were introduced to a saintly king and emperor, Bl. Karl of Austria.

A stained glass image of him joined three other 20th-century faithful servants in our home — Frassati House, where young Catholic men are formed for leadership at a time when many lament a crisis in Catholic manhood.

Frassati House, a men’s residence near Queen’s University, includes stained glass panels of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, the house patron who died in 1925 in Turin, Italy; St. Maximillian Kolbe, the Franciscan publisher and missionary who was martyred at Auschwitz in 1941; St. Oscar Romero, the martyred bishop of San Salvador who was shot while celebrating Mass in 1980; and, as of a few weeks ago, Bl. Karl of Austria, the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire who died in 1922. The stained glass panels were commissioned Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, chaplain at Newman House, the Catholic chaplaincy at Queen’s.

The lives of those four men, each in their own way, depicted in glass — a young mountaineer, an archbishop, a Franciscan martyr and an emperor — inspire us when masculine witness is much needed.

Blessed Karl of Austria

Three bullets changed the course of the Habsburg dynasty. One fired in 1889 by Crown Prince Rudolf in a suicide, and two by assassin Gavrilo Princip in 1914. Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferninand, heir presumptive to the Habsburg throne, set off the First World War. The grandnephew of Emperor Franz Josef, Archduke Karl, became the heir, succeeding to the throne in 1916. Already a faithful husband and father, he was now called to be a faithful leader of his empire.

Witnessing firsthand the horrors of the war, Bl. Karl made continuous efforts to promote peace, though they were not successful.

After the war and the defeat of Austria-Hungary, the Habsburg monarchy was deposed. Karl and his large family were exiled first to Switzerland and then to the Portuguese island of Madeira, where he died in 1922.

In the stained glass panel of Karl, there are two crowns; the Crown of St. Stephen which he received on his coronation day as King of Hungary, and the crown of thorns, symbolizing his sufferings for peace and unity.

Karl and his wife, Zita, had a blessed marriage, raising a family of eight and dedicating their family life to Mary. On their wedding rings he inscribed the traditional Marian prayer, Sub tuum praesidium.

Karl’s last words to Zita were, “I’ll love you forever.” His feast day, Oct. 21, is their wedding anniversary.

Karl’s image was placed at Frassati House to inspire young men who aspire to a holy family life in the world of affairs.

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

If Karl is about possible futures, Bl. Pier Giorgio is about our lives in the present. He was born at the dawn of the 20th century into a prominent family in Turin, Italy. While Pier Giorgio’s father was the pinnacle of social and commercial life, his son had other peaks in mind.

An avid outdoorsman, Pier Giorgio was accustomed to frequently climbing mountains with his friends. His motto was verso l’alto, towards the heights. But mountain summits pointed towards greater peaks; above all, towards God Himself.

Pier Giorgio met God most often at Calvary, the mountain of the Cross, in the Holy Mass. The most important part of his day was receiving the Eucharist.

Pier Giorgio found Christ not only in the Eucharist but in the poor and sick of Turin. He climbed another summit in serving them, demonstrating that the peak of human dignity is present also in the lowest of society. 

Pier Giorgio’s example encourages us both to piety and practical service of the poor.

St. Oscar Romero and St. Maximilian Kolbe

“The harvest comes because of the grain that dies,” preached Archbishop Romero at Holy Mass on March 24, 1980.

Moments after those prophetic words, Archbishop Romero was murdered by a government death squad. 

From the summit of the Holy Mass, St. Oscar Romero climbed into Heaven. He was both priest and victim, a courageous shepherd for his people and a sacrificial victim on their behalf. 

The same is true for Maximilian Kolbe whose life was “taken, blessed, broken and given” in Auschwitz.

While the men at Frassati House are unlikely to be martyrs, we can also learn from Kolbe and Romero about modern means of evangelization. Kolbe established the monthly magazine, Knight of the Immaculate; published a daily newspaper, The Small Diary; and started his own radio station.

Romero would give voice to the voiceless over radio broadcasts at a time when only the Church’s radio station was beyond government censorship. He would hold the government to account, mentioning the names of all those who had been tortured, killed or kidnapped in the past week. His Sunday broadcast was both a witness of the ancient Gospel and current events.

The heroic stained glass men of Frassati House in Kingston manifest holiness in varied spheres for those who live there, a modest remedy to the crisis of young men in the Church.

(Savio Cyril Kocherry is manager of Newman House in Kingston and a resident of Frassati House.)

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