Just about everyone has heard of Padre Pio, the Italian stigmatic whose death at age eighty-one on September 23, 1968, was even reported by the New York Times. The biographies that sell steadily year after year, including one by the author written with help from Pio’s friary, are crammed with accounts from people whose medically inexplicable healings came to them from God, they believe, through the gloved, bleeding hands of this Capuchin Franciscan priest.
Once Pio became the first known stigmatic priest — Francis of Assisi having been a brother, not a priest — people began to seek him out. Eventually, they were coming from all over the world. In the confessional, where he spent up to nineteen hours a day for the first five years after receiving the stigmata, he healed lives. Georgetown theologian Monika Hellwig — hardly one whose name is synonymous with pious excess in regard to saints — was living in Italy in the years just before Pio’s death. During her three-year stay, what she heard convinced her that, in or out of the confessional, Pio led people to “deep conversions” as he “mediated the presence of the divine . . . [leaving his visitors] inspired and assured of God’s presence and care for them.” Slowly, at the beginning of his world ministry, then increasingly, the gift of physical healing became an important adjunct to this primary work for God.
St. Padre Pio and a friend’s restored eye
A verified case was that of Padre Pio’s friend, construction worker Giovanni Savino. Savino was the father of eight — two of whom had been “saved” by Pio when seriously injured in separate accidents. In February 1949, the thirty-five-year-old local man was working at the friary on an addition to the building. Each morning he attended Pio’s Mass before work. From February 12 to 15, as he, as always, approached his priest benefactor for a post-Mass blessing, Pio repeated, “Courage, Giovanni, I’m praying you won’t be killed.” On the fifteenth a charge of dynamite blew up in the workman’s face. A doctor friend of Pio’s and two priests, one Franciscan, one not, rushed the man to Foggia’s hospital where “numerous” fragments were removed from his left cornea. There was nothing to do for the right eye. It had been blown to a smear of jelly.
Pio’s doctor friend returned to tell him Savino was blind. Pio indicated he thought some sight might be saved. And actually there was some slight hope for the left eye medically. Ten days after the accident the injured man, face and head bandaged, was awake, praying the Rosary, sometime toward one in the morning. He smelled a wonderful odor and felt three slaps on his head, understanding Pio was with him (by one of the saint’s many bi-locations). That morning the ophthalmologist came to see how the left eye was doing after all the fragments had been removed. It was not functioning. In fact, all sight was gone permanently. But Giovanni could see perfectly with the right eye that had been blown to a smear. Somehow it had been replaced. The doctor, an atheist, became a believer from that moment, exclaiming that he had to believe because “this happened right in front of me.”
Interestingly, the new eye which functioned so well, according to Giovanni’s wife Rosa “always looked a mess.” There is a photograph of the healed man in the early biography Padre Pio by Fr. Charles Carty.
A hint of Pio’s redemptive role in healings may be found in two details of Giovanni Savino’s cure: Pio spent days of intense prayer, and asked many others to pray, between the accident and the eye’s restoration. He also told Giovanni when, finally released from the hospital, the workman came to thank Pio, “You have no idea what this cost me.” More detail of this cure will be found in a biography easier to find than Fr. Carty’s, that of ordained Lutheran minister C. Bernard Ruffin.
Many other healings
Today many of the books on Pio by his fellow friars have been translated into English. Particularly recommended by Fr. Joseph Pius Martin is the one by Padre Alessandro (see footnote 115). However Ruffin’s also recommended revised Padre Pio: The True Story remains one of the best from its uniquely American perspective. According to Ruffin, the archives of Our Lady of Grace show that in Pio’s lifetime “over a thousand people pronounced hopelessly ill by their doctors, were delivered of such grave maladies as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, congenital birth defects and paralysis caused by spinal injuries.” Following his death, a second thousand cures were attributed to Padre Pio’s intercession in the first twenty years, that is 1968 to 1988. The first edition of this book appeared that year, and I have no precise figures for the healings that took place from then until 2002. That year, St. Pio of Pietrelcina’s canonization took place on June 16 before at least five hundred thousand people, perhaps the largest crowd ever assembled for such an event.
Canonization ended any need to keep track of the numbers of cures attributed to Pio by those who received them, in order to prove God was speaking of Pio’s holiness by answering prayers that invoked his intercession. Perhaps consequently there are fewer letters printed attesting cures in the friary’s bimonthly magazine, The Voice of Padre Pio. Nevertheless, since canonization, as before, Padre Pio has continued to be a fountain of God-given health to many. Perhaps the most touching to me is a 2011 cure of advanced Parkinson’s disease. The Irish sufferer from this disease had, she wrote the friars from Dublin, reached a point beyond simple acceptance of her loss of dignity, loss of mobility, and great pain — all of which, she volunteered, had taught her a lot. She was actually living in peace and gratitude to God, in spite of her condition, when she was visited by a priest from Pio’s friary. The Italian visitor seemed to affirm her state as one offering her sufferings for the salvation of souls and said nothing about healing. But not long after being blessed for Pio’s intercession by the visitor, she found herself grateful to God and Pio for a return to perfect health.
Here is a sampling from just one recent issue of The Voice:
Katherine Beck had deadly, fast-moving ovarian cancer. Surgery, she writes, “was not a success.” On what should have been a last reunion with her three sisters, Katherine had a mystical experience of dead Padre Pio one night shared by a sister. Since there was a witness, it is fair to conclude this was no dream or fantasy. After this she returned home and her doctor, examining her, could find “no reason [for her] to visit him.” She is healed.
In the same issue a man from North Ireland writes in thanksgiving for his mother’s recovery from “a heart attack plus a large blood clot on her lung, also a very bad chest infection.” Although she was in intensive care and had received the last rites when William O’Reilly “prayed to Padre Pio to ask Our Lord to show His divine mercy,” the woman got better daily and is now back at home.
A Texas couple write of five anxious months having been told, after a routine ultrasound, their third son will likely be born with Down syndrome. The wife says, “It was a very difficult and stressful time for our family. My husband and I prayed to St. Pio day after day. During this time, we learned to trust more in God.” The child was born with perfect health, no syndromes. The wife closes, “We give thanks to St. Pio for his intercession and for guiding us to trust more in God’s tender mercy. Thank you, St. Pio. We love you.” You note that although the mother uses that misleading term “praying to Pio,” her subsequent comments make clear her excellent grasp of a saint’s role vis-à-vis God.
I have dozens of other testimonies in my files, some of which will be found in my other books. There are still more in the friary archives. The only thing the recipients have in common is a willingness to ask Pio’s prayers for themselves or someone else.
This pertains also to the beatification and canonization miracles. With the problem of sorting out supernatural from medical intervention, in a day when every ill tends to be copiously treated whether it will do any good or not, a jokester might claim the beatification miracle was a miracle, even outside the cure: a woman hospitalized for a serious condition was healed by God, after she appealed to Pio’s prayers, before any treatment could be started. You will find more details in my Pio biography, Meet Padre Pio: Beloved Mystic, Miracle-Worker, and Spiritual Guide, but a brief summary here: Mrs. Consiglia De Martino was devoted to Padre Pio, the holy priest whose heroic virtues had been recognized at this time by the title Venerable. Living in Salerno, a city not too far from Pio’s friary, the Italian housewife used to make a monthly pilgrimage to the tomb of her heavenly friend and mentor.
On October 31, 1995, as she was exerting herself strenuously, she felt a frightening and painful “tearing” in her chest and around her left clavicle. She went to bed in painful discomfort. By morning, her neck had on it a protuberance the size of an orange.
Her husband away, she phoned a brother-in-law to take her to the hospital, where a scan showed her thoracic duct had ruptured. Surgery would be necessary. At that point both she and her daughter made phone calls to a friar who had been very close to Pio and was one of their family’s close friends. Br. Modestino prayed for the injured woman “with confidence” since Pio had promised him that, once Pio was in Heaven, he would always get God to give positive answers to Modes-tino’s prayers. Surgery could not be arranged the day of her admission. The next morning, nothing having yet been done for the rupture, Mrs. De Martino woke in her hospital bed to find the big swelling almost gone. November 3, that is, four days after the injury, both an x-ray and another type of scan showed every abnormality had disappeared. With these tests plus the original scan and doctor’s examination for comparison, Mrs. De Martino’s case proved a perfect example of a formal miracle. Certified by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, her healing permitted Pio’s beatification.
Also given in more detail in the latest printings of my Pio biography is the canonization miracle. Let me sum up for you here the cure of a dying child in a coma. It took place right in San Giovanni Rotondo, and once again humble little Br. Modestino played a role. Near death and without hope of recovery just eight months after the beatification, seven-year-old Matteo Pio Colella lay comatose in the little town’s modern hospital. Called The Home for the Relief of Suffering, it was across from the friary, built by the charity of penniless Padre Pio when the town had no medical facility. Matteo, whose middle name shows the family’s devotion to Pio, was the younger of two sons of local doctors. The father worked at the hospital. They would later testify to the miracle cure and their cries for Pio’s help, both as the praying parents and as physicians who had understood only too well that for Matteo in early 2000 a miracle was the only hope.
The tragic situation had begun on January 20, when their younger boy came down with “flu,” feverish, headachy, and vomiting. That evening the child began breaking out in notable purple spots. More frightening to his physician parents, since it is a sign of septic shock, Matteo did not recognize his mother.
Matteo, in fact, had acute meningitis, sometimes termed “brain fever.” As the next days passed, deep in a coma, his kidneys, liver, and heart weakened, as did his pulse, and he was breathing only by ventilator. Eventually, in spite of all the pediatric colleagues of his father, Antonio — a staff urologist at the hospital — could do, Matteo died. Standard efforts to revive him failed. But these doctors are men of prayer too, and one, calling on Padre Pio’s prayer help, injected the dead child with a dangerously large dose of adrenaline. Matteo returned to life. This was not recovery, however: it only postponed his death in the sense of “while there is life,” among believers at least, there remains hope.
Antonio had taken Matteo’s mother, Maria, out of the treatment area the first night because of the boy’s heartrending screams of pain as doctors tried to find a vein in a shut-down circulatory system. For the next ten days, she did not see her comatose son as he drifted toward death in a sterilized room. But she was working for Matteo every second. She spent all her time praying and seeking prayer from every convent in the area. Naturally, this doctor, wife, and mother sought prayers from Pio’s confreres at his Our Lady of Grace Friary. It had been in Pio’s cell, by special permission, that she had begged her friend in Heaven to watch out for the newly created family on her wedding day. Various individual friars now reached out to her, while the entire community let the distraught but praying mother join them in their evening community prayers at Pio’s tomb.
Br. Modestino was one of those who reached out. Meeting with both Antonio and Maria, he counseled them on attitude and prayer. He revealed he himself was urging Pio, “Pray for Matteo; let this be the miracle for your canonization.”
As stated, there are many more details in my biography, and even there I could not give all the incidents in this precisely documented series of events. Suffice to say here, after eight days in a coma, Matteo woke up — speechless and glassy-eyed but recovering from the unrecoverable. The next day he began talking — calling for Padre Pio. Seven days later, he was still covered with deep ulcers, still unable to move, but he could share with his mother that Padre Pio, angels, and a very bright light he believed to be Jesus had all been with him in the coma. Pio had told him not to worry. He would get well and do that quickly.
The eventual investigation of this cure found that ill beyond medical help — for even getting his heart to start again was no cure for the disease that was killing him — Matteo had made a medically inexplicable, complete, permanent, and relatively sudden recovery. As Br. Modestino — who, after all, had been promised by God’s friend Pio himself a positive answer to his prayers — had asked, Matteo’s was the miracle chosen from many others to be accepted for Pio’s June 2002 canonization.
Maria Colella, who had asked Padre Pio to bless her family on her wedding day, could never have dreamed how far the humble Capuchin would go to do that.