“Don Dolindo and Padre Pio go together,” a dear Italian friend told me recently. “You can pray to them together.”
This friend was born and raised in Servant of God Don Dolindo’s neighborhood in Naples, and her grandparents knew him well. She grew up with such a deep devotion to Don Dolindo that, when she immigrated to America in the 1970s, the only thing she really wanted to bring—the one thing of utmost importance to her, that she wanted to be certain to have with her in her new home—was her collection of Don Dolindo’s books.
In Italy, Don Dolindo is famous and dearly beloved. In America today, he is gaining many spiritual children through the Surrender Novena. Yet many of us in English-speaking countries are only just beginning to learn about his life.
One of the many intriguing aspects of Don Dolindo is his connection with Padre Pio. Both born in Italy in the 1880s, the two became acquainted with one another as priests, and each considered the other a saint.
“Yesterday I found out that Padre Pio of Pietrelcina was in Rome,” Don Dolindo wrote on April 16, 1921, as recorded in the book Amore, Dolindo, Dolore. “In fact, crowds are already surrounding the friary where he is staying. I’m going to find out where exactly he is and will try to see him, God willing. This, too, is a grace for me, because to have a saint praying for you is a great benefit.”
And when a group of pilgrims from Naples came to see Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, Padre Pio told them, “Why do you come here, when you have Don Dolindo in Naples? Go to him, he’s a saint!”
At one point, Padre Pio told Don Dolindo, “The whole of Paradise is in your soul.”
It has been widely circulated in the English-speaking world that Don Dolindo was the spiritual director of Padre Pio. For a long time, I thought this was true myself, but I recently learned that this is inaccurate. These two saints were contemporaries, and they knew each other, but Don Dolindo was not Padre Pio’s spiritual director.
One of the difficulties for English speakers in learning more about Don Dolindo is that many of his prolific writings—including his unabridged autobiography and his brilliant commentaries on every book of the Bible—have not yet been translated. And so, in some cases, probably due to a lack of accessible information, some misunderstandings and inaccuracies have occurred. Thankfully, as more of his writings are currently being translated, English speakers will be able to learn increasingly more about the life and spirituality of this incredible saint.
In fact, Don Dolindo’s writings are so profound that Padre Pio once said, “Not a word that came from the pen of Don Dolindo should ever be lost.”
Not only did Don Dolindo and Padre Pio respect and esteem one another, but they shared many of the same mystical gifts. Both were known to bilocate. Both could read souls. Both had mystical visions of Jesus.
They also shared an exceedingly heavy and humiliating cross: Both Don Dolindo and Padre Pio were condemned by the Holy Office, a now-defunct Vatican tribunal that was gravely in need of reform at the time these saints were investigated there.
In 1921, when he wrote about wanting to visit Padre Pio, Don Dolindo was in Rome because he was on trial at the Vatican. For three decades, beginning in 1907, he was falsely accused of heresy, of insanity, of demonic possession, of believing he was Jesus, of being disrespectful to the Pope, and more.
As a result of these absurd and ludicrous lies, all of Don Dolindo’s priestly faculties were removed for many years. Even after the Holy Office declared him innocent in 1921, the authorities refused to restore his priestly faculties, until Pope Pius XI intervened and fully reinstated him in 1937.
Don Dolindo’s suffering during this time was indescribable. His one consolation was that he was truly united with Jesus, who likewise had been accused of heresy, insanity, and demonic possession, and had been humiliated and unjustly condemned.
In July of 1923, Don Dolindo learned that Padre Pio was facing the same cross.
Don Dolindo wrote at the time: “I read in today’s Corriere d’Italia [Italian newspaper] that the Holy Office has announced that in regards to the extraordinary events in the life of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, there is nothing of the supernatural evident. I think that dear Padre Pio may not delay in making a trip to Rome himself.”
As it turned out, Padre Pio had also been accused by the Holy Office and was placed on the list of condemned priests. His reputation was smeared with vulgar lies, and his priestly faculties were severely restricted for years.
In the throes of this tremendous injustice, both Don Dolindo and Padre Pio had the same response: total resignation and obedience to the will of the Church.
“The Church has in Her Hands the secrets of God; the Church is the direct channel of His Providence,” Don Dolindo wrote in 1921. “Individuals may make errors. The men who constitute the Church (excluding the Pope in matters of faith and morals) can err, but their errors form part of God’s pan, of God’s Providence. God makes use of these errors directly, like a gifted artist who incorporates smudges on a canvas into shadows in his painting. Or like a sculptor who incorporates the dark veins in a block of marble into the veins of an arm or a hand.
“I, therefore, am certain,” Don Dolindo continued, “absolutely certain, of God’s Will in whatever the Holy Office disposes, in whatever it adjudicates.”
As for Padre Pio, he, too, steadfastly repeated his fidelity to the will of the Church and his vow to be obedient to whatever his superiors commanded him to do.
In August of 1923, in the chaotic aftermath of the Holy Office’s proclamation that there was no supernatural character present in the phenomenon (most notably, the stigmata) associated with Padre Pio, the saint from Pietrelcina wrote:
“I don’t think it is necessary for me to tell you how ready I am, thanks be to God, to obey whatever my superiors order me to do. For me, their voice is God’s voice. I want to serve him faithfully until I die. With his help,” he continued, as told in Renzo Allegri’s book Padre Pio: Man of Hope, “I will obey whatever command I am given, even if it adds to all my suffering.”
The lives of both Don Dolindo and Padre Pio were a passion, a long and arduous Way of the Cross, filled with sufferings that conformed them to Christ in ways that would only be fully revealed in heaven.
Throughout history, God has raised up pairs of saints whose lives were intertwined in mutual respect and holy friendship as together they shone His light to the world in which they lived. Thanks be to God for Don Dolindo and Padre Pio, who in heavenly friendship continue to intercede for the world in which we live—a world made infinitely brighter by their holy light.
Special thanks to Maria Palma Smith for the use of her English translation of the book Amore, Dolindo, Dolore (Casa Mariana Editrice “Apostolato Stampa”, 2001). Publication of the English translation is forthcoming from Academy of the Immaculate Publishing.