Padre Pio’s Hospital – The Home for the Relief of Suffering – Part II
(Continued from Issue 78) On one occasion, a very wealthy man sent a telegram to Our Lady of Grace monastery with a prayer request. He explained that his wife had a terminal illness. He wanted Padre Pio to pray for his wife’s healing. If his wife was cured, he intended to give a large sum of money to the Home for the Relief of Suffering. Upon hearing the man’s proposal, Padre Pio became upset. He would never accept a donation with strings attached. “One does not bargain with the Lord,” Padre Pio said.
A great effort was made to make the Home for the Relief of Suffering look cheerful and welcoming so that the patients would feel comfortable for the duration of their hospital stay. Fresh and fragrant flowers graced the rooms and care was taken to remove the unpleasant antiseptic and medicinal odors common to hospitals. It was never to be referred to as an institution or a clinic or a hospital. It was to be called a Home.
At the request of Padre Pio, the hospital furnishings were chosen with great care to counteract the typical hospital “look” which is often severe and depressing. “Make it beautiful,” Padre Pio said to the designers. There were to be no wards, but instead, rooms which had plenty of large, sunny windows. Soft pastel colors were chosen for the interior. The attractive mosaic floors were laid down by some of the local girls of San Giovanni Rotondo. The exterior of the hospital was faced with beautiful pale rose Trani stone. Green marble was chosen for the stairways and red Carso marble for the foyers. There was a large library as well as an auditorium which was equipped to show movies. Terraces and gardens contributed to the overall beauty of the Home.
Dr. Sanguinetti was instrumental in having a parcel of land near the hospital designated as a farm. It would provide the patients with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, cheese, and eggs. He also had hundreds of tons of rich soil hauled up the slopes near the hospital on the backs of mules. He planted 10,000 trees, mostly pines and cypress, on the side of the mountains. Truly, in San Giovanni Rotondo, the desert had flowered. Through Padre Pio’s efforts, it flowered charitably, scientifically and also spiritually.
Dr. Carlo Kisvarday told Padre Pio on one occasion that too much money was being spent on nonessentials, in other words, items to enhance the Home’s outward beauty. Padre Pio responded, “No, that is not true. If it were possible, I would make the Home out of pure gold. Nothing is too good or too beautiful for the sick and suffering because in reality the sick person is Jesus.” And to a priest who made a critical remark because he thought that the Home looked too luxurious, Padre Pio responded, “Too luxurious? Not at all. A hospital is a tabernacle. Christ is in the sick.”
As the days drew closer to completion, Padre Pio could hardly contain his joy. Everything seemed to be falling into place. Twenty-four doctors had put in their applications to work at the Home. A man brought his paralyzed son to the monastery to see Padre Pio. Padre Pio greeted the man with great kindness and said to him, “Do not give up hope. The hospital will be opening in just a few months. You will be able to bring your son to the children’s clinic for medical treatment.” Padre Pio made it clear that no one who was in need of care was to be turned away due to lack of money.
People with serious illnesses came regularly to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace to ask Padre Pio to pray that their health would be restored. Many of the people who came to see him had cancer. As he formulated the plans for the Home, he expressed his desire for the establishment of a cancer-research center.
The official inauguration ceremony for the opening of the Home for the Relief of Suffering took place on May 5, 1956, sixteen years after the first committee meeting. At the inauguration, Padre Pio offered Mass at an altar that was set up between the two pillars of the hospital entrance. An estimated crowd of 15,000 people was present. During the inauguration, the choir sang the beautiful hymn, Where There is Charity and Love, There is God.
Dozens of bishops and priests were in attendance as well as the Minister General of the Capuchin Order, numerous prelates from the Vatican, the president of the Italian Senate, the Minister of State, and other dignitaries of the Italian government. In the crowd were nine hundred representatives from the Padre Pio prayer groups in Europe, South America, India, the United States and other countries. World famous doctors from many parts of Europe were also in the audience. Dr. White, the personal physician of the President of the United States, at that time President Eisenhower, was there to represent the United States.
The new hospital looked magnificent. Three hundred flags of the nations were displayed across the front of the hospital. The American flag was in the center and flew beside the flag of Italy. Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, was the Pope’s official envoy for the occasion. He spoke to the huge gathering and said:
I have been reminded of the words of our sacred liturgy, Where charity and love dwell, God is there. It is equally true that where God is, there charity and love are found together … Have you not noticed it here in San Giovanni Rotondo? Yes. The whole world has noticed it!
A message from Pope Pius XII was read by the Minister General of the Capuchin Order. The Holy Father also sent his apostolic blessing. During the ceremonies, military airplanes from the nearby Amendola air field repeatedly flew over the hospital as a sign of support for the new hospital.
Padre Pio rarely spoke in public but he did so on the occasion of the inauguration. Deeply and visibly moved, he addressed the huge crowd at the conclusion of the Mass and said:
The Home for the Relief of Suffering is complete. I thank the benefactors from every part of the world who have contributed to its construction. This is what Providence, also with your support, has created. I give it to you. Admire it and bless it together in the name of God.
A seed has been placed in the earth which He will warm with his rays of love. A new army formed through sacrifice and love is about to rise up to the glory of God, and to the comfort of sick souls and bodies. Do not deprive us of your help; collaborate with this apostolate for the relief of human suffering, and the Divine Charity which knows no bounds and which is the very light of God and the Eternal Life, will accumulate for each one of you, a treasure of graces, to which Jesus made us inheritors on the Cross . . . May this work become a center of the Franciscan spirit in action, a place of prayer and science where the human race can be united in Christ Crucified, as a single flock under one Shepherd . . .
May God bless those who have worked, are working, and will work for this Hospital. May he recompense you a thousand times in this life and with eternal joy in the next life. May the Blessed Virgin of all Graces and our Seraphic Father, St. Francis in heaven and the vicar of Christ on earth intercede for us so that our wishes may be granted.
Padre Pio, together with Cardinal Lercaro, then cut the traditional ribbon leading into the hospital. Together, they went inside and blessed the various rooms and departments.
While the inauguration day was a day of tremendous joy and celebration, it was also bittersweet. Dr. Sanguinetti and Dr. Sanvico, who had labored tirelessly from the very beginning to help Padre Pio accomplish his dream, were not present. Both had passed away before the Home was completed. Dr. Kisvarday, who had worked closely with Dr. Sanguinetti and Dr. Sanvico for years, was overcome with emotion during the inaugural ceremonies. He sat close to Padre Pio and cried through most of the Mass. Angelo Lupi, whose skill and genius had created the magnificent structure, would die in the Home in 1969.
On May 6, 1956, the day after the inauguration, Padre Pio spoke briefly to the doctors who assembled at the hospital for the International Seminar of the European Society of Cardiology. He said:
You have come into the world as I have, with a mission to fulfill. Take note. I am speaking to you about duties, at a time when everyone speaks only of rights. I, as a religious and a priest, have a mission to accomplish. As a religious and a Capuchin, I am bound to the perfect and strict observance of my Rule and vows. As a priest, mine is a mission of atonement, of propitiating God for the sins of mankind.
All this may come to pass if I am in God’s grace . . . You have a mission to cure the sick. But if you do not also bring love to the patient’s bedside, I do not think that your medicines will be of much use. I can prove this from my own experience. During my illness in 1916-1917, my doctor, while treating me, first expressed words of comfort to me. Love cannot do without words. And you yourselves, how can you, other than by words, bring spiritual comfort to a patient? . . . Bring God to your patients; that will help them more than any other cure.
The first sick person was admitted to the hospital on May 10, 1956. More were admitted during the month of May, but the numbers were much lower than expected. It was a deep concern to the administrators. On the feast of Corpus Christi, 1956, Padre Pio went to the hospital and carried the Blessed Sacrament in procession through all of the wards. Right after that, the hospital started to fill up. After only three years, the Home had to be enlarged and a new wing had to be added in order to accommodate the growing numbers of the sick.
Dr. Carlo Kisvarday gave more than twenty years of his life to serving the Home. His esteem for Padre Pio was so great and his dedication to the work was so total that he knew he would never leave San Giovanni Rotondo. His workday began at 5:00 a.m. and rarely ended before midnight. He felt a compelling force, always urging him forward in his efforts. His one fear was that old age and declining health might someday force him to cut back on his working hours.
One day Padre Pio said to Dr. Kisvarday, “Carletto, the Lord has established the date of everyone’s death. He alone knows the length of time each of us has on this earth. I am praying for you so that the Heavenly Father might give you one added year of life.” The doctor did not know quite what to make of the mysterious comment. Shortly after that, Dr. Kisvarday had a health crisis. He was unconscious when he was taken to the Home for the Relief of Suffering. He remained in a coma for three days.
When Dr. Kisvarday was out of danger and on the road to recuperation, he told his nurse that Padre Pio had come in bilocation to his bedside and had spoken to him. Almost a year later, Dr. Kisvarday passed away. He had been given one extra year of perfect health, thanks to the intercession of Padre Pio.
Padre Pio asked Father Innocenzo of Campobasso to assist as the full-time chaplain at the Home. Father Innocenzo said Mass in the hospital chapel, heard confessions, and visited the sick. He also gave spiritual direction to the nuns who worked at the hospital. He made a holy hour every day in front of the Blessed Sacrament on behalf of all the patients. He served as the chaplain at the Home for 40 years.
Through the years, Father Innocenzo had many beautiful experiences in his capacity as chaplain. He used to enjoy telling Padre Pio about his encounters with the patients. Padre Pio always loved to listen to the stories that Father Innocenzo shared with him.
Once, a woman greeted Father Innocenzo and told him how much his spiritual counsel had helped her when she was a patient in the Home. During her hospital stay, she became desperate when she was told by the doctors that she would never recover. “Father Innocenzo, I have never forgotten your words to me, words that changed my life,” the woman said. “And what did I say to you?” Father Innocenzo asked her. “You told me that Jesus continues to suffer in the sick,” the woman replied. “Since then, I have been able to accept my condition. Thanks to you Father, I now pray and meditate every day and I am content to suffer.”
The patients in the Home felt blessed that Father Innocenzo was there to pray with them and to administer the sacraments. On one occasion, there was a man who spent many months in the Home with a very serious illness. Finally, one day he asked for Father Innocenzo. He then made a sincere confession. The very next day he went into a coma and received the Last Rites. Later that day, the man regained consciousness. When he opened his eyes, he saw Father Innocenzo sitting beside his bed. “Father, what a beautiful thing you did for me!” the man said. “I am so grateful that you heard my confession.” Right after that, the man lost consciousness and he died within the hour.
There was another patient at the Home for the Relief of Suffering whom Father Innocenzo visited regularly. Day after day, the man put off making his confession. Finally, one day he decided that he was ready. After he made his confession, he felt such a sense of happiness that he began to cry. From that time forward, every time he saw Father Innocenzo, he expressed his gratitude to him. “I have found life again here at the Home for the Relief of Suffering,” the man said. “I must thank God and I must thank Padre Pio that I was able to come here.”
Father Innocenzo once told Padre Pio that he believed that those who were sick had an opportunity through their illness, to receive abundant graces from the Lord. “Many graces indeed come to the sick,” Padre Pio said. “In the Home for the Relief of Suffering, there flows a grace that sustains, comforts, and gives strength to the sick. It is a grace which flows silently, secretly. Of course, there are always a small number who resist the mercy of God, but even among those, I believe that grace usually triumphs in the end.”
Someone suggested to Padre Pio that it would be a blessing to invite an order of nuns to work at the hospital. Several different religious congregations were put forward to him as possibilities. Padre Pio said that the Lord had let him know many years before which nuns to invite. Padre Pio chose the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a nursing order of nuns.
The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus had served in San Giovanni Rotondo from 1909 to 1920. They assisted in a training school, a school for girls, and a home for the elderly. In 1920, the nuns were called away from San Giovanni Rotondo to serve in another area. When they went to say goodbye to Padre Pio, they felt a sadness in their hearts. He had been their confessor since the time of his transfer to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace.
Padre Pio told the nuns that he was sorry to see them leave but he was certain that they would return someday. He pointed to a nearby mountain and said, “When you return, you will work in a big hospital that will be erected where that mountain now stands.” Padre Pio’s prophecy was fulfilled thirty-five years later, when the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus returned to San Giovanni Rotondo to work at the Home for the Relief of Suffering.
Sister Miriam Brusa was one of the nuns of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who worked at the hospital. She used to say that the Home was built on Padre Pio’s tears. Father Agostino also expressed the same sentiment. He wrote in his diary, “Padre Pio always suffers for the hospital.” Indeed, it was true. No one knew the difficulties and setbacks that occurred regarding the hospital better than Padre Pio.
Once, when Sister Miriam was taking care of the hospital bookkeeping, she noticed that there was a shortage of five million lire for the monthly expenses. She was worried that the employees might not be able to receive their paychecks on time. Sister Miriam decided not to tell Padre Pio about it. Knowing that he had many other difficulties to deal with, she tried to protect him from the day to day problems of the hospital. Sister Miriam determined not to tell anyone about the worrisome matter just yet. Padre Pio always called the Home a work of “Divine Providence.” Sister Miriam would place her trust in Divine Providence and petition God through prayer for a solution.
In just a matter of days, Sister Miriam received the exact amount of money that was needed for the monthly expenses. Angela Lazzarini, who played a part in the acquisition of the needed funds, explained to Sister Miriam the details of how the generous donation came about. “I was very surprised when Padre Pio told me that he needed money,” Angela said. “As you know, Padre Pio never asks for anything. But he explained to me that the hospital was in need, although he didn’t specify the amount. I did not have the money myself so I asked a friend to write a check. When my friend asked me the amount to write, for a reason that I cannot explain I felt urged to say, ‘five million lire.’ My friend wrote the check for that amount and I took it to Padre Pio. When Padre Pio looked at the check, he told me that it was the exact amount that the hospital needed.” It was then that Padre Pio had the money delivered to Sister Miriam. That month, the workers were paid on time, the bills were paid, and all was well.
John McCaffery, who enjoyed Padre Pio’s friendship for many years, was well aware that the Home was a work of God and a gift of Divine Providence. John said:
If one thinks just for a moment of what is implied by the setting up of a modern four hundred bed hospital, the immensity and complexity of the task is evident. Situate it then, in the middle of nowhere; make all its prodigious running costs dependent more or less on haphazard charitable donations; consider that it was so constructed as to be capable of harmonious expansion to its present number of a thousand beds. And then ask what force created it.
No amount of thought and planning or even of human blood, sweat, and tears, ever produced that vast and continuing phenomenon. It took a vision not of this world to foresee it all, and a powerhouse of prayer and suffering to bring it to fruition.
Through the years, Padre Pio visited the Home for the Relief of Suffering to pray at the bedsides of the seriously ill and on special feast days, he would occasionally say Mass in the hospital chapel. He took part briefly in the Catholic Doctors Convention that was held at the Home in 1957.
At Christmas time, he loved to view the large and impressive Christmas Crib that was displayed on the third floor of the hospital. At times, he attended special meetings of the Third Order of St. Francis at the Home. He also enjoyed attending the religious plays that were held in the hospital auditorium. He was there to bless the first stone which marked the work of enlargement and expansion of the hospital. On one occasion, when Padre Pio was ill, he was admitted as a patient to the Home.
On the 10th anniversary of the Home for the Relief of Suffering, May 5, 1966, Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, as distinguished guest of honor, celebrated Mass on the portico of the hospital. In his homily that day, he spoke beautiful and inspiring words about Padre Pio’s great work of charity. He said:
I was hungry, says the Lord, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was naked and you covered me: I was in prison and you came to me, sick and you visited me. Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, sick and we aided thee? As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. Christ, therefore, is present in suffering. It is he who receives our attention, our generosity, our charity, who implores it. It will be he who will reward it one day, on the great day of his return in glory. It will be he who will reward it, and will reward it with a kingdom, not a human, fleeting one, but one prepared by God . . . From this presence of Christ in a brother who suffers is born for each of us, the duty to bring relief for suffering . . . The Home which rises here and which we inaugurated ten years ago has interpreted and interprets well, in the wealth of resources, scientific and technical, and in the decorum of the construction, this spirit of devout service to the suffering members of Our Lord.
We cannot offer Christ the crumbs which fall from the table of one who is satiated. The crumbs, in the words of the Gospel, are for the dogs. But when he who hungers is Christ, when the homeless one is Christ, what would we not do for him, and what can ever be worthy of him no matter what we do?
Padre Pio was present along side of Cardinal Lercaro for the 10th anniversary celebration. He spoke briefly to the large crowd that day and said:
Infinite thanks to the Lord and to the Blessed Virgin, and blessed be those that in any way have cooperated with the Word. My mind and my paternal thoughts go in a special way to the Prayer Groups, now spread all over the world and here today for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Home for the Relief of Suffering and for their second International Convention. Together with the Home for the Relief of Suffering, they are the advanced guards of this citadel of charity, alive with faith, centers of love, in which Christ himself is present every time they meet to pray and to celebrate the Eucharist under the auspices of their pastors and spiritual directors.
It is prayer, this united strength of all good people, which moves the world, which renews minds, which sustains the Home, which comforts the suffering, which heals the sick, which sanctifies work, which elevates medical assistance, which gives moral strength and Christian resignation to human suffering, and which spreads the smile and benediction of God on every languor and weakness.
Pray a lot my children. Pray always, without ever tiring, because it is to prayer that I entrust this work, which God has wanted and which will continue to progress and prosper thanks to the help of Divine Providence and the charitable and spiritual contribution of all those who pray. May the almighty and merciful God, who accepts for himself every good that is done to our suffering brethren, recompense you a thousand times over, in the fullest and most abundant measure.
Padre Pio’s plans to further help the people of San Giovanni Rotondo included a number of other charitable works. He outlined his desires but did not live to see all of them realized. He wanted to build a home for the elderly, a home for retired priests, day care centers and nursery schools, a clinic for spastic and retarded children, a center for the prayer groups, a retreat house for the clergy, a retreat house for the laity, a Way of the Cross, a nursing school, and an international center of studies for doctors. He said, “We are building not only the Home for the Relief of Suffering, but also other facilities on the whole mountain . . . They are not only my works, but God’s, just as he shows me.”
When Padre Pio made out his last will, he donated the Home for the Relief of Suffering to the Holy See. He wanted to make sure that his great work of charity would be secure and would continue for future generations. The Vatican became the owner of the largest and finest hospital in Italy. Padre Pio said:
Notice that I made a will leaving everything to the Church, for I am a son of the Church. And when I no longer manage anything, my Mother will have to answer for all the offerings, even the coins, that souls from all over the world donate to the Home for the Relief of Suffering.
Padre Pio remained the administrator of the Home for the Relief of Suffering until his death. Some predicted that after Padre Pio’s passing, his hospital would diminish and eventually close. How wrong they were. It has continued to grow and expand through the many years since his death. Although Padre Pio has gone to his eternal reward, his spirit lives on in the Home for the Relief of Suffering. In the bright corridors, in the lovely gardens, and in the quiet chapels, one can pause and sense that Padre Pio is very near. He is still present, still working for the higher good.
Pope John Paul II visited the Home for the Relief of Suffering on May 23, 1987. He greeted the medical personnel, toured the various departments, and also visited the patients. He spoke to all who were gathered and said:
Padre Pio’s great insight was to unite science in the service of the sick, with faith and prayer: medical science in the always advancing fight against sickness; faith and prayer to transform and sublimate that suffering, which despite all the progress of medicine, will always, to a certain measure, remain an inheritance of life in this world.
Padre Pio, from the very beginning, put his Home under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He promised that Mary would always be present in his “hospital city” where countless lives would be helped and saved. Padre Pio said:
May Our Lady of Grace, who is the Queen to whom every day and many times in the day, we manifest our love, and of whom we ask her maternal assistance, reign always in the city that will rise here, and may she assist all of you. May the Madonna intensify the love of her children for the Vicar of Christ on earth, and one day may she show us Jesus in the splendor of his glory. Amen
To Be Continued:
Padre Pio Devotions Publications:
1. Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry: True Stories of Padre Pio Book 1
2. Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry: True Stories of Padre Pio Book II
3. Daily Reflection
4. They Walked with God: St. Bernadette Soubirous, St. John Vianney,
St. Damien of Molokai, St. André Bessette, Bl. Solanus Casey