Anecdotes from the Home for the Relief of Suffering
Francesco Lotti was just a teenager when he met Padre Pio for the first time. After Francesco’s father had passed away, he and his mother traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo from their home in the north of Italy. During the visit, Padre Pio said to Francesco, “I will now be your new father.”
On another visit, Francesco noticed that Padre Pio was looking out the monastery window and seemed to be deep in thought. Padre Pio then pointed to the mountain and said to Francesco, “Someday a large hospital will be built on that mountain. You will be one of the doctors who will work there.” But Francesco did not believe that would ever happen. He had already made a decision to pursue a career in the military. However, later he changed his mind and decided to study medicine. Eventually he became the head physician in Pediatrics at the Home for the Relief of Suffering.
For a time, Francesco Lotti was Padre Pio’s doctor. Even so, Dr. Lotti never saw his stigmata. Padre Pio never mentioned it, nor the suffering it caused him. Nevertheless, Dr. Lotti was very much aware of the suffering that Padre Pio endured because of the stigmata. Sometimes he saw the painful expression on Padre Pio’s face when someone shook hands with him. The only time that Dr. Lotti ever caught a glimpse of the stigmata was when Padre Pio’s hands were exposed at Mass.
By living and working in San Giovanni Rotondo, Dr. Lotti learned many things about Padre Pio. For one, he became aware of Padre Pio’s unusual eating habits. He came to the conclusion that Padre Pio’s daily intake of food was insufficient to sustain life. Padre Pio had his own theory about it. He likened the body to soil. Some soil needed a lot of fertilizer in order for crops to grow. There was other soil that was so rich, it needed no fertilizer at all. Padre Pio said that his body was like the latter. He remarked that on one occasion he was unable to eat for three days due to an intestinal problem. At the end of the three days, he had gained six pounds. “That is what I mean by fertile ground,” he remarked.
It was certainly true that Padre Pio’s physical constitution seemed to defy science. As impossible as it sounds, at times his heart rate would not be synchronized with his pulse. Padre Pio once told Dr. Lotti that he needed only half the dosage of medicine that is prescribed to a child. On one occasion, when Padre Pio was suffering from bronchitis, he had to be seen by a new doctor because Dr. Sanguinetti, his regular doctor at that time, was out of town. The medicine that Padre Pio was prescribed made him ill. When Dr. Sanguinetti returned and heard what had happened, he was upset. “That would never have happened if I had been here,” Dr. Sanguinetti said. He felt that he understood Padre Pio’s unique constitution and knew how to treat him for illness.
In 1950, during the time that Padre Pio’s hospital, the Home for the Relief of Suffering was being built in San Giovanni Rotondo, a small office was set up near the monastery. The purpose of the office was to collect donations for the hospital. People who visited the office could also subscribe to a small publication that the Capuchins made available. The publication kept people informed about the progress and the development of the construction of the hospital. All of the money that was collected from the subscriptions was given to the hospital.
On one occasion, a woman visited the office and asked that her name be removed from the subscription list. She no longer wanted to receive the hospital publication. While she was talking to the office clerk about her subscription, she showed him a lovely religious article which she had recently purchased as a gift for Padre Pio. She was planning on going to the monastery that very day to give it to him. The obvious question in the office clerk’s mind was why the woman wanted to give a gift to Padre Pio if she felt so strongly about not receiving the publication about his hospital. It did not seem to make sense.
Not only had the woman decided to withdraw her support from the hospital, she went so far as to try to persuade others to do likewise. On one occasion, the woman had discouraged one of her friends from making any contributions to Padre Pio’s hospital. She told her friend that it would be much better for people to give their money to their home parishes rather than to the hospital fund.
A little later on in the day, the woman returned to the office. The clerk noticed that the woman had tears in her eyes. “Please put my name back on the subscription list for the hospital publication,” the woman said. She explained the reason. When she went to the monastery, she happened to see Padre Pio standing in the corridor. She went up to him to greet him but he would not acknowledge her presence. She presented the gift to him but he looked at it with an expression of great consternation. He refused to accept it. It then dawned on the woman that her prior actions had been wrong. She had no business discouraging people from helping such a worthy cause as the Home for the Relief of Suffering. She got the message loud and clear.
During the Holy Year of 1950, Dorothy Gaudiose and her two sisters, Helena and Carmelita were making preparations to travel to Rome. When Dorothy read an interesting article about Padre Pio in the newspaper, she decided to add San Giovanni Rotondo to the itinerary.
When the sisters arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo, they saw many pilgrims both inside and outside the church. At that time, the wait to go to confession to Padre Pio was ten days. Dorothy told one of the Capuchins at the monastery that she and her sisters were hoping that they could have a word with Padre Pio. The Capuchin told her that Padre Pio would soon be passing from corridor of the church into the monastery. They could wait for him there but they would need a ticket in order to do so.
With their tickets in hand, Dorothy and her sisters waited in the corridor where a large crowd of women and children had already assembled. When Padre Pio appeared, the women became very excited. Many of them tried to press toward Padre Pio and to touch him. Padre Pio was patient and humble and did not show any annoyance.
When Padre Pio saw Dorothy and her two sisters standing with the others, he smiled and spoke to them briefly. He asked them where they were from and he was happy to learn that they were Americans. Dorothy immediately felt the strength of his character as well as his deep piety. Then he surprised Dorothy and her sisters by making a humorous remark. All of the other women who were in hearing distance began to laugh.
Dorothy and Helena began to visit San Giovanni Rotondo every summer. Since they were both teachers who had extended summer vacations, it worked out well. In 1961, Dorothy and Helena took a sabbatical from their teaching positions and spent one full year in San Giovanni Rotondo. They were able to attend Mass each day and also felt blessed to be able to make their confession to Padre Pio. Once, Helena confessed that she had missed Mass on Sunday. To her great surprise, Padre Pio told her that she had already confessed that sin. It was true. While in Rome, she had gone to confession and mentioned it at that time.
During that year, Dorothy and Helena became good friends with Mary Pyle. They helped Mary sort the tremendous amount of mail that came into the monastery. It was usually an all day project. Mary shared many incidents from Padre Pio’s life with Dorothy and Helena. She told them that on occasion, when the doctors at the Home for the Relief of Suffering had a difficult surgery to perform, they would first go to the monastery to see Padre Pio and ask him to bless their hands.
Dorothy and Helena were both fluent in Italian as well as English. When Mary Pyle was occupied with other matters, she often sent them in her place to assist as Padre Pio’s language translators. When the English-speaking pilgrims were visiting with Padre Pio, Dorothy and Helena would translate for them.
Dorothy felt the graces of being in such close contact with Padre Pio. She told him that she was considering a permanent move to San Giovanni Rotondo. “No,” he answered. “That would not be a good idea. You will do many good works in the United States. You must return.”
One day Helena asked Padre Pio if there was any other way that she could help him in his important apostolate. “Yes, there is,” he answered. “Try to do something for the Home for the Relief of Suffering, even if you have to make sacrifices in order to do so.” Helena thought about his words and finally decided what she wanted to do. She told Padre Pio that she owned a home in the U.S. which she had decided to put up for sale. Once the house sold, she wanted to donate the money to the hospital. She was a widow and she had no children. She was also secure financially. Padre Pio asked her three times if there was anyone in her immediate family, like a brother or a sister, who might need her property. Helena assured him that none of her relatives needed it. Finally, he said that he would accept her gift and he expressed his gratitude to her for her generosity. He also predicted accurately the price that her house would sell for.
Dorothy too wanted to do something more to help Padre Pio. Unlike her sister, Dorothy did not have any property that she could donate. She wondered what she could do to help. The thought occurred to her that she might be able to write a biography of Padre Pio’s life. She worked as an English teacher in a public school and through the years, she had taken many courses in creative writing. She knew that she had the ability to write.
Dorothy spoke to Padre Pio about her idea. She told him that when the book was completed, she wanted to donate half of all the royalties to the Home for the Relief of Suffering. Dorothy was certain that she would encounter many difficulties along the way. She believed that finding a publisher might be the greatest challenge of all. She asked Padre Pio to guide her and to help her find a publisher. Padre Pio replied with a single word, “Spera” (Have hope).
Altogether, it took six years before Dorothy’s book was made available to the public. During the very difficult time of trying to find a publisher, she remembered Padre Pio’s words. She waited in patience and never lost hope. Her interesting and well-researched book, Prophet of the People became very popular. Many people told Dorothy that the book proved to be a great help to them in their spiritual journey. At home in the United States, Dorothy did much to spread the message of Padre Pio. She gave talks on his life and spirituality at churches, on university campuses, and even at prisons and detention facilities. Everyone was interested in what Dorothy had to say.
After Padre Pio’s death, Dorothy became one of the promoters of his cause for canonization. She circulated a petition and collected signatures, requesting that the formal proceedings begin. She asked a number of bishops if they would be willing to sign the petition and many of them agreed to do so. Other bishops said that they could not sign the petition because they did not know anything about Padre Pio. Dorothy then sent a gift copy of her book to 300 bishops. She also wrote fifty letters and sent them to bishops in each of the fifty states in the United States. Included with an offering was a written request that the bishop say a Mass for her special intention. Her special intention was that Padre Pio’s cause for canonization would proceed smoothly and successfully.
Mr. Valentino, of Milan, Italy, used to take his wife to San Giovanni Rotondo so that she could attend Mass and make her confession to Padre Pio. His wife was a person of deep faith and piety. In many ways she was just the opposite of her husband. She had a reserved and gentle nature and was respectful and polite. Her husband, on the other hand, was an arrogant and proud man who had an open hostility toward religion. He especially felt a strong dislike for Padre Pio. Mrs. Valentino prayed continually for the conversion of her husband.
Whenever they made the trip to San Giovanni Rotondo, Mr. Valentino refused to step inside the church of Our Lady of Grace. Instead, he waited for his wife in the square just outside where he drank coffee and smoked cigarettes. He was not afraid to tell people openly that Padre Pio was not the holy man they thought him to be.
One icy and windy winter’s day when Mr. Valentino was waiting for his wife in the square, the cold temperature made him so uncomfortable that he felt compelled to go inside the church in order to warm up. When he entered the church, he happened to catch a glimpse of Padre Pio. Their eyes met for just a moment. Mr. Valentino was so taken by the experience, that he had a sudden and dramatic change of heart. He knew then that he had been mistaken in his estimation of Padre Pio.
From that day forward, Mr. Valentino attended the various prayer services at Our Lady of Grace while he waited for his wife to make her confession. He never missed a single one. He was able to make his confession to Padre Pio as well. Feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the blessings he had received, he wanted to do something to help Padre Pio and wondered what he could do. At the time, Padre Pio’s hospital was still under construction. Mr. Valentino bought the first pine trees that were planted on the grounds of the Home for the Relief of Suffering.
In 1956, Dr. Vito Tricarico, an Orthopedic specialist, was hired to work at the Home for the Relief of Suffering. One of the first people that Dr. Vito met after moving from Rome to San Giovanni Rotondo was Carlo Campanini. One day, Carlo took Dr. Vito over to the monastery and introduced him to Padre Pio. During the conversation, Padre Pio asked Dr. Vito about his family. When he told Padre Pio that his parents were both farmers, Padre Pio seemed genuinely pleased. Padre Pio then told a joke that made everyone laugh. He embraced Dr. Vito and sent him off with his blessing. For the next eight years, Dr. Vito would see Padre Pio almost every evening. He and the other doctors met with Padre Pio in order to discuss important matters dealing with the new hospital. They also discussed various clinical cases with him.
In 1961, Dr. Vito’s wife was admitted to the labor and delivery ward of the Home for the Relief of Suffering. Because Dr. Vito was their colleague and because it was his wife’s first baby, the doctors on duty in labor and delivery felt somewhat nervous. Dr. Vito was nervous as well. His friend Carlo Campanini told him that they should go and have a word with Padre Pio. Perhaps it would calm Dr. Vito’s nerves. Dr. Vito agreed to go. When they arrived at the monastery, they found Padre Pio reading the Bible. Padre Pio was happy to learn that Dr. Vito was about to become a father. He said to Dr. Vito, “If you want to form a good Christian family, you must start with a daughter. Congratulations. Everything went well!” When Dr. Vito walked back over to the hospital, he learned that his wife had just given birth to a baby girl. He was informed that “everything had gone well.” They named their beautiful new daughter, Chiara Pia.
On many occasions, Padre Pio demonstrated that he was intuitively attuned to the needs of the Home for the Relief of Suffering. An incident involving his spiritual daughter, Amalia Pagani, is one case in point. One day when Amalia was in the church of Our Lady of Grace, Padre Pio looked directly in her eyes and said to her, “Go outside!” Amalia could not understand why Padre Pio would say such a thing. Three times he repeated the words to her. Feeling hurt and rejected by his strong command, Amalia was in tears as she left the church.
As soon as Amalia stepped outside, she saw one of the Capuchins who was walking toward her and appeared to be in a hurry. “Why are you crying?” he asked. Amalia repeated what Padre Pio had told her in the church. “Would you be willing to follow me quickly over to the hospital?” the Capuchin asked. “There is a little boy in the emergency room and he is fighting for his life. The doctors are working on him at this moment and he is in need of blood. We are searching for a blood donor who has his blood type,” the Capuchin explained. Amalia was happy to agree to the Capuchin’s request and quickly followed him over to the hospital. As it turned out, Amalia had the exact blood type that was needed. She was very glad that she had been able to help the young boy. She then understood why Padre Pio had insisted that she leave the church immediately.
Dr. Luigi Pancaro was one of the doctors who worked at the Home for the Relief of Suffering. He was also the designated doctor for many of the Capuchins who were in residence at Our Lady of Grace monastery, including Padre Pio. Dr. Pancaro usually went to the monastery each day at noon in order to join Padre Pio as he recited the Angelus in front of the church.
Living in San Giovanni Rotondo, Dr. Pancaro heard many amazing stories about Padre Pio. A number of people told Dr. Pancaro that they were miraculously healed by Padre Pio. Others spoke of his gifts of bilocation, reading of hearts, and perfume. Dr. Pancaro always had doubts about such stories, believing them to be pure fantasy. He would sometimes say to himself, “If these astonishing things that I hear about Padre Pio are actually true, why doesn’t he remove the strong doubts from my mind?” But the doubts held on and would not leave.
Dr. Pancaro had read a number of articles in newspapers and magazines about Padre Pio’s charismatic gifts. Much of what was written about Padre Pio seemed to be pure sensationalism and he remained skeptical about such stories. Nevertheless, Dr. Pancaro held Padre Pio in the highest esteem. He admired him for his great piety and for his compassion for the poor and the sick. In his estimation, those were the true marks of spirituality.
May 28, 1958, was to be an important day for the Pancaro family. Dr. Pancaro’s daughter, Caroline, was to be married on that day at Our Lady of Grace church and Padre Pio had agreed to perform the wedding ceremony. The morning of Caroline’s wedding, the Pancaro family attended Padre Pio’s 5:00 a.m. Mass. During the Mass, Dr. Pancaro’s mind was filled with doubts about the Catholic teachings on the Eucharist, especially the transubstantiation. To Dr. Pancaro, the theology of the transubstantiation seemed ridiculous. He simply did not believe it. He made an effort to banish his negative thoughts during the Mass but he did not succeed.
After Mass, Dr. Pancaro greeted Padre Pio and tried to kiss his hand but Padre Pio would not allow him to do so. Padre Pio whispered in his ear, so that no one else could hear, “My son, what bad thoughts you had at Mass this morning! When are you going to stop thinking like that?”
The next day, the doctor had an opportunity to speak to Padre Pio once again. “Now listen to me attentively,” Padre Pio said. “I am not at all offended by what you think of me. But to doubt the great mystery of the transubstantiation is the greatest offence you could commit against God!” Padre Pio looked deep into Dr. Pancaro’s eyes. “Now are you convinced?” Padre Pio asked. And yes, at last Dr. Pancaro was convinced.
On one occasion, Father Eusebio Notte, who lived in residence at Our Lady of Grace monastery, was invited by one of the doctors at the Home for the Relief of Suffering to be present during an operation, a simple appendectomy. Father Eusebio agreed to observe the surgery.
Everything seemed to be going along just fine with the surgery when suddenly complications arose. It was obvious that the doctor in charge was very worried. Father Eusebio began to pray with great fervor to Padre Pio, begging him to intercede. The patient’s condition did not improve. Father Eusebio continued to lift up his prayers to Padre Pio with even greater intensity. Finally, the doctor breathed a sigh of relief. From that point on, everything went well. The crisis had passed and the patient was out of danger.
Father Eusebio went quickly back to the monastery to tell Padre Pio the news. “Thank you so much, Padre Pio, for interceding and for answering my prayers,” Father Eusebio said. “I did not have much choice,” Padre Pio answered, “You deafened me!”
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: 365 Reflections from the Saints and Other Holy Men and Women of God
4. They Walked with God Book 1: St. Bernadette Soubirous, St. John Vianney, St. Damien of Molokai, St. André Bessette, Bl. Solanus Casey
5. They Walked with God Book 2: St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, St. John Bosco