Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
One of the benefits of working in the Catholic media is having the opportunity to meet and question people who have known Catholic saints. Below are five such people who have been friends with well-known Catholic saints, and comments they shared about their relationships with them.
John Coverdale is a law professor at Seton Hall University Law School in New Jersey and has been an Opus Dei numerary (celibate member) for over 50 years. He worked for Opus Dei in Rome 1960-68, and had regular contact with St. Josemaría Escrivá (1902-75), the founder of Opus Dei.
He said, “I found him to be a man of great faith, who loved God, loved Our Lady and those around him. He had a great personal concern for each person with whom he interacted, which surprised me considering that we were a large international organization.”
“He was also quite funny. It wasn’t so much that he told jokes, but had that particular turn of phrase or lifting of the shoulders and eyebrows that could get the room laughing. If you watch old movies of him talking to groups, you’ll notice that people laugh a lot.”
Fr. George Vaniyepurackal is administrator of St. Paul Parish in Jacksonville, Florida. He is originally from Kerala, India, and had the opportunity to observe St. Teresa of Calcutta/Mother Teresa (1910-97) at work.
He recalled, “She did all the things Jesus called us to do in Matthew 25 [“I was hungry, you gave me to eat …]. She believed it and lived it … She inspires me to believe and live the Gospel as well. When I go to visit a sick person lying in a hospital bed, I think that I am visiting Jesus.”
He first met mother as a seminarian, and returned to visit her after his ordination to the priesthood. He celebrated Mass for her and her community: “I remember seeing her bending down in prayer in their small chapel. She had an intense focus on the Eucharist, which I found most impressive.”
“She’s my favorite saint.”
Rene Henry Gracida, the retired Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, knew multiple popes, including Pope St. John Paul II (1920-2005). He visited him in Krakow in 1978, shortly before he was elected pope. Bishop Gracida, a World War II veteran, recalled, “He was fascinated that I was an airman during World War II. He asked me hundreds of questions. We became friends. I have a cherished place for him in my heart.”
Fr. Lucjan Krolikowski, OFM Conv., lived in community with St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) in Niepokalanow in Poland, which in the 1930s was the largest monastery in the world. Its purpose was to create and distribute Catholic literature, so that people would embrace the Catholic faith and become holy.
He said, “Fr. Maximilian Kolbe directed the apostolate, and was the heart and soul of the community. I’ve met a few saintly people in my life, but Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was the most saintly in my estimation. He had an impact on you; you wanted to imitate him.”
“Fr. Maximilian took it upon himself to visit every section of the monastery. I was a young man of 16, 17, 18; he came to see me and my fellow seminarians many times. He wanted us to be missionaries like him, and go to Japan [where St. Maximilian Kolbe founded a monastery] or anywhere else in the world to spread the Gospel. He would speak to us in his soft voice, as he had tuberculosis in one lung.”
The community was devastated by the Nazi’s arrest of St. Maximilian. Fr. Lucjan remembered, “The brothers loved Maximilian Kolbe so much they wanted to give up their own lives for his release. But the Gestapo told our friars and fathers that even if we sent 20 or 30 men to take his place, they would not release Maximilian Kolbe. He was too valuable. Besides, they were angry with him because our publications carried caricatures of Hitler.”
Fr. Guglielmo "William" Lauriola is the retired pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in San Francisco. He grew up in Monte Sant’ Angelo, 16 miles east of San Giovanni Rotondo, where St. Pio of Pietrelcina/Padre Pio (1887-1968) lived.
He first visited the famous saint as a boy: “I was a bit scared by his stigmata. He’d tell me not to look at it. I was worried that it caused him a lot of pain. You could see the suffering on his face; it was almost visible. He seemed to particularly suffer on Fridays. I’d ask him, ‘Why do you have to suffer so much?’ He’d tell me, ‘These wounds are to make up for my sins and the sins of others.’ I told him that my uncle was a doctor, and I would ask my uncle for some medicine to help him. Padre Pio would say, ‘No, medicine won’t do any good.’”
“I remember going to Padre Pio’s funeral in 1968. I knelt before his body and prayed. I saw his hands and feet, and the stigmata was gone. They were clean, like the stigmata had never been there.”
Of Padre Pio’s Masses, Fr. Lauriola recalled, “They were very devout, particularly during the consecration. He’d say the words of consecration very slowly: “Hoc…est…enim…corpus…meum.” As he elevated the Host, his hand trembled a bit.”
Fr. Lauriola was ordained a priest in 1953, and would return regularly to see Padre Pio: “I told him I was going to be a missionary in Korea—I was there from 1957 to 1964—and he said to me, ‘Remember, there is only one God.’ I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. However, I came to understand. We missionaries go abroad and do good work helping people and can be tempted to pride, believing we are saints. Padre Pio was reminding me to give the glory to God.”
“I’d also call on Padre Pio for help, even when he was alive. I believe he heard me. One time, I was traveling in a small boat to an island off Korea. We were caught in a big storm, and I didn’t know if we’d survive. I started calling on Padre Pio to help us, and we made it. I think he knew I needed him.”