Editor's Note: We refeature this story ahead of the papal visit March 17. More information about the trip here.
Friar. Stigmatist. Mystic. Saint.
All of these words describe Padre Pio — St. Pio of Pietrelcina — whom the Church remembers for two special anniversaries this year. 2018 commemorates the 100th anniversary of Padre Pio receiving the stigmata and the 50th anniversary of his death. On March 17, Pope Francis will visit his monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo and celebrate Mass.
Although Padre Pio died half a century ago, his legacy has continued to grow in a number of ways, from the “Padre Pio Prayer Groups” that have spread worldwide to individual apostolates inspired not only by his memory, but by direct or indirect contact with the humble Capuchin himself.
Luciano Lamonarca described to the Register how St. Pio’s legacy came to him in the form of Father Pierino Galeone, who was a personal friend of the saint and a concelebrant at his canonization Mass Jan. 16, 2002. The 91-year-old Father Galeone, a diocesan priest, founded the institution “The Servants of Suffering” located in San Giovanni Rotondo on the spot indicated to him by Padre Pio himself.
Lamonarca — the president and CEO of the U.S.-based Saint Pio Foundation (SaintPioFoundation.org), which he founded in 2014 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to “bringing relief of suffering to those in need” in the name of St. Pio — met Father Galeone many times and said, “He asked me to always keep Padre Pio close to my heart.” Lamonarca and his wife, Valentina, have done so. They went to San Giovanni Rotondo May 15, 2011, their first wedding anniversary, to seek Padre Pio’s intercession “for becoming a mother and father, since we experienced a miscarriage,” Lamonarca said. Dining with Father Galeone, they told him of their sorrow and their hopes.
“Don Pierino immediately took from his jacket a relic, a handkerchief with blood stains of Padre Pio,” Lamonarca recalled. When he removed the relic from its small plastic bag, “it was like a thousand roses appeared in the middle of the room — the smell was so strong. That was my first big encounter with Padre Pio. Don Pierino allowed us to touch the relic.”
The priest also told them that Padre Pio had been praying for them and said suffering will come, yet they would be parents of a little boy. At the time, “I had no clue about founding this foundation and this mission,” Lamonarca recalled. “But from that moment, my devotion started to be strong.”
Then came the suffering, with other miscarriages. But following the establishment of the Saint Pio Foundation, Lamonarca said, “We had a little boy. Sabastian came immediately after.”
Padre Pio Groups
St. Pio’s legacy also came into play in another way for his namesake foundation. The founder described that he was curious regarding how so popular an opera tenor as Beniamino Gigli, second only to Caruso, would visit Padre Pio after a tour and then return to his home. Gigli, a spiritual child of Padre Pio, would always sing two songs for him: Shubert’s Ave Maria and Mama.
“If Gigli did, why could I not use my art and talent in working together with those whose voices are heard to promote the legacy of Padre Pio?” said Lamonarca, himself an accomplished tenor. He has welcomed to the foundation prominent figures who support its mission, from cardinals and bishops to actors, in order to promote Padre Pio’s legacy and foster devotion to the saint. The latest mission of the foundation was to organize and present a tour of his major relics throughout many states that attracted about 250,000 faithful. The event was so popular that a second tour through 40 dioceses was set to begin March 1. (See sidebar on page B1 for details.)
Prayer is also a hallmark of devotion to St. Pio.
Answering Venerable Pius XII’s pleas for the faithful to gather and pray often as a community, Padre Pio encouraged the faithful to do so according to the intentions of the Holy Father. In 1947, prayer groups started to spring up as the forerunners of today’s Padre Pio Prayer Groups. They started as support for the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering), the hospital founded by Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, because St. Pio told the group members, “Never grow weary of praying. This is essential. Prayer penetrates the heart of God and obtains the graces needed. … Prayer is the best weapon we have and the key to God’s heart.”
At the time of St. Pio’s canonization in 2002, there were 2,700 Padre Pio Prayer Groups worldwide.
“Padre Pio is a very strong presence in certain areas of the world,” said Capuchin Father Francis Sariego, the national coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups (PPPG.org) headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware. He cites calls not only from this country, but from places as far away as Korea, Nigeria and Ireland, asking how to establish a prayer group. Recently, he received a call about establishing one of these prayer groups for young people in school.
“Through Padre Pio, I’ve been blessed with contacts around the world,” he said. “People are very devoted to the memory and spirit of Padre Pio. They want to find out what they have to do to become his ‘spiritual child.’”
Those in the prayer groups learn the “holy basics” to open their hearts and souls in praise and petition to Almighty God and his presence in adoration, importance of and devotion to the Eucharist and devotion and love for Our Lady and the Rosary. Once a month, they talk about how Padre Pio can help them to grow deeply in their faith.
“To belong to a Padre Pio Prayer Group means going back to the beginning of his ministry,” Father Sariego explained. “That’s what these people who want to be spiritual children of Padre Pio do … they go back to seek what he expects of them and live it today, continuing the legacy of what Padre Pio left to all his spiritual children.”
“Padre Pio was insistent his spiritual children would be prayerful, obedient to Holy Mother Church and its precepts, and pray continually for the Holy Father, Mother Church and for one another,” said Julia Calandra-Clineberg of the National Centre for Padre Pio in Barto, Pennsylvania (PadrePio.org), which is affiliated with the Padre Pio Prayer Groups.
Calandra-Clineberg said Blessed Paul VI accepted these prayer groups 50 years ago and appointed the first spiritual administrator “of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups that would be the spiritual legacy” of St. Pio.
Gifts of Healing
Calandra-Clineberg’s mother, Vera Calandra, and her father, Harry Calandra, built the Pennsylvania-based national center to spread St. Pio’s legacy after a 1968 visit to the saint with another daughter, Vera Marie, who was born without a bladder. St. Pio’s prayers cured the child, who miraculously grew a bladder. Vera Calandra was privileged to proclaim the first reading at Padre Pio’s 1999 beatification Mass because her daughter’s miracle was the one needed for the saint’s beatification.
Due to her family background, Calandra-Clineberg is particularly proud of St. Pio’s Home for the Relief of Suffering, “one of the largest research facilities as well as hospitals in all of Europe [it has more than 1,000 beds]. They are constantly making incredible advances in the treatment of many diseases — right now, on treatment for multiple sclerosis,” she said. “Their research far surpasses the research done in other facilities, and it is all medically ethical research and shared with the world.” The hospital asks for no recompense, but does welcome donations.
While science could not explain Padre Pio, the world genuinely knew this man was a great gift from God. Yet Padre Pio embraced science, whose purpose, as he put it, was the relief of suffering, Calandra-Clineberg explained. Padre Pio always “made everyone who would be involved with the hospital understand that God, Jesus, could never be taken out of the equation,” because in every person who suffers Jesus is truly present as the Great Sufferer, and in every person who cares for the sick Jesus is also present as the Divine Physician, Calandra-Clineberg said.
“So this legacy of love and legacy of service, this legacy to the adherence of the magisterium of the Church, is why Padre Pio’s legacy continues,” she explained. “He continues it through those people who turn to him for his powerful intercessory prayer. Once they know Padre Pio, then his promise is fulfilled, because he said, ‘You don’t love Padre Pio for Padre Pio; you love Padre Pio because I will always lead you to Jesus through Mary,’ [which is] exactly what these prayer groups have become.”
“So,” she concludes, “the work of Padre Pio continues through his special children.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.
This story was updated March 12.
Padre Pio Relics’ Second Tour
The Saint Pio Foundation is following up its 2017 “St. Pio Comes to America” relics tour by sponsoring a two-part tour during 2018.
Once again, the relics available for public veneration will include St. Pio’s glove; cotton gauze with his blood stains; a lock of his hair; his mantle; and his handkerchief soaked with his sweat just hours before he died.
The first part of the tour runs from March 1 through May 16:
- Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, March 1.
- Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, March 4 and 5
- Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, March 12
- Queen of Angels Parish and Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, March 14 and 15
- St. Andrew Catholic Church and St. Cyril of Jerusalem Church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, March 16, 17 and 18
- St. Paul Cathedral in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 4 and 5
- Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Lousiana, April 6
- St. Mary Catholic Parish in the Archdiocese of Denver, April 11 and 12
- Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, April 13
- Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, April 17
- St. Gabriel’s Parish in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, April 21
- Cathedral of the Holy Angels in the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, April 27
- Cathedral of St. Joseph in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, April 30
- Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, May 3
- St. James Cathedral in the Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington, May 5
- Cathedral of Merida in the Archdiocese of Yucatan (Mexico), May 15 and 16.
For particular stops on the second part of the 2018 relics tour, which begins Sept. 8 and runs through Nov. 9, see the list of locations online at
— Joseph Pronechen
Editor's Note: This sidebar was updated March 12.