The Life of Padre Pio, Catholic Saint

The Mortal Remains Of St. Pio Arriving At Pietrelcina
Ivan Romano / Getty Images

Padre Pio (born Francisco Forgione; May 25, 1887 – September 23, 1968) was a Catholic friar and monk who became well-known for his experiences with stigmata: physical marks resembling the Crucifixion wounds. Skeptics of this phenomenon pressured the Vatican to silence him, but Padre Pio devoted decades to his ministry, and was canonized as a saint after his death.

Early Life

Francisco Forgione was born to a poor but devout Catholic family in Pietrelcina, Italy.

 From early childhood, he preferred prayer over play, spending hours in the local church with his Rosary beads. Starting at the age of five, he began to have visions: Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and other apparitions.  Locals nicknamed him ‘the little saint.’    

In 1897, Forgione met Fra Camillo, a Capuchin monk who went around the countryside asking for alms for the poor. To enter the order, he needed more education than the village schools could provide, so his father, Grazio, moved to New York, and later to Argentina, to earn the extra money. In January 1903, Forgione became a novice at the Capuchin friary in nearby Morcone. He took the name Pio in honor of Pope Pius V.

Right away, he impressed his superiors as an exemplary student, but some feared he wouldn’t survive long enough to become a priest. He suffered repeated high fevers, bouts of vomiting, and periods of sleeplessness and delirium.

 Soon after he was ordained in 1910, the Capuchins decided to send him home to his mother to recuperate. He stayed in Pietrelcina for the next six years.

In September 1916, Padre Pio was ordered to the friary of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo, a small mountain town in Southern Italy. He become famous for his experiences with stigmata.

 

Visions and Stigmata 

On August 5, 1918, while hearing confessions from his seminary students, Padre Pio had a vision of a figure carrying a flaming sword. The figure thrust the sword into his side, which resulted in a physical wound.

Just over a month later, on September 20, Padre Pio was deep in prayer when he saw a vision of Jesus, with blood flowing from his hands, feet, and side. Pio later said that the vision frightened him, and the feeling was indescribable. When the vision ended, he saw blood dripping from his own hands, feet, and side.

Padre Pio experienced stigmata, marks corresponding with the wounds Jesus suffered during Crucifixion, throughout his life. Stigmata are considered a sign of divine favor, but Padre Pio was embarrassed by them. He prayed for Jesus to leave the pain but take away the visible signs. However, the wounds remained for the next half-century, and over time, he came to believe that the wounds gave him strength.

Controversy 

Despite his efforts to hide the marks, news of Padre Pio's stigmata spread, and the faithful soon flocked to his isolated friary. Many of the faithful believed that Padre Pio was able to read minds and hearts, heal the sick and injured, speak in tongues, and exist in two places at the same time.

From the start, Padre Pio drew both passionate supporters and vocal detractors. Many believed he was a living saint.  Others believed he was a fraud who kept his self-inflicted wounds open with drops of acid. His detractors began to report to the Vatican, and the Vatican soon ordered that Padre Pio stop saying Mass in public.

Padre Pio was also barred from giving blessings, hearing confessions, or answering correspondence. Vatican officials threatened to move him to an even more remote friary to keep him out of public view. Investigations into his stigmata were launched, but never identified a clear cause for his wounds.

Later Life

As time passed, opinions towards the monk changed. In 1933, Pope Pius XI loosened the restrictions on Padre Pio. Freed from his solitude, Padre Pio embarked on an extraordinary 35-year ministry.

He slept fewer than four hours a night and fasted often, but somehow had the energy to conduct hours-long masses and spend up to 15 hours a day hearing confessions. 

In 1956, Padre Pio raised the funds for a hospital for the needy: Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for the Relief of the Suffering). The Vatican granted him dispensation from his vow of poverty so that he could manage the facility.

As a spiritual director, Padre Pio believed in simplicity. He had five rules for the faithful: daily Communion, weekly confession, meditation, spiritual reading, and examination of one’s conscience. He summed up his philosophy as "pray, hope and don't worry."

Death and Sainthood

Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968 — fifty years and two days after he received his stigmata. Those who saw Padre Pio in his final hours said that his wounds healed in the hours just before his death. 

There was little doubt that Pio would be named a saint. Pope John Paul II, who had known and admired him in life, declared him Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. The canonization ceremony drew a crowd of 300,000 faithful. Today, he is one of the world’s most popular saints.

Padre Pio Fast Facts

  • Full Name: Francesco Forgione
  • Also Known As: Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Padre Pio 
  • Known For: Receiving stigmata – open wounds that re 
  • Born: May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy
  • Died: September 23, 1968 in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy
  • Education: Studied with the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin to become a Capuchin monk.
  • Key Accomplishments: Best known for his striking experiences with stigmata (marks corresponding with the Crucifixion wounds), Padre Pio canonized as a saint in 2002.
  • Famous Quote: "Pray, hope and don't worry."

Sources

  • Allegri, Renzo. Padre Pio: a Man of Hope. Charis Books, 2000
  • Castelli, Francesco, et al. Padre Pio under Investigation: the Secret Vatican Files. Ignatius Press, 2011.
  • Luzzatto, Sergio. Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age. Picador, 2012.
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Michon, Heather. "The Life of Padre Pio, Catholic Saint." ThoughtCo, May. 11, 2018, thoughtco.com/biography-of-padre-pio-4164735. Michon, Heather. (2018, May 11). The Life of Padre Pio, Catholic Saint. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/biography-of-padre-pio-4164735 Michon, Heather. "The Life of Padre Pio, Catholic Saint." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/biography-of-padre-pio-4164735 (accessed May 24, 2018).