104 years ago today, Francesco Forgione became PADRE PIO


The first Catholic priest to receive the stigmata was born on the 25th
of May, 1887 and named ‘Francesco’.  He was the son of Grazio and Giuseppa Forgione. Pietrelcina, a remote village in Southern Italy was his homeland. 


Francesco grew up on a winding street, in a one-roomed house with a
relentlessly hot, golden sun overhead. His parents were simple, farming people, who were tireless workers, and made their living from tilling a few acres which were located a thirty-minute walk from their village. On their plot of land, they had a stone house, in which crops were stored, and where they also slept during harvest time.



The house where Padre Pio grew up


They led a balanced life, where hard labour and religious observance
went hand in hand. After a hard day of planting crops, the Forgione family
recited the Rosary every evening, without fail. They fasted from meat three days a week, in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Francesco’s parents and grandparents could not read, but they memorised Sacred Scripture and as part of everyday life, they told their children stories from the Bible. His mother, known as Mamma Peppa, was always described as being very gentle, and there was great warmth and tenderness between her and her little boy whom she had named after St Francis.

When he was a young child, his family and fellow villagers did not
earmark him as being very different. But decades later in his life, St Pio,
would recall how he had visions of Our Lady when he was merely five years old.


At the time, he didn’t mention these sightings of Our Lady, nor did he write about them.  The pensive, alert, beady-eyed five-year-old Francesco
believed that visions of the Mother of God were normal occurrences in childhood, and he did not think himself extraordinary because she visited him in person.


Some have suggested that he thought of becoming a Franciscan because he was named after St Francis.  In actual fact, when he was around
ten-years-old, he was drawn to the Capuchins, after seeing a young friar, Br. Camillo, who strolled around Pietrelcina begging for alms. Fr Camillo had a special rapport with the village children, and he always gave them little gifts of medals, holy cards and chestnuts. Young Francesco would follow the friar like the other children, but it was Br Camillo’s long, flowing bear that riveted his attention.  Pio later declared, ‘no one could take away my desire to be a bearded friar.’

His parents greeted the news of his vocation with joy, but also with a
resolute determination that they were committed to making the many sacrifices necessary to get young Francesco into the seminary.  At that time in Italy, the government provided only three years of primary school education. 


The Forgione family would have to find a way to pay for Francesco’s
private tuition, so that he was sufficiently educated, as to be accepted for
priestly formation. But the family had no spare lire. Grazio, St Pio’s father
said he would have to ‘emigrate or steal’. 

In 1899, Grazio travelled on a ship bound for Brazil, but when he
arrived he found that the employment opportunities were few, and that he would have to borrow money to return to Italy. This surely was an exasperating disappointment, but undaunted, Grazio made plans to emigrate again, and this time he crossed the ocean to the United States where he found work on a farm in Pennsylvania. His employer noticed Grazio’s wide experience in farming, and appointed him a supervisor of other farmhands. While Grazio sent money home for his son’s education, there was a growing concern that young Francesco was spending so many hours on end praying in the chapel, that he was neglecting his
school lessons. 


His parents did not disapprove of his piety, but they told him
off because he was not concentrating hard enough on passing school tests. They reminded him that his father had left the family homestead and was doing gruelling farm work in America with the intention of financing his education.


But in time, Francesco got the balance right, and focussed on the three aspects of his life, prayer, farm labour and studying.


In January 1903, Francesco was about to start his novitiate, in the Morcone Capuchin friary.  He was only fifteen, and found the experience of
leaving his mother so hard that it was like an, ‘interior martyrdom’, and he later said that he felt his bones were being crushed. His mother was in anguish too, she said, ‘my heart is bleeding, but St Francis has called you.’ 


On arriving at the friary, the first person that he met was Br Camillo who called out ‘bravo!’ on seeing him. After he was there two weeks, he took the Habit of the Order of Friars Minor and had a white cord tied around his waist.


He was no longer known as ‘Francesco’, but was given the name Pio. For
the rest of his life, St Pio would celebrate May 5th, the feast of
St Pius V as his ‘name day’, a celebratory occasion on a par with a
birthday.  As a novice, St Pio, embraced the strict lifestyle of a friar,
and was an exemplary novice by the humble but faultless way he performed penances, fasts and the imposed silences. During the autumn of his novitiate, his father came home from America for a visit, and together with his mother, they visited Morcone. They were in for a shock when they beheld a gaunt, worryingly thin Pio, who had got into the habit of passing his rations of bread  to the other friars. Their son kept silent and stared at the floor.  The Father Guardian had to encourage him to speak, and only then did he chat freely to his parents. 


On another occasion, the Superior of the Friary announced to his mother; “your son is too good; we can find no fault in him”.

Two mystical phenomenons were associated with Padre Pio during his
novitiate. One day, his Novice Master told him not to receive Holy Communion. 


Pio, reportedly, nearly died because he was not permitted to receive the
Eucharist, and when the Novice Master relented and gave him permission, Pio was revived.  The second was that key witnesses observed that he had ‘the gift of tears’.  They would find Pio in the chapel, before a crucifix, and weeping so profusely that one witness said, ‘the floor would be stained’. 


Finally, the long year of his novitiate ended, and in January 1904 he
made his temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, which would last for three years. It is accurate to say that he spent the next six years studying for the priesthood.  But like the street where he was reared, St Pio’s journey to the priesthood would be a rough path with many twists and turns.


At that time, the government had suppressed religious orders in Italy and as a direct result; there was no designated monastery that provided a full seminary education. Instead, Pio travelled to and from five different communities.


After three years of roaming between friaries, and at the age of nineteen, Pio made his Solemn Profession in January 1907, when he vowed to live his entire life, imitating the example of St Francis.


The first three years of studying for the priesthood were successfully
completed. But the latter three years were a time of severe health-problems and painful uncertainty as the shadow of the grim reaper loomed. It was not long after he had taken his permanent vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, that he increasingly endured high fevers and bronchitis.  


He was frequently sent home to Pietrelcina for  convalescence, and would return to religious life when he showed signs of improvement. But in 1908, he was given a diagnosis of tuberculosis, and informed that he only had a few months to live.  Two other doctors dismissed the diagnosis of TB, but they did confirm chronic bronchitis, which was worsened because of Pio’s extreme fasts from food.



But Pio was also struck with stabbing stomach pains and debilitating
bouts of vomiting that took a great toll on his strength.  He had received
permission to study for the priesthood in Pietrelcina. But during this period of severe infirmity, Pio was often so convinced that his death was imminent, that he began to doubt if he would be ordained. 


The rule was that a seminarian had to be twenty-four before being consecrated to the priesthood.  An exception was made, and at the age of twenty-three, on the 10th of August 1910, he was ordained by Archbishop Paulo Schinosi at the Cathedral of Benevento, and became ‘Padre Pio’.  


Nearly 92 years later, on the 16th of June 2002, John Paul II
canonised ‘the simple friar who prays’, but to this day, he is still known
affectionately as ‘Padre Pio’. 


This post was originally published in September 2012 by Oremus magazine.  I re-post it here because of the 104th anniversary of Padre Pio being ordained to the priesthood. 


Comments

  1. Hi, Mary!

    Blessed Assumption and Birthday of St. Anthony (Aug. 15)!

    It's so nice to come across your lovely blog when looking up Padre Pio's connection with St. Philomena. We seem to have quite a few common devotions, interests, etc. I have some Irish blood (Co. Cavin) on my paternal grandmother's side of the family, and am very interested the history and culture of The British Isles. Other relations came from Pau, France, right next to Lourdes, and it is said we are related to St. Bernadette through her mother's side of the family.

    I also blog quite a bit about Catholic subjects, history, poetry, current events, etc. here: www.longbowsandrosarybeads.blogspot.com

    I've also recently been involved as communications cooridnator for an online Catholic magazine, "The Fellowship of The King": www.thefellowshipoftheking.wordpress.com

    If you get the chance, would appreciate your comments!

    God bless,
    Pearl of Tyburn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pearl: No one replied to you and it made me feel bad. So, I am saying hello to you and will pray for you and your family. Please pray for me and mine also. God bless, help and protect us all!

      Maggie Mae

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    2. Dear Pearl of Tyburn,

      Thank you so much for your most lovely comment. So glad you came across my blog when researching Padre Pio and St Philomena. Yes, I was glad to be able to interview nuns who knew Padre Pio and could vouch for the fact that he has personal devotion to St Philomena.

      After an unforgivably busy week, I have finally taken a wander over to your blog. Well done, it is wonderful stuff. Rare is the occasion that I get to say this to someone, but it is exceptionally well written. Keep it up.

      I have added it to my Blog List. Great to hear you have Irish blood. I look forward to staying in touch.

      God bless always,

      Mary

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