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A saint’s work is never done

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What would you offer to God in exchange for the life of your child? This was the question facing Vera Calandra, mother of five, in Norristown, Pa., April 1966. 

Doctors told her that her daughter, Vera Marie, would not make it to her first birthday due to congenital defects that had already necessitated the removal of her bladder. They did not count on St. Pio of Pietrelcina, or Padre Pio. Calandra had recently learned of this Italian Franciscan and decided to take little Vera Marie with her to San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, to ask his intercession. 

As the elderly friar blessed her daughter, the mother prayed silently to God, promising Him that if her daughter was cured, she would spend her life sharing the greatness of this humble friar and his message with the entire world. Following the audience, the two returned home and met with the doctors who were amazed to find a new bladder miraculously growing in her daughter, who continued to develop normally. Faithful to her promise, Calandra spent the rest of her life traveling to speak about Padre Pio, eventually founding, along with her husband, a shrine and museum dedicated to his life in Barto, Pa.

Fast forward 53 years when a friend invited me to visit this shrine, and I too reaped the fruits of her promise. Praying at the shrine and touring the museum, I was struck by two aspects of Padre Pio’s life: his devotion to the sacrament of confession and his love for the sick and suffering.

A folder from the Padre Pio Ministry to the Sick, Fr. Stefan Starzynski's  ministry at INOVA-Fairfax Hospital, rest on the confessional of Padre Pio. COURTESY FR. STEFAN STARZYNSKI

pio stefan

Padre Pio had a great devotion to confession, spending up to fifteen hours a day in the confessional to extend God’s healing mercy to others. In Barto, I got a good look at his confessional, and was struck by how penitential it would have been be for him to sit on the hard wooden seat in such a small space in an unheated stone church for hours on end. Yet Padre Pio willingly did so, and through this sacrament changed many lives. He also received the sacrament himself frequently, comparing the act of going to confession to dusting a room, noting that, “Even if a room is sealed off completely, dust will still accumulate in it.” This devotion to receiving the sacrament is a wonderful example for anyone who is striving for holiness, but especially for seminarians and priests. Padre Pio’s example shows us that those who want to be good confessors must first be good penitents themselves.

His care for the sick and suffering was also inspiring. This saint, who himself suffered from poor health and the effects of the stigmata, spent much of his life seeking to bring healing to those in need. There are numerous stories of incredible healings, including Vera Marie Calandra. But his care for the sick and suffering was not limited to supernatural means; acting in great faith, Padre Pio founded a hospital in the small town of San Giovanni Rotondo, where his monastery was located. Today, the hospital is a successful research and care facility with over one thousand beds. Padre Pio’s example is a beautiful reminder of Christ’s own love for the sick and suffering, a love that all Catholics, especially seminarians and priests, are called to make present in our world.

In the great and storied history of Catholic saints, it is remarkable to think that this great saint died only half a century ago. My trip to the shrine was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Padre Pio’s life and to be inspired by his holiness and charity.

Townsend, who is from St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg, is doing a pastoral year at St. Ambrose Church  in Annandale.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019