Saint Pio de Pietrelcina: Biography & Miracles

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Not every saint in the Catholic Church lived centuries ago. Some were around in living memory. In this lesson, we'll explore the life of one such saint and see why Pio de Pietrelcina was canonized.

Padre Pio

When we talk about the lives of saints, it feels like we spend a lot of time describing life in the medieval era. That's just when a lot of saints lived. However, it would be a mistake to imagine that the Catholic Church stopped recognizing new saints from later periods in history. In 2002, Pope John Paul II formally canonized an Italian friar and priest named Pio de Pietrelcina, more often called Padre Pio. Born in 1887 and died in 1968, Padre Pio's life was well documented and studied by Church officials. He had a busy life, but as a saint has had an even busier afterlife. As he was often known to say, ''My real mission will begin after my death.''

Padre Pio (left) in 1964
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Early Life of Padre Pio

Padre Pio was not born as Padre Pio, although his birth name was equally alliterative. He was Francesco Forgione, born on May 25 of 1887 to a poor farming family in Pietrelcina, Italy. While his childhood years were not filled with material things, they were characterized by love and a deep reverence for the Catholic Church.

Francesco became identified as a man of prayer at a young age. In fact, it's said that he formally dedicated his life to God at the age of 5. His parents supported his piety and were able to provide tutors that helped him become educated enough to enter the Capuchin Order (an offshoot of the Franciscans) at the age of 15. He took the name Pio, which means pious. By the age of 23, he was ordained as a priest.

Padre Pio in the Monastery

Padre Pio spent over 50 years as a monk, and his life is well chronicled by the Church. It was a full and busy life, but was characterized by three things: illness, a disciplined schedule, and prayer. Let's take these one-by-one.

Padre Pio was very often ill. He had been sickly since he was about 9 years old and never really recovered. He was seen by countless doctors over his life, none of whom could fully diagnose or cure his symptoms. So, how'd Padre Pio feel about this? He saw it as a gift from God, a divine response to a prayer to let him sacrifice his own body to save other souls. For Padre Pio, as long as he was suffering, there were others reaching eternal salvation.

The frequent illness of Padre Pio did not stop him, however, from maintaining a very busy and disciplined schedule. For the 51 years that he lived in the monastery, Padre Pio got up every day in the early morning hours (2:30 or 3:30 am) to pray. For the next 19 hours or more, he worked or prayed without break, never even reading the newspaper. He then got about 3-5 hours of sleep (if he wasn't praying) and did it all again the next day.

Mural of Padre Pio, who is actively venerated by Catholics today, particularly in Italy
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If there's one word that describes Padre Pio's life, it's prayer. The monk was known to be constantly in prayer, but he also used prayer to help others. Padre Pio started prayer groups that spread throughout the monastery and then throughout parts of Italy. He was said to have used prayer for therapy and healing, bringing literally thousands of people back to the Faith. He focused particularly on the poor and spent a lifetime working with them. As Pope John Paul II said, ''Prayer and charity- this is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching.''

The Miracles of Padre Pio

To be recognized as a saint, a person has to have conducted miracles that are closely reviewed by the Catholic Church to establish a divine origin. So, did Padre Pio perform miracles? As it turns out, he had been his entire life. As a child, the saint spent his time speaking with Christ, angels, and the Virgin Mary, all of who appeared to him in regular visions. He later said that as a child, he assumed this was normal; it wasn't until later that he realized not everyone could hold conversations with Jesus on a daily basis.

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