He was born Francesco Forgione on May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy. The age of technology was just breathing its first baby breath when this new child of God was brought into the word, in an impoverished Italian village. His parents, Grazio Mario Forgione and Maria Guiseppa de Nunzio Forgione were simple peasants, uneducated, unable to read or write, but through whom the One, True Faith was a living, breathing reality. This reality of faith they brought to all their children, and in their son Francesco, that Faith was to burn as a bonfire throughout his life before death brought him to eternal life. In Francesco, so named for another brother who had died in infancy, this faith, this absolute love for God and of God, was to send ripples throughout the world, as a constant reminder that no matter how technically advanced the human race became, there was always the Infinite Love, Mercy, and Forgiveness of a Compassionate Father-God!
Little Francesco Forgione was baptized on May 26, 1887 in the Castle Church in Pietrelcina. He had an older brother, Michele, and three younger sisters: Felicita, Peligrina and Grazia. There were two other siblings who died in infancy. Francesco's life revolved around God. The Almighty was the consuming thought that occupied Francesco's young mind. At the tender age of five years, before the age of reason, Francesco consecrated himself to Jesus. From his earliest years he conversed freely and simply with God, exhibiting such a deep love that gradually he withdrew from the usual childhood games and social activity of his village, preferring to be alone in the countryside where his contemplation of God was unhindered.
Education was difficult in his village. His parents barely had enough money just to provide a poor home, with barely enough food for survival. Therefore, Francesco had only three years of public schooling, which was more than either of his parents ever had. However, in the area of religion, his education would be on-going throughout his life, with the solid roots laid firmly at the bosom of his family, whose own motto was "God-is-everything". Even before he reached the age of reason, Francesco conversed simply and fully with Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and his guardian angel. Throughout his life, Padre Pio was to teach others that the hosts of Heaven were as real as any living person, and their care for us was unparalleled. For Francesco, God was not a remote figure, but rather a loving, compassionate Being Who cared about every detail of the young child's life. In return, Francesco shared everything with Him, and drew everything he needed from the Holy Trinity.
His mind, from the earliest moments of his life, was consumed with God. Anything, or anybody, who sought to distract him from his constant communion with Him was soon left behind. Francesco's footsteps were sure and direct from his earliest moments…and this single-minded direction was to be a hallmark of his long life as a Capuchin friar. At the age of ten, in 1897, a Capuchin friar canvassed the village of Pietrelcina, seeking donations for his order. Young Francesco was drawn to this man, and it was through his presence that Francesco recognized his vocation. He went to his parents and announced: "I want to be a friar…with a beard". It says something to us of the belief and dedication of his parents that they did not scoff at the young child's remark. They took it seriously, and made a thirteen-mile trip to the town of Morcone, where there was a Capuchin friary. They went to ask the friars if, indeed, they were interested in having Francesco join them. The friars were indeed interested, but told Francesco's parents that he would have to study more to meet the standards set forth for any brother, and the even more rigorous studies needed for the priesthood.
At once Francesco's father sought more plentiful employment. This meant coming to America, leaving his wife and children at home. Francesco's mother made good use of the income her husband earned, and bore with his absence in a loving manner. A tutor was acquired for Francesco, and he put his whole heart into his studies, just as he would put his whole heart into a lifetime of being a victim for the love of Christ. He studied arduously, and on September 27, 1899 he was confirmed. Finally, he completed his studies and at the age of fifteen he took the Habit of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin on January 22, 1903. On the day of his investiture he took the name of Pio after Saint Pius V, the patron saint of Pietrelcina.
One year later to the day, January 22, 1904, Fra (Brother) Pio made his First Profession of the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. His desire was being fulfilled, but the real mission God had in store for him was still in the making. After his Profession, Fra Pio traveled to Assisi and began six years of study for the priesthood. There, he was true to his religious vocation, a serious student. At the age of twenty-three, in August, 1910, he lay prostrate at the Cathedral of Venevento as Archbishop Paolo Schinosi ordained him priest. Four days later, August 14, 1910, Padre Pio said his first Mass at the parish church of Our Lady of the Angels, and we can only imagine that keeping him company that day was Our Lord, His Blessed Mother, and all the angels and saints of Heaven, particularly his seraphic father, St. Francis of Assisi.
Less than a month later, on September 7, 1910, as Padre Pio was praying in the Piana Romana, Jesus and Mary appeared to him. At this time he was given the wounds of Christ-the Stigmata. To say the least, this caused a great stir in the friary, and in the town. The doctors came to examine him. They had no scientific explanation for what appeared before them in the person of Padre Pio. The age of rationalism was alive and thriving at that time, and when there was no rational way to explain this young priest's stigmata, confusion abounded throughout the friary. Padre Pio, recognizing the stir and its inherent confusion, humbly knelt in prayer and asked Jesus to take away the visible stigmata. He prayed, "I do want to suffer, even to die of suffering, but all in secret." Jesus heeded the humble request. The visible stigmata disappeared.
This, of course, was not the end of the mystical life for Padre Pio. It was only one of many extraordinary gifts God would give to his servant throughout his lifetime. A year later, while at the friary, another brother and priest, Padre Agostino found Padre Pio in his room, in ecstasy, suffering the passion of Our Lord. Fearing that Padre Pio was about to die, Padre Agostino rushed to the chapel to pray for his friend. When he returned to Padre Pio's room, he found his friend awake, alert, and edifyingly happy.
However, throughout this time, Padre Pio's physical health was a matter of deep concern to the Capuchins. In an effort to help him, they sent him home in order to regain some of his health. Therefore, from 1911 to 1916, Padre Pio remained at home in Pietrelcina. He said daily Mass in the parish church, and taught in the local Catholic school. The people of his village loved him dearly, flocking to morning Mass eagerly and willingly. However, these were hard times and most had work to attend to, and families that needed them. They were a little more than upset when Padre Pio's Mass went on for over an hour, sometimes longer. The people complained to the pastor of the parish, saying that it was unfair that Mass should cause them to jeopardize their jobs, and the welfare of their families. The holy pastor never confronted Padre Pio with this dilemma. Instead, one day, he stood in the entrance of the Church as Padre Pio said morning Mass. At this time, the pastor sent a mental command to Padre Pio that his Mass was to last no longer than thirty minutes, and not a minute longer. Our Lord bowed to the frailties of human nature and need, and Padre Pio's Mass henceforth in his home town would last only 30 minutes. Never did it last longer, so great is God's love for His people, and His desire to feed them with His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
By September, 1916, Padre Pio's health was improved enough to permit him to return to community life with his fellow friars. He was assigned to San Giovanni Rotondo, an agricultural community set in a monastery in the Gargano Mountains in the southeastern second of Italy above the heel. The Friary was called Our Lady of Grace, and it was here that Padre Pio was to spend the rest of his earthly life. At the time of his arrival, there were only six other friars.
World War I was ravaging Europe, and the friars at Our Lady of Grace were not left out of the fray. Shortly after Padre Pio's arrival, three of the friars were summoned into service for their country. This left Padre Pio teaching in the seminary and giving spiritual direction not only to the seminarians, but to those who came to the friary seeking help. This was the life to which God had called him, and he flourished. However, more hardship was to come, for another friar was called into service, and Padre Pio was placed in charge of the college. His precious free time was cut to the quick, but he never uttered a complaint. Never was he heard to grumble, not even when, in August, 1917, Padre Pio himself was conscripted into the military. He was assigned to the 4th Platoon of the 100th Company of the Italian Medical Corps. Eager to help his fellow men, Padre Pio was nevertheless at a loss in this atmosphere. He soon fell ill, winding up in the hospital by October, 1917. However, he was not discharged from the military. He remained in the unit until his discharge in March, 1918. He immediately returned to San Giovanni Rotondo.
Once again he resumed his duties as teacher and spiritual director. He was quick to apply his own motto to those who sought him out: "Pray, Hope and Don't Worry!" No matter what happened to him, Padre Pio always lived in accord with Our Lord's own Prayer to His Father: "Thy Will Be Done!" As World War I progressed, Pope Benedict XI urged all Christians to pray for an end to the War. On July 27, 1918, Padre Pio offered himself as a victim for the end of the war. Then, between August 5-7, Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ appeared. He pierced the side of Padre Pio with a wound - a wound of love. Now, Padre Pio had a visible wound in his side, a sign to the world of the union he had with God. Only a few weeks later, Padre Pio was in prayer of thanksgiving in the choir loft at San Giovanni Rotondo, when Our Lord appeared to him again. This time He appeared as the Crucified Savior, and when the ecstasy was over Padre Pio bore the visible stigmata that Our Lord had so graciously removed just eight years before. He would bear this blessed stigmata for the remainder of his earthly life, another fifty years.
In less than a year word of this holy, saintly priest, who bore the wounds of our Crucified Savior, spread throughout the land, extending beyond the area of San Giovanni Rotondo to the outside world. Countless physicians examined Padre Pio then, and over the remainder of his life. Padre Pio bore with these scientific, medical examinations, answering the same questions with holy patience, never once losing his own communion with God. It is important to note that Padre Pio, while always obedient and charitable, knew when someone was there to trick him, to trip him up so to speak, as there were those who tried to do the same with Our Lord. Then, he could speak very harshly, but always truthfully, and those who came with ill-intent to tend to him, or ask his guidance, were set on the path of truth for the Love of God. To do less would have been uncharitable for this holy priest who was to draw souls back to God in ever increasing numbers. To the scientific world of the early twentieth century Padre Pio represented confusion. His visible wounds could not be explained. Padre Pio stood out as one who defied rationalism, and this, too, was the grace of God at work, waking the world from its slumber once again, telling His people that He, God, was in charge, and no amount of rationalism could ever explain away God, no matter how sophisticated people thought of themselves. The simple life of Padre Pio was, in reality, the straw that broke the camel's back, for in and of himself, he brought to a world that hid behind microscope, radio waves, guns and peace treaties, the fullness of God's love for His people.
Satan was angry at this display of God's awesome gifts. Rumors sprang up, rumors with teeth to destroy that which God had planned. Padre Pio's life, his character, his stigmata were brought under such scrutiny that his very patience was tried and tested. The rumors made their way to Rome. There were individuals within the hierarchy of Holy Mother Church who, for reasons known to God alone, sought the destruction of Padre Pio. These people spoke long and hard against him to the Pope. What they said we can well imagine, but the Holy Father, who placed trust in these so-called learned men, acted upon their information. Padre Pio was told to cease and desist. The censor of Padre Pio's activities began with having the times he said daily Mass changed constantly to exhaust the patience of those who traveled to the friary just for this occasion. Then, he was denied the privilege and grace to hear confessions, to preach, to teach, to give any spiritual direction. He was ordered not to answer any correspondence from any person who sought his guidance. Then, he was ordered to say Mass privately, in his own room. All of this, and much more, must have been a terrible cross for Padre Pio to bear, but bear it he did, and in silent, loving obedience. He knew that in the end God's plan would win through, and that no one person, or a group of them, could hold back the hand of God. Much of this censorship happened between the years of 1924 to 1931 during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI. Then, by early 1933 Pius XI ordered the Holy See to reverse its ban on Padre Pio's public celebration of Mass, saying: "I have not been badly disposed toward Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed."
Thus, Padre Pio's faculties as priest were gradually restored. First, he was permitted to hear the confessions of only men. This was in March 25, 1934. By May 12, 1934 he was permitted to hear the confessions of women. The Capuchin Minister General granted him permission to preach, honoris cuasa, allowing Padre Pio to preach several times a year. In 1939 Pius XII was elected Pope. This holy Pontiff encouraged people to visit Padre Pio. This opened the floodgates for the Glory of God to shine forth to all His people through this humble, obedient servant, Padre Pio, who proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that obedience bears the greatest fruits. Those fruits would be manifested from that time on as you'll see in section two.
Europe was in the throes of World War II, and the economic struggles were legion. This did not daunt Padre Pio's goals in any way. He prayed, hoped, and threw worry to the winds for absolute trust in God was everything to him. He truly believed one could move mountains if their faith was strong enough. When the war ended, a British humanitarian, Barbara Ward, came to San Giovanni Rotondo to write a paper on post-war reconstruction. She attended Padre Pio's Mass, then heard from the doctors of his plan to build a Home to Relieve Suffering. Through her help, a grant was made from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), so that the Home could be build. Padre Pio made sure that the grant was put to the exact purpose for which it was intended. He never wasted a single penny on speculation. When God ordered, God also gave, and the monies that flowed into the project, which came through the hands of Padre Pio, never touched his heart, mind or soul. These funds were for his fellow men - just as Christ Himself gave to the poor, remaining poor throughout his life.
On May 5, 1956 the "Home to Relieve Suffering" opened its doors. By 1957, Padre Pio announced plans to build a medical and religious center where doctors and interns could further their medical studies and Christian information. This was a remarkable undertaking in a world that now had the atom bomb, television, and new technology being developed every day. Because Padre Pio's reputation was now international, a new, larger church had to be built. This was also accomplished, and the pilgrims who came now had a church, a medical center, and proper housing for their stay. It was a forerunner of many other secular projects that would follow such as McDonald's House established by Ray and Joan Kroc. None of the success of the medical center in San Giovanni Rotundo affected the humble Capuchin priest, who remained ever in conversation with God, and who never deviated from the Capuchin schedule, which was difficult in itself. To this, Padre Pio, nourished by the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, slept barely two hours each day, the remainder of his time being spent in prayer, and the service of others. The friary was now a busy place, where a number of Padre Pio's fellow friars took over the massive amount of correspondence, realizing just how vital it was to answer those many pieces of mail, for each one represented a soul to be saved. Also, there were numerable confessions to be heard, and the Capuchin priests were there, beside Padre Pio, to hear confession, to bring reconciliation to countless souls. From Padre Pio his fellow brothers and priests, plus many visitors, all learned the true meaning of being a shepherd in the way of Christ, the Good Shepherd. Never did Padre Pio become lost in the limelight of the public outcry for his help. His Poverty remained perfect, despite the huge sums of money generated by his cry to build the "Home to Relieve Suffering," and later for a medical and religious center, not to mention the large, new church at the friary. The training of seminarians, religious, and doctors brought a new respect for God's creation of life for it brought into education the truth about God, the importance of God in their work.
Padre Pio was sustained throughout his life by very little food. His only true food was the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As mentioned earlier, he took no more than one ounce of food daily, for it was Our Lord Who ceaselessly fed him, and he maintained his weight despite the constant, daily blood loss, the long hours of prayer, contemplation, the Mass, and his ecstasies, and battles with satan, all of which took a toll on his physical body.
His daily schedule as a Capuchin Friar is interesting to note, for it clearly shows his union with Christ, and the awesome graces given to him. Only God can work the extraordinary in the frail human body. Padre Pio arose at 3:00 am each morning to spend several hours in prayer and preparation for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He would not say Mass before 5:00 am. How many of us groan and moan if Mass is at an early hour, and we have to leave the comfort and warmth of our beds. How few of us, in this age when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a rare practice in the early morning, prepare well through examination of conscience, prayers of preparations, acts of faith, hope, and charity? But Padre Pio did this, and he did it not only for himself, but as a victim for all of mankind. At 5:00 am he said Mass, lasting up to two hours, his body exhausted after each Mass for during that time, satan assaulted him, and he lived the reality of the Infinite Sacrifice of Jesus Christ during His Passion and Death on the Cross. After Mass he made his lengthy thanksgiving in the choir loft at Our Lady of Grace Friary, never foregoing this practice despite the demands of the many pilgrims who came each day. Shortly after 7:00 am, when most of us are just getting up, Padre Pio was blessing the pilgrims, greeting some of them, and settling into the Confessional, where he remained hearing confessions until approximately 11:30 am. Then, he took a short break, going into the garden of the friary for meditation with Our Lord. This was the real rest that he needed. He took lunch with his community at noon, and spent another ten or fifteen minutes in the garden afterward, again in easy conversation with God. He would then go to his room to lie down for a very short time. He arose, said the rosary, and attended community prayer with the other friars in the chapel. He then went to the choir loft, where he was in prayer and contemplation of God, often in ecstasy during this time. After he had made his prayer, he worked on his correspondence until 4:30 pm. It is clear that throughout the day the Holy Spirit guided his every step, thought and deed, for there are numerous letters that have survived, which testify to his spiritual direction, his humility, love and compassion for all of mankind, and the volume of responsibilities he took on can only be attributed to the intervention of the Holy Spirit, for Padre Pio had precious free time to answer the tons of mail received every day. Vespers was at 4:30, followed by Benediction. Again, he would retire to the friary garden for ten or fifteen to converse with Our Lord. Padre Pio took the evening meal of juice and a cracker with his community. By 1950 he was sustained on only an ounce of food per day. When sundown came, he would bless all the pilgrims from the choir loft window. His evening was spent conferring with priests. Occasionally he gave a talk in the town. Most often, he worked on his correspondence. Late in the evening Padre Pio joined his fellow friars to recite Compline, the great Night Office of Holy Mother Church. While the rest of the community went to their rest, Padre Pio remained awake and alert. He read the Bible and meditated. He went every night to visit Padre Agostino's blessing before he went to his own room. Again, he spent his time reading the Bible and praying until 12:45 am when it was time for Matins with the friars in chapel. By 1:30 am he laid down to take some rest, but he was awake and up for preparations for the next day by 3:00, often asking the friars who tended him if it was time yet for Mass. Padre Pio lived for the Mass. He was, as some of his biographers have said, so united to Christ, that the Mass was the most important thing in his Life, for in the Mass the Ultimate Sacrifice, the Most Pure Victim, was joined ever so closely with Padre Pio's own heart.
The rule of St. Francis of Assisi, as written in 1223, states that: "The rule and life of the friars minor is this, to follow the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, with no possessions of their own and in chastity." A biographer, Gerardo Di Flumeri wrote: "Padre Pio lived continuously and heroically all these things, from the morning of his profession (22 January 1904) to the night of his death (23 September 1968)." Flumeri's book, Voice of Padre Pio, January, 1997, may be obtained by writing to: Friary of Our Lady of Grace, 71013 San Giovanni Rotondo, (FG), Italy. A newsletter about Padre Pio is also available by writing to The National Center for Padre Pio, 2213 Old Route 100, Parto, Pa 19504.
The perfection of Padre Pio's life, his consuming desire for perfect union with Christ, is clearly stated in a letter written to a spiritual daughter, dated November 22, 1922. Padre Pio writes: "Therefore, speak to Him for me, that He might grant me the grace of making me a less unworthy son of Saint Francis, so that I can be an example to my confreres, in order that fervor may continue to grow more and more within me,making me a perfect Capuchin."