At last Saturday’s Conference for the Sick and Suffering, the Catholic Key caught up with Mr. Anthony D’Andrea, a relative of St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), who gave us this exclusive interview:
How are you related to Padre Pio?
My grandfather Pasquale D ‘Andrea and his grandmother Felicita D ‘Andrea were brother and sister.
Did you ever have the privilege of meeting him?
No, He died in 1968 and at that time, my wife and I had six children so we couldn’t afford to go to Italy.
When did you first hear of your famous relative? What did he mean to your family?
We knew about him from early childhood. Padre Pio’s father came to America to earn money to pay for his education. One of the places he worked was Flushing, New York. When he got back to Pietrelcina people would ask, “Where did you find work, where did you stay?” So a small Italian enclave developed there in Flushing.
My own father brought my mother there in 1929. All their friends and neighbors would get together on Sundays to talk about the old country. Big problem: My mother was not Italian, and these people didn’t speak English. So, poor mom had to sit through many conversations in which she had no idea what was going on. On one occasion, she looked up on the mantel and saw a picture. She said to my father, “Giovanni, who is that man in the picture? It looks like a holy man.”
The woman of the house saw my mother pointing and figured out what was going on. She came over and in Italian, said, “Giovanni, you mean in all these years you’ve never told Emily about Padre Pio, how come?” Then my father told her about him and the stigmata. The woman of the house graciously took the picture off the mantelpiece and gave it to my mom. She brought it home, framed it, and put it up on the wall in the apartment where we lived. It’s been in our family ever since. In the early 1970’s she gave the picture to me.
That picture was taken somewhere between 1910 and 1916, and it has been in my family for over 80 years.
There are many stories about Padre Pio. He was a wonder worker, priest, confessor. Do you have any stories you’d like to share?
Well, I could tell you things that are miraculous, but to me his greatest gift was that he could “read” people and know how to advise them.
That’s why many people traveled all the way to San Giovanni Rotondo just to see him. If you’ve ever been there, you know that it was not an easy journey.
A woman once came to our prayer group and told her story. She had twin daughters and they were fine, but when they got to be around seven, one of the girls, Stephanie by name, started having multiple seizures. They brought her to doctors in New York and Boston but nobody knew how to help her. The doctors worked with the girl for five years and tried everything.
There was only one option left, and the doctors weren’t optimistic about it: Stephanie would have three surgeries, with the last one to remove 25% of Stephanie’s brain. In the meantime, the mother received a letter from a friend that said they were praying to Padre Pio for Stephanie. They enclosed a medal. The mother takes the medal to Stephanie.
Before the third surgery, the parents go downstairs for a cup of coffee. They get back, and Stephanie is sitting up in bed and there’s a pair of blue rosary beads sitting on the bed. The mother asks, “Stephanie, where did you get the beads?” and she answers, “The man brought them.” “A man? What man?” Stephanie explains, “I don’t know who he is but he has a beard and a long coat and he said that I’m going to be well.”
The mother asks the nurse who came to see her daughter. The nurse insisted that there was nobody there, she had been right outside the door the whole time.
Stephanie has the third surgery and she’s already talking as they wheel her out of surgery. She wants to go home, but they tell her she can’t go home because she just had all this surgery. Two days later she goes home and her mom holds up a card with the picture of Padre Pio and Stephanie jumps and says, “Mom, that’s the man who brought me the blue rosary beads!”
The beauty of this story is that even 25 years later, Stephanie has no deficit at all, even after losing 25% of her brain!
You’re here in KC for a conference and mass for the sick and the suffering. Some people may not realize that Padre Pio had quite a ministry to the sick and the suffering. Can you tell us a little about that?
Well, he had great compassion for people and it was his goal to start a hospital—more than a hospital, a place where the whole person would be taken care of. That’s why it became known as the House for the Relief of Suffering. He had concern for everyone. He got help from all over the world to build it, and it became a world-class facility.
You are the custodian of a very special relic of Padre Pio. What is it?
Well, it’s the locket of Mary Pyle [American friend of Padre Pio]. On one side is a picture of Padre Pio, and on the other side is the actual blood of Padre Pio.
Has anyone ever been able to determine how much Padre Pio ate and slept?
I’ve read in different books that he had very little to eat. He would just have a little pasta and bread. He would get up very early in the morning to pray before Mass. I don’t think he got much sleep, but I don’t know what time he went to bed. One noteworthy detail was how long his Mass would be. It could be three hours. He would go into ecstasy when he raised the host and it could go on for a long time. Sometimes the superior would say, “Padre Pio continue the Mass,” and then he would go on.
Do you have any stories from Padre Pio’s canonization?
I met one lady after the canonization who told me that Padre Pio had appeared to her twice and cured her of cancer. But she had a more recent story: She was in a car and she had a mitten containing blood from Padre Pio’s stigmata. She pressed it to her heart and told him about a man that she was serious about and considering marrying. She told him how much she wanted to do the right thing and that he must help her. They stopped at a traffic light and she looked across the street. There was the boyfriend coming out of the restaurant with another woman. So she got her answer in just two minutes!
What has it meant to you and your family to be related to a saint?
People ask me that but honestly, I just love him for who he is.
What do you think would be Padre Pio’s message to the people of Kansas City today?
My guess would be that he would want them to use their suffering for redemptive purposes, for souls, for their family, the world, the Church. One of his mottos was “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” Leave it to the Lord. Another saying of his was, “Do not doubt my assistance.” We should pray with confidence!