My dry cleaner dropped off a relic of Padre Pio along with our newly cleaned clothes. “He’s a very powerful intercessor,” Curt said.
Having only recently returned to the Catholic Church from evangelical Christianity, I knew very little about saints. To be honest, I still wasn’t quite sure about the whole “praying to the saints” thing.
Noting that Padre Pio (now St. Pius of Petrelcina) was the first priest in the Church’s history to bear the visible Stigmata or wounds of Christ, as well as the fact that he shared a birthday with my then-husband Bernie, I challenged him to become a special intercessor to secure Bernie’s conversion. Then I did what any good Catholic wife would do: I put the relic Curt had given me under Bernie’s side of the mattress and prayed for his intercession to awaken my husband spiritually.
This continued for the next two decades.
Fast-forward to 2008: We were in serious trouble as a family, and Bernie was in deep trouble personally and spiritually. Taking a trip to Rome that summer, I decided to visit Padre Pio’s shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo to pray for my spouse before the newly exhumed, incorrupt body of the now canonized saint. I arrived there on Father’s Day, which also happened to be the anniversary of Pio’s canonization seven years earlier.
I spent the entire day there in prayer for Bernie, having a Mass offered for him and participating in a Marian procession around the grounds of the monastery alongside hundreds of other pilgrims who had gathered to pray. It was an incredibly powerful, holy day, the highlight of which was kneeling before St. Pius’ perfectly beautiful and intact body to beg for Bernie’s conversion, as the Capuchin priest, who had died in 1968, appeared to lay serenely asleep.
Mere months later, Bernie suffered the “widow maker” — a heart attack that generally kills its victim in less than three minutes. He barely survived it, then lay comatose and in multiple organ failure in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of a nearby hospital for eighty-seven incredibly painful, yet precious, days.
One horrific night the doctors shocked Bernie’s heart three times to keep him alive. As they fought to save his life, I became convinced that Bernie had died and met God and I strongly sensed Padre Pio’s presence in that hospital room, interceding for him.
Bernie awoke from a coma six weeks later to tell me that he had indeed “died” and gone to heaven to meet God. He had seen with great clarity the condition of his soul—his self-described divided heart—and God told him he was not permitted to enter Heaven.
He was sent back to “make amends for his life,” and spent the last six weeks of his earthly life indescribably sick, yet peacefully enjoying what he called “fellowship” with the God of unspeakable love and mercy that he had come to know personally on the other side. Bernie’s death was nothing less than majestic and holy, and I carry the relic of St. Pio with me to this day to pray for his intercession.
St. Pius of Pietrelcina, pray for us!
She tells the whole story of St. Pius and her husband in her book Miracle Man. “St. Pio and the Widow-Maker” is a shortened version of Did Padre Pio’s intercession save my dying husband’s soul?, published by Aleteia.