Unlike those of Jesus, Padre Pio's were all women.
Nina Campanile was one of the first of Padre Pio's spiritual daughters, not just in the order of time, but also in the height of her spirituality. Nina was a primary school teacher in San Giovanni Rotondo. She first met the Padre on October 5, 1916, only one month after he was assigned to the friary of Our Lady of Graces at San Giovanni. Although he had just arrived, and the stigmata were not to appear for another two years, his reputation for holiness was already spreading in the Puglia region of southern Italy.
World War One was raging, and Nina's younger brother had recently died at the front. Their mother was worried about his eternal fate, so she asked Nina to visit the “holy monk” to ask if he was saved. She did so, and the reply of the Padre was: “If the mercy of God depended on what you think, all men would be in hell. He is saved, yes, and in need of prayers.” In her diary, she wrote that her first impression of him was that he was entirely a supernatural being, “with a halo around his head,” because at that time she did not understand that before saints can be illuminated by the light of paradise, they first had to be truly human.
Once she had met him, she found it difficult to be away from his presence, and that initial meeting proved to be the beginning of many others, either in person or by letter, through which Padre Pio provided for her spiritual direction. He told her that he understood from their first encounter, that the Lord had sent her to him, and that much work would be required to form her soul in God. About that visit, Nina wrote: “He penetrated to the depths my soul, without my having spoken, such that I felt ashamed to be in his presence, and I did not dare to raise my eyes to look up at him, so much was the confusion that I felt.”
Twice a week, Thursday and Sunday, and often on other days, Nina came to see Padre Pio along with some of her teacher colleagues and other spiritual daughters. Conferences took place in the guest parlor in an informal, friendly atmosphere, where he taught the way of perfection, and spoke about the gospel. They would ask him about things they did not understand, and with paternal gentleness, he would resolve their difficulties and doubts, enlightening their minds.
He told Nina that it was his intention to form a few, good souls, so that they in turn would be the seeds sown in the bosom of the of the people. Whenever he talked to them one-on-one in private, he would not only be interested in their spiritual growth, but also showed an interest in their families, as if he were himself a family member wanting to know what was happening to his loved ones. If one of them were sick, he would inform them of any steps to be taken. “In this way this exquisite conquistador of souls captivated our faith, such that we manifested to him the most intimate fibers of our consciences; he sifted and directed our sentiments and our spirits, steering them towards the supreme ideal.”
Nina writes that there were twelve women who attended Padre Pio's conferences. In her memoirs she lists them as Rachelina Russo, the Ventrella sisters, Giovanna and Lucia Fiorentino, Lucia Campanile [Nina's sister], Maria and Antonietta Pompilio, Maria Ricciardi, Filomena Fini, and Maddalena Cascavilia. Padre Pio said that “Here it is not a question of personal acceptance. Souls are attracted as the Lord disposes.”
From the very first meetings, he taught that their spiritual progress hinged upon five basics. These were: weekly confession; daily Communion; spiritual reading; meditation; and nightly examination of conscience. At whatever the cost, he did not want them to neglect daily Communion, unless they had committed a mortal sin. In order to allay any doubts, he listened to all of their frequent fears and scruples about approaching the altar. He told them that they should abstain from Holy Communion only if they knew for certain they had sinned mortally. In this way he triumphed over their fears. Following the example of his twelve spiritual daughters, in a very short time the practice of daily Communion diffused itself throughout San Giovanni Rotondo.
|Maria Pompilio receiving Holy Communion from Padre Pio|
But the teaching of Padre Pio was not simply catechetical, he used various means to make them understand and penetrate the truth. In her initial years under the Padre's tutelage, he treated Nina in an exceptional way in comparison to the others – he treated her as if she were a little child. He often gave her very pretty holy cards and sacred objects, and gave her all the candy and sweets that his devotees had personally given to him. In her spiritual blindness, Nina thought that these gifts were a sign of her special predilection in the eyes of God and of the Padre. However, as time went on, she began to think about the poverty of Saint Francis of Assisi, and here she was eating sweets. She mentioned this to Padre Pio, who immediately responded, “That is why I don't eat them, and give them to you instead.” She replied, “Am I not also a daughter of St. Francis, so then why do you give them to me?” He answered in jest, “You are not the daughter of St. Francis [San Francesco], but of your dad, Don Francesco.” And they both laughed. But the wisdom of this little joke reached into her heart. And she considered it often, especially when the daughter of Don Francesco, who wished to be the daughter of St. Francis, had a great desire for sweets and candy.
God was in him in a supernatural manner the way that natural things are in us, and Nina cited many facts which demonstrated it. During the first year under her direction by the Padre, her mother was stricken with a very high fever. The doctors diagnosed double pneumonia, and the family was very concerned. When Padre Pio met with Nina, he asked how her mother was doing. She told him that the doctors were prescribing certain treatments for the pneumonia, including eight leeches [bloodsuckers – sanguisughe]. Padre Pio exclaimed that her illness was actually a severe case of malaria. A short time later, the diagnosis that Padre Pio had discerned supernaturally, was confirmed.
In February 1918 her sister had a terrible fall from a great height; she was in severe pain and lost consciousness. A doctor was urgently summoned, and he diagnosed that she had suffered serious internal bruises and her kidneys had become displaced – she would die before the night was over. Nina ran over to the friary through sleet and snow, to find Padre Pio, and he reassured her that “This is just God accosting her, she will soon be healed.” But that evening her sister was still lying unconscious on her bed. Nina called out to her loudly, shook her, even pinched her, but there was no response. All of a sudden the face of Nina's friend, who was also present, began to pale, as she announced, “The Padre is here.” It was bilocation.
Nina was stupefied, never having experienced anything like it before. “But the Padre is here?” she asked. “Yes, he is here in spirit.” “How is he dressed?” “Like a monk.” “If I reach out to touch him, can I feel anything? “No, because it is his spirit. See? He has come near your sister and said 'poor girl.' ” After about ten minutes her friend said, “Now, he has gone away.” Nina wanted to verify the reality of this event, and carefully noted that the time was 8:00 pm. She approached her sister's bedside, and once again called out to her. To Nina's surprise, she responded with a profound sigh, and said she was feeling much better. The next day Nina went to the friary, and when she saw the Padre she asked him point blank, “Padre, what time did you come to the house last night to see my sister?” “Around eight o'clock,” he replied. The proof was evident, and her sister was cured.
Nina's nephew was a medic serving on a hospital ship, and one day she heard that the ship was bombed. Fearful, she immediately approached the Padre and asked him about her nephew. He replied without hesitation, “Be calm, he was in port and not on the ship.” Later, she learned that this was in fact the case. Padre Pio could not have learned that her brother was safe by normal means, since she had asked him as soon as news came of the bombing.
Nina wrote that the stormy times in which we live have need of a “divinized being” on earth to give an example, comfort, sustain, and above all to support us through the raging and furious storms, to insure that if the body is lost, the soul will not be. The life of Padre Pio, like that of the Divine Master, is one of total sacrifice. He eats little, and sleeps even less. He prays, works, suffers. Forgetting himself, his life is dedicated to the cause of souls; he is open to everyone. He said, “If you do good to those who deserve it, what merit is there? It is necessary to know how to treat with the bad and with the good, in order to draw out the best in the one and in the other.”
Based primarily on Enrico Malatesta's La Vera Storia di Padre Pio, pp. 136-143. Additional information from Letters of Padre Pio, Vol III, pp. 949-950.
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