St Padre Pio, the Italian saint who died on September 23, 1968, has inspired many around the world and drawn them to prayer, including one group of devoted followers at Wynnum on Brisbane’s bayside. Journalist PAUL DOBBYN has witnessed their fervour
WYNNUM’S Guardian Angels Padre Pio prayer group has long claimed an extra reason for fervent thanks to the Capuchin St Pio of Pietrelcina – what members believe to be the miraculous cure from lung cancer of a relative of one of the founders.
However, this is really only “the icing on the cake” as inaugural member Von Davey explained.
Indeed chronologically the cure could be seen as part of the cake itself as it happened in 2001 before the group was formed … and before Padre Pio’s canonisation.
“The group as it stands today is very united, more like a family really,” Von said.
“Our devotion to Padre Pio links us very closely together and we support each other through life’s difficulties and share each other’s joys as well.”
At the heart of this nearly 20-strong “family” is a family, Von said.
Von and her brother Denis being from Wynnum are regulars in the eight-year-old prayer group, with brothers Kevin from Brighton, Pat from Kilcoy and Kevin’s daughter Cathy from Wavell Heights attending when possible.
Von’s late cousin Eileen Harnett started the prayer group in her Wynnum home in 2003 with fellow parishioner Patrick Hayes within a year of Padre Pio’s canonisation.
Twelve people initially met once a month, with Capuchin Father Francis Merlino as spiritual director.
Monthly meetings later moved to the St Joseph the Worker Church at Hemmant and included Mass.
A special annual Mass on the Saturday closest to Padre Pio’s feast day on September 23 quickly became a tradition.
Fr Merlino was also able to locate a relic from a glove Padre Pio wore to cover his stigmata.
This relic and a picture of the saint are displayed in Guardian Angels’ Church at prayer meetings which have been held there since early last year. The prayer group was officially constituted in August 2005.
Eileen had a great interest in Padre Pio long before his beatification after which her devotion only intensified, Von said.
Mrs Harnett’s devotion inspired her non-Catholic daughter-in-law Daphney Harnett. Possibly this belief saved Daphney’s life.
When I attended the Padre Pio prayer group in February, Von mentioned she had Eileen’s notes on Daphney’s healing which she would get to me as soon as possible.
The prayer meeting, held as always on the evening of the third Monday of the month, opened with mention of special intentions of members followed by Rosary.
Capuchin Father John Spiteri then led Mass which included a homily and a hymn reflecting Padre Pio’s Franciscan spirituality.
Several days after the Padre Pio prayer meeting, I received Eileen’s notes.
The awareness that Eileen was now dead made it seem as though she was relating the story from beyond the grave.
Eileen opened her comments on Daphney’s apparently miraculous healing with the words: “This is my testimony about a special event in our lives.
“About the 4th of September 2001 my daughter-in-law Daphney Harnett was diagnosed with lung cancer.”
Eileen then went on to speak about Daphney’s belief in Padre Pio’s sanctity, a belief displayed some years before her diagnosis of lung cancer.
This faith was not as strongly held by Eileen’s son, Bob, to whom Daphney was married.
“Bob and I were talking about Padre Pio’s bi-location (the ability to be in more than one place at once),” Eileen writes.
“I was having a little friendly argument with Bob about this very special gift of the Padre when Daphney (who was making coffee in the kitchen) came storming out and declared: ‘It’s true! I read about it in Reader’s Digest!’
“There was no further argument.”
Eileen went on to describe the shock felt by Daphney some years later when, in Western Australia with Bob, she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
She related how her daughter-in-law had half a lung removed in an operation at Perth’s St John of God Hospital and how Padre Pio “made himself known there”
not only to Daphney but also to another daughter-in-law Lynn Hogan.
Testimonies from both Daphney and Lynn continued the story.
Daphney wrote of approaching her operation “with a prayer card, medals of Padre Pio and Our Lady and some holy water from Lourdes”.
She also described “a feeling of being watched over” during her ordeal and of having the sensation for several days of “the weight of someone sitting on my bed”.
Daphney also mentioned receiving a phone call from Eileen saying that on the day of her operation she received in the mail a pamphlet on Padre Pio being recognised for curing a woman of lung cancer who had prayed to him.
Lynn in her testimony described how Daphney on about six occasions while in hospital recovering from the operation was convinced that there was someone present.
“Daphney looked over my shoulder and asked me who was standing with me.
“I said ‘No one’.
“After she said the same thing on five or six occasions, I realised that she was not ‘out of it’ but that she really had a clear picture of someone standing beside me.
“At that time a wonderful feeling came over me and I knew that there was someone beside me watching over her.
“Because of Daph’s belief in Padre Pio, I knew in my heart that it was he who was watching over her.”
In February 2002, four months after the operation, Daphney was well enough to be driven by husband Bob back to Wynnum from Perth.
At the Padre Pio prayer group the other week, Von was still clearly moved as she brought the story up to date.
“Daphney’s been travelling and is just back in Wynnum for a while and still going strong,” Von said.
The Guardian Angels’ next Padre Pio prayer group will be held tomorrow (March 15) starting at 7.30pm.
For information contact Von Davey on (07) 3396 8545.