(Photo by Dennis Callahan/Catholic San Francisco)
Franciscan Father Guglielmo “William” Lauriola, pastor emeritus of Immaculate Conception Church, San Francisco, draws inspiration from St. Pio of Pietrelcina, who died 45 years ago.
Local Franciscan recalls friendship of Padre Pio
May 1st, 2013
By Jim Graves
It is the 45th anniversary of the death of St. Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968), better known as Padre Pio. Last June, the church celebrated the 10th anniversary of his canonization by Blessed John Paul II. The Capuchin friar is a popular saint among many San Francisco Catholics, particularly among those of Italian descent.
Padre Pio was ordained a priest in 1910, and for 50 years bore the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. Although the padre did not preach sermons or write books, he was a popular confessor who drew throngs of pilgrims to his friary at San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy.
One who came to visit Padre Pio regularly and became his friend is Franciscan Father Guglielmo “William” Lauriola, 86, pastor emeritus of Immaculate Conception Church in San Francisco. Father grew up in Monte Sant’ Angelo, 16 miles east of San Giovanni Rotondo. A lay brother from the friary would come to his father’s store seeking donations for the community. The family began making regular bus trips to the friary in the 1930s. Father Willliam became a Franciscan and visited Padre Pio until his death in 1968.
Father William recently spoke with Catholic San Francisco about his friendship with St. Padre Pio.
What are your earliest memories of Padre Pio?
We started visiting San Giovanni Rotondo in 1932. We were always happy to go see him. I was a little boy of 5 or 6, and I’d go into the sacristy where he was hearing confessions and give a tug on the white cord around his habit to let him know we were there. He’d give me a gentle tap on the head. Even though he was a very busy person, he would make himself available to see you. He’d ask me questions like, “Guglielmo, do you love the Blessed Mother?”
I remember as a boy I was a bit scared by his stigmata. He’d tell me not to look at it. I was worried that it caused him a lot of pain. You could see the suffering on his face; it was almost visible. He seemed to particularly suffer on Fridays. I’d ask him, “Why do you have to suffer so much?” He’d tell me, “These wounds are to make up for my sins and the sins of others.” I told him that my uncle was a doctor, and I would ask my uncle for some medicine to help him. Padre Pio would say, “No, medicine won’t do any good.”
I remember going to Padre Pio’s funeral in 1968. I knelt before his body and prayed. I saw his hands and feet. They were clean, like the stigmata had never been there.
What do you remember about his Masses?
They were very devout, particularly during the consecration. He’d say the words of consecration very slowly: “Hoc … est … enim … corpus … meum.” As he elevated the host, his hand trembled a bit. I didn’t spend much time looking up during the consecration, however. When the bell rang, we’d bow our heads.
How did Padre Pio react to your decision to become a Franciscan?
I didn’t tell him at first, because I wasn’t sure if I’d go through with it. When I finally told him I was headed for the seminary, he said, “Oh, beautiful. I will pray for you.”
I was ordained a priest in 1953, and I’d go as often as possible to see him and ask him questions about my ministry. I told him I was going to be a missionary in Korea – I was there from 1957 to 1964 – and he said to me, “Remember, there is only one God.” I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. However, I came to understand. We missionaries go abroad and do good work helping people and can be tempted to pride, believing we are saints. Padre Pio was reminding me to give the glory to God.
I’d also call on Padre Pio for help, even when he was alive. I believe he heard me. One time, I was traveling in a small boat to an island off Korea. We were caught in a big storm, and I didn’t know if we’d survive. I started calling on Padre Pio to help us, and we made it. I think he knew I needed him.
And you’re still devoted to him today?
Oh, yes. I’ve been doing exorcisms in the archdiocese since 1970. I always pray to him, “Padre Pio, help make my faith in Jesus strong and help these people who are coming to me.” He helps me.
I love him very much. I am grateful for all he’s done for me. I tell everyone, if you need something, ask Padre Pio. He will help you.
From May 3, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.