San Giovanni Rotondo
San Giovanni Rotondo [sometimes spelled Rotundo] is situated on the side of Mount Gargano near Monte Santangelo approximately twenty-five miles from Foggia. The monastery, named after Our Lady of Grace, is a mile outside of the town and originally it could be reached only by a narrow, rocky path, which lent to its seclusion. The monastery was built by the Capuchins in the early sixteenth century. At that time a man named Camillus was converted there after a brief sojourn. He went on to found a new religious order and then became Saint Camillus, known as the Father of the Red Cross. Saint Camillus de Lellis and Padre Pio have the same birthday, May 25. When Padre Pio came in 1916, the place had changed very little in all that time. The church of Our Lady of Grace was joined to the two-story monastery, through which ran long, bare corridors of white-washed walls leading to ten unheated cells of a few furnishings---the bare necessities. This was in keeping with the Capuchin simplicity and obedience to the rule.
Young Padre Pio was happy to be there and the mountain air agreed with his health. According to Father Carty, in the book, Padre Pio, the Stigmatist, a typical day began around 3:30 AM, after only three to four hours of sleep; The Saint's routine consisted of daily Mass, hearing Confessions, directing his spiritual children, community prayers, private prayer and meditation, a short recreation period, receiving visitors and one frugal meal of mainly vegetables and bread and some wine and the rare serving of eggs or fish. This repast was at noontime.
Most of his priestly life was spent in the confessional; Father Andrew Apostoli of EWTN said that Padre Pio would be in the confessional as much as seventeen hours a day. His Mass, (which was always the Latin Tridentine Mass, having been given permission after Vatican II as related in From the Housetops) would last at least an hour and a half. The same magazine says that "From Vespers on, he would kneel in solitude. Because of his generosity and wisdom in the confessional, his reputation for holiness began to grow, drawing people from all over Europe seeking spiritual advice or healing. Crowds would flock to the monastery at San Giovanni Rotondo just to hear Padre Pio's Mass. In all kinds of weather, even if they had to shovel their own path to the monastery, the people would arrive as early as two in the morning and form a more or less orderly line (usually less) to get a good seat in the church." [pp. 6-7]
His teaching regarding Mass was, "If you want to assist at Holy Mass with devotion, and fruitfully, keep company with the Sorrowful Virgin at the foot of the Cross on Calvary." It was remarked by many that when Padre Pio united himself with Christ at the altar, "the beauty of his face revealed his adoration of our Crucified Lord. His every move, every gesture was slow and deliberate." During the Memento, the first word that begins the commemoration of the living and the dead he would have a deep, very intense gaze that lasted for at least fifteen minutes as he remembered those intentions.
As Father Apostoli has indicated, Padre Pio was devoted to saving sinners in the Sacrament of Penance. Father Apostoli told his audience that when St. John Vianney was sent to Ars in France, that he was told he would have little to do as the people were not devout. But as many as ten trains a day would leave for Ars, filled with penitents to have that great Saint hear their Confessions. I imagine it was the same with Padre Pio. There were long lines, crowds actually, so large that the friars devised a number system; one could wait as long as ten days for one's number to be called. Ten trains, ten days! I apologize for not having the date of the program. Father has a way of phrasing things that touch the heart, so much so, that his exact words become etched in the mind, all the while one is lost to one's surroundings, which include the particulars about the program. This is why it is not listed under sources. If I were to picture Padre Pio teaching on television I guess he would sound very much like Father Apostoli and in the way he used his hands to convey expression, although Father, while he is a Franciscan, Frairs of the Renewal, he is not a Capuchin. Instead of brown his habit is gray.
But he was not without a sense of humor. His conversation was laced with light-hearted comments and when his friends spoke of him they smiled in affectionate reminiscence of how much he made them laugh. Father Carty puts it this way: "Humor is an indescribable gift, it brings light into the most drab surroundings, it fills everyone with a sense of well-being, a feeling that after all, things can't be so bad, one can still laugh! Padre Pio's quips are impossible to translate since they are expressed in the homely vernacular and are often a play on words. He is never unkind, but he often brings people up with a round turn when he neatly points out to them the folly of their ways or the confusion of their thinking." [Padre Pio, the Stigmatist, p. 18.]
Padre Pio could have been worn out alone by the volume of letters he received, sometimes 600 a day, and this was when he was old.
Here he was in a secluded monastery, by design, and he was without much argument, the most sought after priest of his time. I have provided a synopsis of what a typical day was like and will end this chapter now, simply because the heart and soul of each and every one of his days at San Giovanni are contained in the rest of this presentation.