In a few weeks, Mary Levilain will leave her home in Oklahoma to travel to St. Cloud where she will take her 91-year-old mother, Lorraine Mohs, to see relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina.
The relics will be on display from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. The local stop is part of a historic U.S. tour commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death. Better known as Padre Pio, the saint died in 1968 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
Padre Pio has been a part of Levilain’s life for as long as she can remember. Her father, Bob Mohs, met the saint while stationed in Italy in 1944 during World War II. Bob, who grew up on the east side of St. Cloud, served as a sergeant in the Army Air Force as a turret and gunsight specialist with the 484th Bomb Group, 826th Bomb Squadron. He arrived in Bari, Italy, on Holy Saturday 1944 and left Italy in June 1945.
“Dad frequently spoke of Padre Pio while I was growing up and throughout his life, actually,” Levilain recalled. “Padre Pio was always someone we prayed to, even while he was still living, as Dad imparted to us strongly what a holy man and saint he was,” Levilain said.
While overseas, Bob’s friend, Joe Revelas, asked him to deliver an envelope to San Giovanni Rotondo, the city where Padre Pio lived in the Capuchin monastery from September 1916 until his death in September 1968.
Inside the envelope were miraculous medals given to Revelas by some religious sisters in Colorado where Revelas and Bob had trained. The sisters asked Revelas, if he ever got to Italy, to have the medals blessed by Padre Pio.
On a free day, Bob attempted to “hitchhike” the 25-mile trek to the monastery.
“As it turned out, I had to walk the 25 miles as rides were nil,” he wrote in his memoirs in 1995. “As the roads in the mountains were winding, I crossed from road to road. As I came to the outskirts of San Giovanni, one road led into town and the other to my left led straight to the monastery. The Stations of the Cross accompanied me on both sides of the road …
“Being wild, I knocked on the door of the monastery. A monk with a black beard and black glasses opened the door and said in broken English, ‘What do you want?’ Not being able to speak Italian, I handed him the envelope containing the medals. A message from the nuns was written on the envelope. The monk said, ‘You wait here.’ He left me waiting and in a while, he returned and said, ‘Come.’
“Like a little puppy, I followed him down a hallway to our left, then down a hallway to our right to a dead end. He said, ‘You wait here.’ He opened a door to our right and closed the door as he entered the room which I later realized was Padre Pio’s cell (room). In a little while he returned with two chairs and placed them in the hallway. Shortly, out walked Padre Pio. His hands were covered with fingerless gloves covering his wounds. He sat down on one chair and the monk who let me in, as interpreter, relayed Padre Pio’s message to me.
“Padre Pio said, ‘You were a sucker for your buddy as he was supposed to bring the envelope here.’ He opened the envelope and blessed the medals. Then he blessed some of his medals and gave them to me. He then said to me, ‘You walked up here, but you will not walk back.’ (How did he know that? I had not mentioned anything to anyone about that walk.) I thanked him and was led out of the monastery.
“As I headed to the road away from the monastery, to my right there came a jeep which stopped and asked if I wanted a ride to Foggia. ‘Yes, thank you,’ I said. The jeep dropped me off at Foggia and as I headed out of town an Army weapons carrier stopped and off [we went] to Cerignola. As I headed out of Cerignola, another weapons carrier stopped and took me right to my base. Wow! Thank you, Padre Pio,” he wrote.
Bob said as word of his experience spread through the camp, his commanding officer made arrangements for two weapons carriers to regularly take soldiers to Masses celebrated by Padre Pio.
“I recall kissing Padre Pio’s open wounds and the aroma of roses filled the air. I recall after kissing the wound on his hands the taste of blood filled my mouth. To have been blessed with such a rare privilege as this experience gives me chills as I write this and many times as I recall this blessing,” Bob wrote.
This experience left a lasting impression on Bob and planted a deep devotion to the saint not only in him, but also into the lives of his wife and their children. Bob and Lorraine had 15 children, three who lived only a short time.
“Because of Bob’s experience with Padre Pio, we automatically asked Padre Pio for help as we were going through difficult problems,” Lorraine Mohs remembered. “We had a large family and several of the children had health issues that caused them to be bullied, which wasn’t easy to accept. We prayed for good friends for them and always turned to Padre Pio for help to know what to do.
“Because of the personal association Bob had with Padre Pio, because of all the answered prayers both past and continuing to this day, it is important to me to view the relics and say thank you to the saint who has meant so much to our family,” she said.
Levilain shares her mother’s appreciation for the saint and is excited to come to St. Cloud to see the relics. She and her siblings recall how Lorraine, a member of St. Anthony Parish in St. Cloud, called upon Padre Pio when their father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and how just mentioning the saint’s name aloud seemed to bring him peace. Bob passed away in 2004.
“Seeing the relics will certainly bring home Dad’s stories in a very concrete way. We never doubted, always believed, but now to see the world also believes in the saint. It’s like, as a child, I didn’t know why everyone didn’t know who he was. My dad did, so everybody should,” she said.
Levilain has mementos around her home that remind her of the saint.
“On my desk, I have a piece of stone with his prayer, ‘Pray, hope and don’t worry. Trust in the infinite goodness of almighty God.’ This prayer is one we all have prayed for as long as I can remember,” she said.
Bishop Donald Kettler will celebrate a Mass in honor of St. Padre Pio at 7 p.m. (see box on page 1A). The relics for public veneration include St. Pio’s glove, crusts of his wounds, cotton-gauze with St. Pio’s blood stains, a lock of his hair, his mantle and his handkerchief, soaked with his sweat hours before he died.