September 23 – Adomnán of Iona; Padre Pio

Adamnan of Iona (ca. 627–704) (aka Adomnán) was a distant cousin of Columba (Jun 9) (for certain values of “distant”—we’re talking a few hundred years). He was born in Raphoe, County Donegal, Ulster, and became abbot of Iona*, after monking around either here or there (the experts are in a dither). We are told that through his son he is ancestor to the kings of Cenél Conaill, but we are not told when he managed to beget said son, and our sources are silent about anything that might have happened between his own begetting and his tonsure. Moving quickly on….

He often visited Northumbria, befriending its quondam king Aldfrid, and after an internecine war therein he obtained release of the Gaels (Irish) captured in the conflict (friends in high places are highly recommended). He later produced and promulgated the Canon of Adamnan, also called the “Innocents Law,” which forbade making military use of non-combatants. (Admittedly, it has not been strictly adhered to in the years since.) He also wrote the best and most reliable biography of Columba, and was instrumental in bringing the fight over the dating of Easter to Iona, causing a temporary schism there. (They took dating seriously back then, unlike kids nowadays.) For the record, Bede* says other things about Adamnan, but our sources say nobody (sober) believes them anymore. Adamnan died in peace at the abbey, and his relics were schlepped about to various “peacemaking conferences,” only to be ultimately destroyed by the Vikings, who should be ashamed.

Padre Pio (1887–1968) desired to be a monk at age ten, but the Capuchins demanded he augment his education. To pay for it, his father went to America to work, sending the tuition money back to Italy. Pio entered the novitiate at 15, taking the name “Pio,” Italian for “Pope Saint Pius V,” the patron of his hometown. Sickly from his youth, he was moved from climate to climate by his doctors, but nothing worked, so he settled down at the Capuchin friary* in San Giovanni Rotondo (“Rotund St. John”) for life, minus time spent in the Italian medical corps in the Great War (from which he was sent home as medically unfit to serve).

At age 23 he was priestified and became a spiritual director, leading his spiritual directees with five simple rules: weekly confession, daily communion, spiritual reading, meditation, and examination of conscience. He called Christians to recognize God in all things, seek above all else to do the will of God, and, in his own words, “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.” (Actually his words were in Italian.) This motto led to the designation “Don’t Worry Be Happy Day” being assigned, by a Catholic agency in London, to the Monday closest to January 22 (“scientifically” determined to be the most depressing day of the year, at least in London). (In 2007. I am absolutely not fooling about this. Truth is funnier than fiction.) But back to our story.

Pio had visions of his guardian angel, our Lord, our Lady, and others (including, I am sorry to say, naked dancing girls). Some were real, and some were Satan in disguise, but Pio could distinguish them, since only the real visions brought him joy. In his twenties he got pains and red marks in his palms which confused and terrified him. He had other ecstatic wounds as well, and wore fingerless gloves to hide his palms, but still grew famous as “the stigmatic friar.”

He was denounced as a charlatan by many, both within and without the Church. In the late 1920s the Vatican issued statements denying that miracles associated with the padre (stigmata, bilocation, levitation, etc.) were of divine origin. For a time he was even prohibited from serving Mass. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that all the accusations were finally dismissed. After a particularly rigorous investigation, he was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.