The stories of four Donegal residents are included in a new book on Padre Pio featuring accounts by more than 50 Irish people who had contact with the famed stigmatic.
They include an Irish organiser of The Great Escape in World War II and a wartime spymaster, both of whom lived in Donegal, along with the story of former local politician from Donegal town, Christy “Egg” Gallagher.
The well-known Franciscan priest, Fr. Pius McLaughlin, who is based in Rossnowlagh, describes in the book a visit he made to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1967, where the future saint heard his confession.
“At that stage in his life, Padre Pio’s confessions were legendary,” author Colm Keane says.
“He would tell people their sins before they had a chance to speak. He would reveal details of their lives to penitents which would leave them flabbergasted and asking, ‘How could he have known?’”
In Fr. McLaughlin’s case, the famous stigmatic sensed there was an issue in his life he wasn’t revealing.
“I went in and I rattled off my Confession,” Fr. McLaughlin, who was then a Franciscan lay brother, recalled.
“There was a great silence. He followed it up by saying, ‘Would you like to discuss your problem, and what are you going to do about it?’ At that point I got very, very scared. I could feel myself breaking out into a sweat. I said, ‘I don’t have a problem.’ He said, ‘You do.’
“It dawned on me all of a sudden what he was talking about, which was that I had this notion that I would love to have been a priest. But I had no background educationally. I was a lay brother. It never had happened before that anyone went from that status to being a priest in the Irish province of the Order. He just said to me, ‘I advise you to pray fervently, speak to your superior, humbly ask for permission, trust in God and leave the rest to him.’”
Inspired by the advice, Fr. McLaughlin was eventually sent to America where he ended up with a Masters degree. He was ordained a Franciscan priest in 1973, later spending a long spell with the Franciscans in Dublin and then in Rossnowlagh. “That was the experience that transformed my life forever,” he concludes in the book.
Other Donegal people featured
Also featured are stories of the bomber pilot, Nicolas Tindal, who was a key organiser in World War II of what was eventually immortalised in the movie The Great Escape; former World War II spymaster, John McCaffery, who also settled in Donegal; and the popular local politician from Donegal town, Christy “Egg” Gallagher, who reported a strange visitation from Padre Pio shortly before he died in 1968.
“Padre Pio: Irish Encounters with the Saint” is written by Colm Keane, who has published 26 books, including six number one bestsellers, among them Going Home, We’ll Meet Again and Heading for the Light.
He has published two previous number one bestsellers on Padre Pio.