The well-known Padre Pio devotee, Tom Cooney, who was blessed by the saint in Italy in the mid-1960s and later organised pilgrimages to his monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo, is featured in a new book by bestselling author Colm Keane.
Tom, who is a centenarian and lives in Killaloe, was introduced to the stigmatised friar during a semi-private visit in 1965.
At the time, the future saint who bore the “five wounds of Christ” for 50 years was close to 80 years old. “He stayed with us for about eight to ten minutes,” Tom recalls in the book, Padre Pio: Irish Encounters with the Saint.
“He was dressed as a Capuchin friar. His hair was grey, as you’d see in the photos, magazines and books now. He couldn’t speak English but he understood it. There was a great feeling of holiness there.
“He walked past each one of us. Everybody touched his habit. I was the only one he handed the wounded hand to, to kiss. I didn’t say anything to him; I was just thanking God to be in the one room with him. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
In the following years, Tom organised numerous pilgrimages to San Giovanni Rotondo and blessed thousands of people in Ireland with relics of the future saint. His most treasured relic – a Padre Pio mitten given to him in 1968 by Fr. Alessio, one of the friar’s close friends and assistants – he eventually donated to Killaloe Church, where it is on permanent display.
Even today, more than 50 years later, he hasn’t forgotten that day in 1965 when he was blessed by Padre Pio and kissed his wounded hand.
“I just thought it was wonderful to be in the one room with him,” Tom concluded. “It was the very same as if one was above in heaven. It was great to meet him in person, to be blessed by him and to kiss his hand. It was a great honour. He was an amazing man. I really couldn’t have asked for more.”
Padre Pio: Irish Encounters with the Saint features stories told by more than 50 Irish people who knew, met or witnessed him. It includes accounts of the friar’s stigmata, powers of bilocation and ability to read people’s minds.
The Italian saint’s views of women, new fashions and even his interest in football are outlined. Among those who visited the stigmatic, and whose stories are in the book, are an Irish organiser of The Great Escape in World War II, a wartime spymaster living in Donegal, two adulterous authors, and a Vatican diplomat from Dublin who investigated the famous Capuchin at his monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo.
Colm Keane has published 26 books, including six No.1 bestsellers, among them Going Home, We’ll Meet Again and Heading for the Light. He has written two previous No.1 bestsellers on Padre Pio.