Poverty was the norm in southern Italy at the end of the 19th century. While the north was becoming more modern and industrialized, the south—the Mezzogiorno—remained an agricultural society. Most of the populace were poor, landless farm workers.
Orazio and Giuseppa Forgione and their family, like so many others of the town of Pietrelcina in the Campania region, were impoverished. They were slightly better off than some, since they owned and farmed their own tiny bit of land rather than working someone else’s. The children of the town went to school at night—for the mere three years of public school available in Pietrelcina—so they could assist their parents with work during the day. Though illiterate themselves, the Forgiones provided for their children’s education as best they could.
Orazio and Giuseppa were deeply pious and instilled in their children a great love for Our Lord, the Madonna, and the saints. The Forgiones went to church daily and prayed the Rosary together every evening, the neighbors sometimes calling them the “God-is-Everything Family.”
They owned a property in town, a few modest stone buildings, at 27-28 Vico Storto Valle in the Castle District—so named because it had developed around the old castle. They also had a cottage near their little farm, which was situated outside town in an area called the Piana Romana. In the winter they would travel out to the fields from town; in the summer they would reside at the cottage.
It was a poor life but a happy one, and when little Francesco Forgione grew up and became Padre Pio, he looked back on it fondly. On summer nights, his family would congregate with the neighbors, singing together in the moonlight and eating macaroni. Padre Pio later said that he and his siblings “roamed as little kings in a kingdom without confines, whose only law was that of the Good Creation.”
He loved the Piana Romana so much that, when he contracted an infection as a child and was thought to be near death, he asked to be taken there so he could see it one more time.
The early life of Padre Pio makes for a fascinating read. For example, do you know the enormous sacrifice his father made to pay for the private education Francesco needed to become a priest? And what was it about a visiting Capuchin friar that so fascinated Francesco it made him want to be a Capuchin, too? Learn all about the life of this beloved 20th-century saint in Padre Pio: The True Story. Available right here at The Catholic Company!