December 1, 2021 | Local News

A young man touches a rosary to a relic of St. Pio of Pietrelcina during a tour of the relics of the saint to St. Anthony Parish in Browns Valley on Nov. 20-21, 2021. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

‘Once in a lifetime’

St. Anthony Parish hosts relics of Padre Pio


When it comes to the Catholic Church’s tradition of relics – venerating the mortal remains of saints or objects that have been touched to saints’ bodies or personal items – Kevin Schwartz often thinks of St. Paul in Acts 19:11-12.

“So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them,” states the passage.

Schwartz was one of the volunteers who took turns standing guard by several relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina (often called “Padre Pio” for his fatherly guidance) when they were made available for public veneration at St. Anthony Parish in Browns Valley on Nov. 20-21, 2021.

Eunice Taylor cantors during the Nov. 21, 2021 Mass in the presence of the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, celebrated at St. Anthony Parish in Browns Valley. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

“Having the relics of Padre Pio present helps you connect to his life and ministry – that’s pretty powerful,” said Schwartz of the Italian saint, who was canonized in 2002 and was known for his deep faith, devotion to hearing confessions and providing spiritual direction, and being the first priest in the Catholic Church documented to have the stigmata.  

The stigmata is the miraculous, otherwise-unexplainable presence of the wounds of Jesus’ Passion on a person’s body; Padre Pio experienced these wounds on his feet, hands and side.

The relics were brought to St. Anthony Parish on a tour sponsored by the Saint Pio Foundation, based in New York and dedicated to promoting the spiritual charism of Padre Pio. The relics were: the crusts of his stigmata wounds, cotton gauze bearing blood stains from his stigmata, a lock of his hair, his handkerchief soaked with his sweat hours before he died, and a piece of his mantle.

Since relics are used for popular piety, the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1679 emphasizes that relics are venerated, not worshiped, since worship is reserved for God alone: “While carefully clarifying them in the light of faith, the Church fosters the forms of popular piety that express an evangelical instinct and a human wisdom and that enrich Catholic life.”

Fr. Mark Buckner, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, told The Western Kentucky Catholic that the tour was originally planned for St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro – right before the pandemic. COVID-19 struck, the tour was postponed indefinitely, and when conversations began again, it was decided that St. Anthony Parish would be the host.

The parish’s resident deacon, Dcn. Tim Nugent, flew out to meet a courier from the Saint Pio Foundation at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to receive the relics and transport them to Kentucky. (He flew back to Chicago the following day to hand off the relics.)

“It’s very heartwarming to be able to do this,” said Fr. Buckner, explaining that Padre Pio was from a small, rural parish in Italy similar in size and surroundings to St. Anthony Parish. “I’m humbled. Just humbled.”  

The relics were available for veneration from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, with two Masses celebrated in their presence. The 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass was presided over by Bishop William F. Medley.

“I first learned of Padre Pio while he was still alive,” said Bishop Medley in his homily. “I was a boy in elementary school, taught by the sisters about him.”

Bishop Medley said Padre Pio recognized his vocation as a young boy, but his family lacked the financial means to send their son for the required education. The future saint’s father migrated to the United States to save up enough money to permit his son to enter the Capuchin friars.

“His family took seriously the words of a 10-year-old boy who said ‘God is calling me,’” said Bishop Medley.

Bishop William F. Medley presides at Mass celebrated in the presence of the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, held at St. Anthony Parish in Browns Valley on Nov. 21, 2021. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Fr. Buckner told the WKC that more than 1,500 people came throughout the two days to venerate the relics. Besides visitors from different parts of Kentucky, other represented states included Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. Confessions were available on both days as well, hearkening to Padre Pio’s dedication to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a source of healing and guidance.

“Everybody said it was very spiritually moving for them,” said Fr. Buckner. “If it moves somebody’s heart, that’s what’s important – that it moves them closer to God.”

He said one of his prayers while the relics were present was that Padre Pio would “pray for us to be better priests in our diocese. If we don’t allow the saints to intercede for us, we’ve failed in our faith.”

St. Anthony parishioner Faye Klee, who helped stand guard by the relics, said “God is using Padre Pio to get us closer to Jesus,” and added that she was trying to think of all the people she could pray for through Padre Pio’s intercession.

Elaine Strain, a fellow parishioner and choir member, said St. Anthony’s choir had studied the saint ahead of the relics’ arrival, so they could select the right music for Mass with the bishop.

Besides hymns like “To Jesus Christ, Our Sovereign King” for that Sunday’s Solemnity of Christ the King, the choir also sang “Healed in Christ” by Sarah Hart (in reference to Padre Pio’s gift of healing) and “Stay with Us, O Lord/Come to Us, O God” in reference to Padre Pio’s prayer known as “Stay with me, Lord.”

“Our parish has many elderly, so we are familiar with suffering,” said Strain. “It’s easy to relate to a man of suffering.”

Mary Raley, another choir member and also parish council member, said this was a “once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve felt the guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout this whole process.”

She said hosting the relics brought her faith into focus: “It makes me very grateful to be raised in the Catholic faith.” 

Photo album

View more photos from the Nov. 21, 2021 Mass celebrated in the presence of the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina at

Originally printed in the December 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.


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