(LifeSiteNews) — Countless biographies have been written about St. Padre Pio (1887-1968). Most of them follow a similar pattern in that they discuss his widely known stigmata, his ability to bilocate, and his frequent healings of the sick. None of them, however, are quite like The Soldier & The Saint: Memoirs of an American Soldier.
The Soldier & The Saint is a 140-page, self-published book compiled by Thomas Konvolinka, the son-in-law of the late Joseph W. Peluso. Peluso, who died in 1996, was an American GI stationed in Foggia, Italy near Padre Pio’s convent in San Giovanni Rotondo during World War II. From October 1944 until July 1945, he would hitchhike, oftentimes with other soldiers, to attend his Masses.
In total, Peluso made 45 visits, keeping a detailed journal of every trip. He became part of Padre Pio’s inner circle almost immediately. He would eat with his family at their house and got to know Mary Pyle, a wealthy American heiress who served as an interpreter and assistant for him, often welcoming guests and providing them with food and lodging at what locals called her “Pink Castle.” Peluso quickly developed a unique friendship with Padre Pio himself.
Peluso’s journal entries reveal a side of St. Padre Pio the public has never seen before. After almost every Mass, he would receive the saint’s blessing in the sacristy. He was also given the rare honor of dining with him and his confreres in the refectory on more than one occasion. Peluso says Pio would snack on a small amount of nuts while cracking jokes and pushing his plate of food in front of him, making sure he had plenty of wine to wash it down with.
Although Peluso spoke almost no Italian, he and Pio communicated in a variety of ways — short jokes, kind looks, and other playful interactions that southern Italians are known for. Konvolinka, a retired teacher, said to me via email that Peluso was told several times by Padre Pio’s superior, Padre Agostino, that “Padre Pio loves everyone, but he especially loves you, Joe.”
Peluso would often ask Padre Pio for favors, sometimes via an interpreter. He also told him he wanted to be “one of his spiritual children.” Peluso said that when he was at his base, he frequently smelled Pio’s odor, which he described as “fresh flowers, roses, or, to others, sweet tobacco.”
After the war, Peluso returned to his native western Pennsylvania and began making presentations about his experiences. He also sat on many boards of organizations dedicated to Padre Pio in the U.S. In total, he spoke to hundreds of church groups and other interested parties. He would bring with him photographs, 8mm videos, and dozens of fascinating stories. One entertaining anecdote is how Peluso, a clothier by trade, was tasked with ordering one of Pio’s garments, which had to be specially made with secret pockets so he could hide his stigmata. Fifty photographs are included in the book.
When Peluso started chemotherapy after an illness later in life, Pio appeared to him. He also appeared to him before he died. “Send your guardian angel to Padre Pio, and he will hear your plea and you will become his spiritual child,” he would often tell audiences.
Those who are interested in purchasing The Soldier & The Saint can email Thomas Konvolinka at [email protected], or reach out via mail: Thomas Konvolinka, P.O. Box 1174, Saugatuck, MI 49453.