WELLINGTON | A local priest has made his second statue donation here in the Diocese of Palm Beach in an effort to spread the message about the saint he knew personally, and the latest gift comes near the 50-year anniversary of the death of the holy man.
“This is my legacy to Padre Pio because he healed me,” said Father James DeVita, a retired priest who assists at St. Thomas More Parish in Boynton Beach, where he donated a Padre Pio statue in 2014. In March, he donated another life-size statue of the saint to St. Thérèse de Lisieux Parish in Wellington.
“I am almost 90 years old and I am here today. This is my legacy to Padre Pio. I want to do something for him because he did something for me,” said Father DeVita, who knew St. Pio of Pietrelcina — better known as Padre Pio — and credits the saint’s healing prayers for his recovery when he was on his deathbed with typhoid fever.
Father DeVita is a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York. He is a native of San Giovanni Rotondo, the city in southern Italy, where he served as an altar boy for Padre Pio, who lived in the city from 1916 until his death. This Sept. 23 marks the 50-year anniversary of the saint’s death and the official feast day set aside by the Church to honor Padre Pio, who received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion, and was known for his reputation as a tireless confessor. He was declared a saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.
Formal statue-unveiling ceremonies took place March 18 at St. Thérèse de Lisieux following a late-morning Mass, at which Father DeVita concelebrated and gave the homily. The church was packed with parishioners and visitors. During the Mass, he fondly talked about his experiences as a boy with the future saint.
Padre Pio, a Capuchin, was known for his care for the elderly and sick. In 1947, he founded a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, the Home for the Relief of Suffering, which continues to operate and provide services to the area. Father DeVita was a patient at the facility when he contracted typhoid, which left him in a coma for five days and on his deathbed. “Padre Pio was notified that I was in a coma,” said Father DeVita. “He came to me and blessed me. He told everyone not to worry. He assured the people I would be OK.”
In March, Father DeVita celebrated his 88th birthday and in June he will celebrate his 61st year as a Salesian of Don Bosco priest. Reflecting on his priesthood, he recalled celebrating his first Mass in Italy wearing one of Padre Pio’s stoles. “I was very privileged to know him,” said Father DeVita.
During ceremonies, Father David Downey, pastor of St. Thérèse, blessed the 600-pound statue with holy water, and then blessed all the parishioners and guests. “Father DeVita gave the statue of Padre Pio to the parish,” he said. “It is a beautiful statue. Father DeVita knew him personally. We welcome him and all the people here today.”
The inscription on the statue gives an inspiring faith message: “Place your heart gently in Our Lord’s wounds. Have great confidence in his mercy for he will never abandon you.” The closing words at the bottom are a special touch, “A gift from my heart to yours. Father James DeVita.” (The same inscription appears on the large statue made in Mexico donated to St. Thomas More.)
“It is a beautiful statue,” said parishioner Nella Colombo, who was at the Mass with friends and family. “We love the words on the marble.”
Parishioner Camillo Benso traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo to purchase the $10,000 statue for Father DeVita. The large piece, bought from a company located one block from where Padre Pio is buried, was then shipped to Miami.
“Supporters helped with the shipping costs and the marble,” Benso explained. When asked why Father DeVita selected St. Thérèse de Lisieux Parish to safeguard the beautiful statue, he said that Italian friends from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, where Father DeVita formerly served, are actively involved at St. Thérèse de Lisieux. He said Father DeVita felt that the parish would provide a good home for the statue, now standing near the front of the church in a prominent spot.
“You now become the spiritual children of Padre Pio,” Father DeVita told the St. Thérèse faithful. “Padre Pio told us ‘I will be standing at the gates of heaven waiting for my spiritual children. Please place your heart gently in Our Lord’s wounds. Have great confidence in his mercy. He will never abandon you.’ God bless you and pray for me.”
The day before the unveiling in Wellington, Pope Francis made his first visit to the shrine of Padre Pio in Italy. The shrine is a very popular site visited by Catholics each year and the place where Padre Pio’s body remains. St. John Paul II, who canonized Padre Pio, visited in 1987, and Pope Benedict XVI came to the area in 2016.
St. Thérèse De Lisieux Parish is located at 11800 Lake Worth Road, Wellington. The large statue is located on the grounds near the west side of the church entrance near the parish pavilion. For information, call 561-784-0689. St. Thomas More is located at 10935 S. Military Trail, Boynton Beach. For information about its statue, call 561-737-3095.