Current Research: Padre Pio and Pietrelcina

"Making Saints, (Re-)Making Lives:

Pilgrimage and Revitalization in the Land of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina"

Based on nearly three years of multi-sited ethnographic research, this dissertation represents the first truly systemic anthropological examination of the immensely popular cult of Catholic saint and stigmatic Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968) from its origins to today. Canonized in 2002, Padre Pio was a twentieth-century Capuchin priest who has become one of the Catholic world’s “most revered saints”—to whom more Italians and Irish pray than to Jesus, Mary, or Saint Francis—thanks to his Christ-like suffering and stigmata, supernatural abilities, and the foundation of a technologically advanced research hospital, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, at his monastic home in the remote San Giovanni Rotondo (Italy); today his cult boasts a global network of powerful prayer groups, a shrine complex featuring monuments by Italy’s leading contemporary artists and architects, and a mass media empire that nets over 120 million euros annually. While in many ways Pio can be described (as critics have sometimes done) as a classic “Southern Italian saint”—a medieval thaumaturge who engages pre-Tridentine forms of popular religiosity—a close analysis of the emergence of Pio as a “revitalization prophet” (Wallace 1956), his particular “victim soul” theology, and the struggles and negotiations between a number of “epistemic groups” to define and utilize the saint reveal that his movement and subsequent cult is a historically and culturally situated product of the tumultuous twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

This dissertation was successfully defended on April 23, 2012 and copies can be obtained from ProQuest. However, research is ongoing and I would love to hear from pilgrims and devotees of Padre Pio!


If you or anyone you know has a story about Padre Pio to share,

or if you are traveling on a Padre Pio pilgrimage,

This research was supported by a 3-year Hanna Holborn Gray - Andrew Mellon Foundation Fellowship for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences; a University of Chicago Overseas Dissertation Research Grant; and a University of Chicago Department of Anthropology Leiffer Fellowship.