For Catholic school teachers Deb Schnettler and Mary Cheryl Opatz, St. Pio, commonly known as Padre Pio, is not just another saint from long ago.
Schnettler, who teaches theology and campus ministry at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, remembers learning about him as a child.
“He’s been a big part of an awakening within me over the last 10 years,” Schnettler said. “I was alive when he was alive. I remember hearing a lot about him in my lifetime. For me, this is a new resurgence, to be able to learn and teach about him again.”
Schnettler and Opatz are preparing for the historic U.S. relic tour commemorating the 50th anniversary of St. Padre Pio’s death. His relics will be on display from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. The saint died in 1968 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
In tandem with Aaron Carpenter, diocesan director of the Office of Worship, Schnettler has organized a group of senior campus ministry students to be present during the school day to help direct visitors to the cathedral. She, along with other members of the theology faculty, have been teaching about the saint in their classes.
“We are so blessed that the tour is going to be here for us to attend,” Schnettler said. “These stories of holy people are the parts of our faith that live on and that we can hold on to and teach. He is so much a saint of our time. It’s not a thousand years ago. It shows us what God within us can do.”
Theology students will have the opportunity to walk over to the cathedral during their class period to see the relics. Many of the students created posters about St. Padre Pio which are laminated and on display throughout the school.
Cathedral eighth-grader Nicholas Walz said the most important thing he learned about Padre Pio was how he was able to read the hearts of people “to see if they were not telling the entire truth about what they were confessing,” he said.
“It makes me believe more that God actually exists. I want to share that with other people,” he said.
Delana Sukut, a seventh-grader at Cathedral, said her favorite characteristic of Padre Pio was his persistence.
“He was always trying to find the good in other people and help bring it out,” she said. “Satan didn’t like that … but he still continued preaching. I think that is something to be admired.”
Opatz, who teaches sixth grade at All Saints Academy in St. Cloud, recalls her mother’s devotion to the saint and also has arranged for her students to attend the relic tour.
A guest speaker came into the classroom to help teach the students the prayers of Padre Pio and help them understand what relics are. Father Timothy Gapinksi also visited the class, showing them a relic of the Holy Cross, which Opatz said was a good lead up to the event.
“I’m excited that we will all experience this together,” Opatz said.
Call to live saintly lives
Bishop Donald Kettler will celebrate a Mass in honor of St. Padre Pio at 7 p.m. The relics for public veneration include St. Pio’s glove, crusts of his wounds, cotton-gauze with St. Pio’s blood stains, a lock of his hair, his mantle and his handkerchief, soaked with his sweat hours before he died.
“Being a part of this opportunity to witness and venerate the relics of a modern-day saint directly connects youth to a person who lived their life in Christ to its fullest,” Carpenter said.
“It is important for all of us to look to the saints as models of Christian living and to be challenged in how we live our own lives.
“I hope the youth and all who come to venerate St. Pio’s relics will have a spiritual and educational experience, which will bring them into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ,” he added.
“It is through the veneration of these holy relics that we encounter Christ and are reminded that we, too, are called to live saintly lives.”