"Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza "
The Hospital of Padre Pio
Summary: St. Francis hospital. A brand new hospital: first meeting, construction, Barbara Ward, grand opening, the prodigy continues.
Since coming to the convent in 1916 Padre Pio wanted a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo. The convent was surrounded by poverty stricken sick people, in a depressed area of the deep South of Italy, were tuberculosis, pellagra, typhoid fever, smallpox, septicemia, meningitis, Spanish flu, infantile paralysis, where endemic. 
To the sisters “Ancelle del Sacro Cuore” who were leaving town in 1920, Padre Pio said pointing at the mountain: “One day you will come back here, in a large and beautiful hospital.”
Civilian Hospital St. Francis
On April 23, 1925 the local Congregation of Charity, with the support of Padre Pio, and the backing of Padre Ignazio da Jelsi, Guardian of the Capuchin convent, opened a Civilian Hospital called the Hospital of Saint Francis, downtown San Giovanni Rotondo, in a section of the former convent of the Clares.
The entrance to St. Francis Hospital, downtown San Giovanni Rotondo.
The committee that established the hospital. Padre Ignazio, superior of the convent is part of it.
It had 20 beds. Two large rooms had 8 beds each for male and female patients. 2 smaller rooms had 2 beds each.
The Capuchin friars took care of the spiritual needs.
Nursing was provided by the sisters Adorers of the Sacred Heart, and later by the sisters of the Very Precious Blood. The girls of the Franciscan trade school provided the cleaning of the linen.
The sign commemorating the opening in 1925
Medical director was dr. Francescantonio Giuva; dr.Angelo Merla was on the medical staff.
The surgeon dr. Bucci came twice a week from Foggia for the more difficult surgeries. The hospital was active for 12 years.
The building was irreparably damaged by the earthquakes of July and December 1937. It was permanently closed also because of financial difficulties.
A brand new hospital
One day Padre Pio was in the square outside the church and some people approached him. Pointing at the mountain he said: “A great hospital will be built here.” “But there is a mountain here” he was told. Padre Pio replied: “And we shall level the mountain.”
A tiny little lady approached Padre Pio and offered him a 50 cents coin saying: “This is for the hospital.” Padre Pio: “Keep it; you need it,” The lady: “You’re right, it’s too little!” Padre Pio understood that the woman felt humiliated, and said: “Give it to me, and God bless you.” Padre Pio started crying, and every time he reported the episode he showed the coin that he had kept, and there were always tears in his eyes.
Padre Pio’s friend form Pietrelcina Don Giuseppe Orlando reported that already in 1934 Padre Pio had “the lively desire to build a grandiose and beautiful home were the physical pain is treated and soothed with love.”
The first meeting
Towards the end of 1939 Padre Pio expressed to dr. Sanvico the idea of building a hospital near the convent.
Drs. Sanvico's and Sanguinetti's small house, along the road bordering the friary, locations of the first meeting
On January 9, 1940, a meeting was called at 6:30 PM by Dr. Mario Sanvico, dr. Guglielmo Sanguinetti, and dr. Carlo Kisvarday.
The three doctors were spiritual children of Padre Pio. They were “shipwrecked souls, who had peacefully reached the shores of faith from other, far different lands.”
Dr. Sanvico with Padre Pio
Dr. Mario Sanvico was a veterinarian from Perugia. He was also a businessman agronomist with the passion to make beer and had started his own brewing company that he sold when he moved to San Giovanni Rotondo. Padre Pio told him: “I want you here, I need you”.
Dr. Guglielmo Sanguinetti from Parma. Was a country doctor in Ronta di Borgo San Lorenzo in Mugello area, in Tuscany near Florence. In Borgo San Lorenzo he was member of the Confraternity of Misericord. He married Emilia Spilman, his high school sweetheart at the Liceo Tasso in Rome. Sanguinetti visited Padre Pio on June28, 1935. He told him: “You have to come here to help me to build a large hospital. Sell what you have and come to live here.” Sanguinetti: “I am a country doctor, I don’t have savings, I can’t afford the move.” Padre Pio: “You have a piece of paper that will soon solve your problems.” Back in Borgo San Lorenzo Sanguinetti kept ruminating what Padre Pio had told him and couldn’t find any sense. One day he finally understood what piece of paper Padre Pio was talking about. It was a lottery ticket he had bought some time ago. He won a large sum of money and was able to afford the move to San Giovanni Rotondo.  
Dr. Carlo Kisvarday was a pharmacist from Zara in the north eastern corner of Italy. Zara now is called Zadar and belongs to the State of Croatia. The Yugoslava confiscated all of his belongings. He and his wife wandered all over Europe.He felt Padre Pio had saved him from drawning when his car plunged into Adriatic Sea. When he and his wife Maria visited Padre Pio he told him: “I want you close to me, very close to me.” The Kisvardays bought some land near the convent, built a house, and remained in San Giovanni Rotondo.
The first page of the diary of Dr. Sanvico, documenting the event
The meeting was joined by the wives of the doctors, Maria Antonietta Sanvico, Mary Kisvarday, and Emilia Spilmann Sanguinetti, and by miss Ida Seitz.
The participants were told of Padre Pio’s desire to start a hospital, and subscribed a document forming a “Committee for building a clinic according to the intentions of Padre Pio.” The document stated that “everything that will be done will be first subject to the advice of Padre Pio”. 
After the meeting the doctors went to Padre Pio asking for his approval.
Padre Pio approved and said: “Tonight starts my great earthly work. I bless you and all who will donate to my work, which will be very beautiful and very big”.
The gold coin donated by Padre Pio
The coin donated by Padre Pio is displayed in the Museum of Casa Sollievo.
List of the first donors, with the amount pledged
Ida Seitz gave 30 francs and the others gave 967 Italian lire.
40 francs and 967 lire was the humble starting of a grandiose miraculous project.
The plan goes forward
Dr. Kisvarday's home became the focal point of the beginnings
On January 11, 1940 Padre Pio pointed to dr. Sanvico the area were the hospital would be built. On January 14, 1940 dr. Sanvico asked for the name of the new hospital. Padre Pio said: “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza.” (Home for the relief of suffering).
The first substantial donation
The committee advertised the project in a six page brochure printed in Perugia.
On June 9, 1941, Emanuele Brunatto sent from Paris, France, a check for 3 ½ million French francs to the “Committee for the construction of the clinic of San Giovanni Rotondo”. It was a large amount of money. 
Groundbreaking could not be started because of WWII.
To avoid devaluation of the currency the committee invested the money in a ranch in Lucera. The project took new life at the end of WWII.
On October 5, 1946, the juridical standing of the hospital was established. The notary Girolamo Caggianelli of Foggia created a share holding company named “Societa’ Anonima Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza” with the purpose of building and managing a Hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo for the cure and care of the sick, including spiritual care. 
The capital was of one million lire, constituted of 1000 shares of 1000 lire.
The six underwriters were dr. Sanguinetti, eng. Eleanora Figna (graduated in engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Turin (Piergiorgio Frassati was her classmate), dr. Kisvarday, rev. Giuseppe Orlando, Pasquale De Meis, and dr. Panicali. Each of them renounced any personal profit.
The project was joined later by dr. Sanvico, Angela Serritelli, count Telfner, Mario Cacciaglia, marquis Sacchetti, marquis Patrizi, att. Ungaro, att. Pennelli and others.
Bernardo Patrizi was a scion of the Lee family of Virginia, through his great - grandmother, sister of the general Robert Lee.
On October 5, 1946 Padre Pio was assisting his dying father Grazio at the home of Mary Pyle.
When Dr. Sanguinetti and Eng. Figna presented him the documents defining the legal corporation Padre Pio gave his blessing: “May it be as God has wanted. May it grow. May it heal bodies and sanctify souls.” And for the collaborators: “May the good Lord reward them a hundred times over in this life, and with eternal life in the next.”
Count Telfner (far left) Irving Berlin
Count Telfners was cousin of Irving Berlin. Irving Berlin visited the Telfners when he was performing in July 1943 for the American troups in Foggia. Berlin, who was Jewish, visited with Padre Pio who gave him a rosary for his wife, who was Catholic.
Donations of the land
Three days after Casa Sollievo was incorporated, Maria Basilio, a wealthy lady from Turin, donated the land adjacent to the friary were the hospital would be located. It was a tract of public land sold by the city council to Maria, for a charitable institution to be built. The land was a steep slope of the mountain near the convent. 
The following day Angela Serritelli donated a parcel of land that she owned adjoining the Basilio donation.
Maria Basilio was a businesswoman from the Venchi family in Turin. She met Padre Pio on December 5, 1918. Padre Pio told her: ”Welcome Maria; I have been waiting for you.” On May 9, 1923 she donated a gold calyx to Padre Pio. She moved to San Giovanni Rotondo and, as spiritual daughter, dedicated to the cause of Padre Pio her life, thoughts, heart, and possessions. In December 1935 she officially purchased from Filippo Lombardi the land near the friary were the hospital would be built.
Angela Serritelli was from San Giovanni Rotondo. She was an elementary
school teacher. She met Padre Pio on January 23, 1917. In that year she
became Franciscan tertiary and dedicated herself to the cause of Padre
Pio. She died on May 30, 1976. She left a manuscript, later published in
Foggia “Notizie su Padre
Pio”, where she reported
personal experiences, prodigies, and
facts related to Padre Pio.
The construction begins
On May 1947 the first administrative council of the new society was formed. Sacchetti, president; Sanvico, vice president; Sanguinetti, delegate; Kisvarday, treasurer.
Padre Pio was pressing for the work to start.
The overall supervision was given to don Peppino Orlando.
Don Peppino Orlando
Orlando reported that in every meeting Padre Pio would nudge him in the side with his elbow, so much that he avoided sitting near him. Padre Pio pressed him to start work, and Orlando replied: “How can we start work without a plan, without a blueprint, without an engineer without a contractor?”
Consequently sketches were requested.
A sketch admired by most was the one by “Civil Engineer Candeloro”. The
man was summoned, but was nowhere to be found. They soon realized the
sketch had been presented by Angelo Lupi under false name. His
design was the most convincing. It was in harmony with the nature of the
His design was the most convincing. It was in harmony with the nature of the place.
Angelo Lupi from Castel Frentano, province of Chieti, in Abruzzi region, was not an engineer and not an architect. He had some schooling but no degree. He had little more than an 8th grade education. He had worked in various places in costruction, learning on the field.
Angelo Lupi was an eccentric temperamental genius. Padre Pio decided that he was the right man for the job.
Lupi was put in charge of the project and construction of Casa Sollievo.
On May 16, 1946 Padre Pio blessed the cornerstone, and on May 19 the first shovel of dirt was turned.
Construction continues at steady pace
Angelo Lupi recruited and organized more than 300 workmen who began to level the mountainside. Making use of the natural resources of the mountain he constructed a lime kiln to extract from stones the lime for the plaster. The tiles for the flooring, the sinks, tubs, bowls and artificial marble were also made from material that he got from the mountain. 
In the basement of Casa Sollievo a workshop was set up for the manufacture of the artificial marble used to cover the outside and inside walls, an to make floor tiles, doorposts, and doorsteps.
There were also dedicated local female workers. They laid down the mosaic floorings.
Padre Dominic Meyer wrote to his American relatives: “Angelo Lupi is architect, contractor, superintendent and a lot of other things for the new hospital. Through his genius, all manner of necessary equipment and supplies are being made here. This saves a lot of money and gives work to the poor people here.”
In May 1948 Padre Pio blessed the lime-kiln
On September 2, 1949 work had reached the stage of the first roof.
Padre Pio blessed the construction. Mons. Andrea Cesarano and civilian authorities were present.
Bulletin "Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza"
In September 1949 the bulletin Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza was started in order to provide the friends of the institution with first hand information on the progress. It was located in a wooden hut built with wartime leftovers. Soon it had to expand the number of pager and increase the amount of copies, and moved to more acceptable quarters.
Padre Pio and dr. Sanguinetti going over a bulletin before publication.
Count Telfner helped Dr. Sanguinetti in the day by day needs
The walls are beginning to rise
On June 21, 1950 Dr. Sanguinetti traces out the the title of the hospital
"Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza" on top of the building
While the construction was going on, Lupi was charged by and engineer in Foggia of “abusive exercise of the profession of an architect.” Padre Pio told Angelo: “Don’t worry my son. That person has received his degree from men. You have received your from God.” He was called into court for presenting himself as an engineer, but it was impossible to accuse him of not knowing how to do that which he had already done so beautifully. The matter was dropped.
The balance sheet was made public, and showed that the money had been well spent, with great savings over average similar costs.
All sorts of means were used to collect funds, including lotteries, raffles, bazaars. In every shop and store there was box for donations,
However, much more money was needed to speed up the project.
Everybody was saying that an intervention of the divine providence was needed.
Padre Pio was firmly against bank loans. He wanted the project financed only with donations.
At this point Barbara Wards got involved in the project.
Barbara Ward was born in Heworth, Yorkshire, England. She went to a convent school, then studied at the Sorbonne and graduated from Oxford. She was a fervent Catholic involved in numerous catholic organizations.
As a journalist for “The Economist” she went to Rome in the fall of 1947 to write a report on the postwar reconstruction. In Rome she was guest of marquis Bernardo Patrizi.
Patrizi was one of the early supporters of Casa Sollievo. Barbara Ward expressed the desire to meet Padre Pio, and Patrizi offered to accompany her. In San Giovanni Rotondo they were guests of the Sanguinettis.
When Barbara Ward arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo she first visited the work site of the hospital, asking many questions especially about costs and financing.
They saw and old priest directing a gang of laborers. It was Padre Pio’s friend from Pietrelcina don Orlando. Don Orlando who had now retired, and come to San Giovanni Rotondo. Ward stopped at the massive work site and asked the priest how much it would all cost. “Four hundred million lire” was the reply. “And who is paying for it?’ asked miss Ward. “Whoever passes by, pays” said Orlando.
Barbara passed by and went to see Padre Pio.
She met Padre Pio and asked for the conversion to Catholicism or her fiancée Robert Jackson. Padre Pio said: “If God wants, he will convert.” “When will that be?” “If God wants, right now.”
Back in London she found out that on the very day and hour that she was visiting with Padre Pio, Commander Robert Jackson has converted to Catholicism.
He had been passing by a Jesuit church on that particular day and time, and felt inspired to go in and visit the rectory were he asked to be accepted in the Catholic faith. Barbara talked to Robert at length, describing the construction of the hospital.
Robert was deputy director of “United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration” (UNRRA), the organization set by the United Nations for the rebuilding of Europe after WWII.
Robert Jackson went to San Giovanni Rotondo, and meeting Padre Pio told him: “I know that you need funds. I will do what I can to help you get them.”
Robert got into action, and on June 21 1948 the U.S. Congress approved the proposed funding, and UNRRA notified Alcide De Gasperi, prime minister of Italy, that the hospital of Padre Pio had been assigned 400 million lire. That was an immense amount of money at the time.
The Italian government didn’t know anything about the hospital and asked information to the Prefect of Foggia, the province where San Giovanni Rotondo was located. The prefect was not aware of the construction and delegated the provincial medical director to investigate. The medical director went to the construction site, and had to report back that a new hospital was being built without any documentation of approval. However he offered to help Padre Pio in gathering the necessary documentation for approval from the department of health in Rome.
It took six months of bureaucratic battles, but at the end the project was approved. However the Project received only 250 of the 400 million lire allocated. The difference was kept by the Italian government for other projects.
The grant would be in memory of Fiorello La Guardia.
Fiorello La Guardia former mayor of New York City, was general director of UNRRA in 1946. His father had migrated to the USA from Cerignola, in the province of Foggia, Italy. He had recently died of pancreatic cancer.
For about a year the construction was named “Clinica Fiorello La Guardia, “afterwards it was resumed the original name of “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza.”
The construction continued at a steady pace, and the providential gift stimulated an upsurge of donations.
Dr. Sanguinetti, an amateur in landscaping, planted 3000 trees on the slopes of the mountain to prevent slides.
Stained window Madonna
Barbara, with her fiancée Robert visited again the construction in the fall of 1950. They were very pleased with the way the money from UNRRA had been used.
The stained window in the chapel of Casa Sollievo. Barbara Ward standing in front of it.
When Barbara Wards entered the chapel of the hospital she was pleasantly surprised that the face of Mary in the stained window on the altar resembled her own.
Angelo Lupi had had the idea, since everybody considered Barbara Word the godmother of the hospital.
Barbara Ward wrote of Padre Pio: “He had downright common sense and intensely practical attitude towards life. Nine tenths of the people who came to Padre Pio were in unrelieved poverty. Poverty was the root of so many neglected diseases, lifelong ill health, crippling, blindness, infirmities and miseries. That entire tragic load had to be borne by him day after day, from the moment he entered the church at dawn until the last penitents went on their way. Padre Pio was the last man in the world to let his friends forget that Our Lord not only preached to souls but also healed bodies and promised Heaven to those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked. If there was to be medical care, the hospital needed to be in San Giovanni Rotondo. This was the common sense of Padre Pio and he expected from his friends common sense practical support for his charitable project.”
When the building was completed, other architects, the ones who actually had degree, called the work of Angelo Lupi a genuine miracle.
Angelo Lupi (clear pants) with Padre Pio at the construction site,
and showing him a painting of the Holy Family that he made for the church in Pietrelcina.
Padre Pio on the roof of Casa Sollievo
Padre Pio admiring a stained window in the chapel;
With dr. Sanvico and other employs.
Padre Pio with workers in the emergency room, with Angelo Lupi and engineer Nora Figna.
Alberto Galletti succeded Dr. Sanguinetti when he died unespectedly in September 1954.
His tenure lasted only three months.
Engineer Luigi Galletti took over in December 1954, replacing Galletti.
On Padre Pio's left is Engineer Giannangeli. He took charge of the building until the grand opening.
On December 7, 1955, Padre Pio attended the first meeting of the Third Franciscan Order group, dedicated to Our Lady of the Graces. On that morning, fifty members received the scapular of the Order from the Minister General of the Capuchins. Padre Pio was the director of this special group called "The Fifty".
On July 26, 1954 Padre Pio blessed the Outpatient Clinic.
Padre Pio blessing the analysis lab.
On his left Dr. Sanguinetti and Dr. Pancaro.
On his right are Ernesto Lupi, son of the builder, and Dr. Francesco Lotti.