Over the years, stories of the extraordinary miracles of St Padre Pio have spread from east to west, transforming the hearts and minds of many who hear of his phenomenal gifts, graces, powers and unwavering faith.
But one story remains unsung: the story of St Padre Pio and young Brian.
This moving story was originally written by the late Anne McGinn Cillis in her book excerpt, Brian: The Marvellous Story of Padre Pio and a Little Anglican Boy.
McGinn was one of Padre Pio’s spiritual daughters and a Canadian Catholic writer.
The power of relentless prayer
Young Brian was born to John and Maureen, a married Anglican couple living in Liverpool, England. Shortly after his birth, Brian was baptized a Christian in the Anglican church. He was always a joyful and vibrant child.
However, when Brian was two years old, life took an unexpected turn for this family.
During a two-week family vacation, Brian began looking fatigued and weak. Eventually, the cause of Brian’s declining health was discovered: Brian had leukemia and only 6 months left to live.
Distressed and filled with utter anguish, Brian’s mother turned to prayer and frantically began asking her friends to pray for her son.
After praying the ‘Our Father’ and learning how to say the ‘Hail Mary’ for the first time, Brian’s mother made one final plea.
“Pat,” she said to an old girlfriend, “is there ANYBODY else we can pray to, as well?”
“Pray to Padre Pio,” she said. It was 1971, and even though Padre Pio had died in 1968, stories of his miracles were spreading like wildfire.
“Who is Padre Pio?” Maureen asked. But her friend simply responded, “Just pray”.
Maureen’s family did not pray, and later expressed doubt regarding the supernatural.
Despite barely knowing anything about Padre Pio, much of Brian’s family turned to this great saint, stigmatic monk and miracle-worker, desperately seeking his powerful intercession.
The Mysterious Visitor
One night, Brian received an unexpected visitor. As the weeks passed, Brian repeatedly spoke of an unknown man regularly visiting him. But no one saw a man.
Eventually, Maureen was contacted by her good friend’s brother, Eddie, who was a seminarian from the Oblates of the Virgin Mary at San Vittorino near Rome. He heard about Brian’s mysterious encounters, and wanted to speak with the child.
“Brian, perhaps you should ask the man his name the next time he comes,” Eddie once told Brian.
And so, he did.
One day, Brian’s mother asked her son about whether he discovered the stranger’s name and Brian responded, “Oh yes … He said that his name is Padre Pio.”
“He has a long brown dress on, and he has holes in his hands and his feet,” Brian explained.
From this point onwards, the beautiful aroma of incense permeated Brian’s bedroom.
According to Eddie, Maureen said it resembled “the lovely perfume you have in the Catholic Church,” or the incense used during Benediction.
Brian’s deepened faith & the shining locket
For a young boy, Brian’s growth in faith was tremendous: he developed a powerful devotion to Our Lady and the Crucifix–two of St. Pio’s great devotions.
“Mommy, I love you more than anybody else in the whole world,” Brian once told his mother, “But I love My Lady even more.”
One day, with the permission of Brian’s parents, Eddie took the child to a Franciscan Monastery. The moment Brian saw a large Crucifix in the corner of the Church, he was drawn to that very spot and began to contemplate the mysteries of Christ’s Passion in detail.
“When those evil men crucified Jesus, Eddie, did they go around to the back of the Crucifix, and knock the nails over, just to make it hurt more?” Brian asked.
For a three-year-old, Brian could grasp the cruelty of Christ’s agony with such detail–a gift given to certain mystics throughout the centuries. Brian was completely wrapped in God’s love.
On another occasion, Maureen’s friend, Pat, gave little Brian a plastic statue of Our Lady of Lourdes that was filled with holy water. Soon after, Brian asked his mother for the golden locket around her neck so that he could put it around the neck of the statue.
“Mommy, please give me that locket. I want it for My Lady,” Brian said.
The golden locket would usually glow during the night.
Despite Brian’s father’s many attempts to move the statue around the room to assess whether it was merely the way the light hit the locket, it would always shine.
Brian put to the test
One day, Eddie decided to put Brian to the test by showing him two pictures of Capuchin friars and an image of Padre Pio to identify whether or not it was Padre Pio visiting the child.
Eddie told ChurchPOP, “I showed him first one prayerbook size picture of a Capuchin priest, asking him did he know him. He replied ‘No.; After a few minutes I showed him another picture the same size, in order not to confuse him, with the same question. Again he responded ‘No.’
“Letting several minutes go by, I laid a same sized picture of Padre Pio on a table, without saying anything. He saw the picture and said, “That’s the man who comes to see me. That is Padre Pio.”
“I then challenged him gently, saying ‘You said you didn’t know the man.’ He replied, ‘Oh no Eddie, I didn’t know the other man. But that’s Padre Pio.’
“By this he made a very definite identification of Padre Pio. I was satisfied that he was indeed seeing Padre Pio!'”
One day, when Brian was with Eddie again, they came across a family who had been praying for Brian. Unknown to anyone else in the room, a seventeen-year-old girl who heard of Brian’s story quietly thought to herself, “If he really is seeing Padre Pio, have him kiss the Crucifix.”
And for no reason at all to anyone present in the room, Brian went to the table, picked up the Crucifix and kissed it.
Young Brian’s fearlessness in the face of death
Brian was a beacon of hope and source of inspiration to many other fellow children battling leukemia.
His steadfast strength and perseverance shocked his doctors. One doctor said, “Mrs. D., something or someone is keeping the child alive. He certainly should be dead.”
During Brian’s final weeks, he distributed hundreds of Miraculous Medals to those around him.
For young Brian, death was merely the gateway to the shores of eternity. The more the three-year-old boy’s health deteriorated, the closer he felt to Christ and the more passionately he spoke about Our Lady.
“Mummy…You are going to have to ask daddy to get you another little boy...” Brian once said. “Padre Pio has told me that he is coming very soon now to take me to My Lady.”
When little Brian was on his agonizing death bed in his last days, one of his final requests was that the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes be moved closer to where he could see her.
Falling on her knees and totally surrendering to God’s will, Brian’s mother said, “Jesus, if You really want him, then I give him to You. But just give me a sign!” Just after, two beams of light converged on Brian, who took his last breath and died peacefully.
Although young Brian’s life was short, this small boy reached the heights of holiness at the young age of three.
Through Brian’s miraculous encounters with St. Padre Pio, this child developed a profound appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice for us on Calvary and sought constant protection under the mantle of Our Blessed Mother.
In the words of Anne McGinn Cillis, the original author of this powerful story, may little Brian’s story “go forth, throughout the entire world, in all languages, as a testimony in these wicked times, of faith in miracles, of swift answers to prayer, of the efficacy of devotion to the great Mother of God and as a pledge of the undoubted existence of a luminous hereafter.”