During a recent audience with Pope Francis, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was authorized to proclaim the virtues of Raffaele da Sant’Elia a Pianisi. Following the audience, the College of Cardinals in Rome named Padre Raffaele, a Servant of God, Venerable, the second step in the Roman Catholic process to Sainthood. Venerable means “heroic in virtue having a high degree of sanctity or holiness.” Padre Pio many times spoke of and wrote about the virtues of Padre Raffaele and considered him to be a saintly model for all monks. The Padre Pio Shrine in Barto, Pennsylvania, has a statue of Padre Raffaele erected by his devotees among the Sant’Elia a Pianisi of NJ, NY and PA club. Sainthood for Padre Raffaele is now clearly in his future.
Born Domenico Petruccelli to a peasant family on December 14, 1816 in Sant’Elia a Pianisi, Campobasso (then part of the region of Abruzzo), he was the son of Salvatore Petruccelli and Brigida Mastrovita. In his youth, Domenico helped work the fields, while spending as much of his time as possible in prayer. Both tall and strong, he apprenticed as a shoe maker, but the call to religious life was too powerful and he asked his father’s permission to join the Capuchin Order.
In 1834, shortly before his 18th birthday, he made a 20-mile journey to join the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in Morcone in the province of Benevento, Campania. He took the name, Raffaele and made his solemn profession in 1835. From 1836 to 1840, he studied in the numerous cities and towns in Abruzzo and Puglia. He completed his studies at the seminary of Benevento, Campania, where he was ordained a priest on March 29, 1840. Beginning in 1852, he served as director of novices in Morcone and then served in the Church of Madonna della Libera in Campobasso in 1857.
Wherever he went, he immediately won the esteem and veneration of all, so much so that he was reverently called ‘The Holy Monk.’ His goodness, patience and the generosity of his time were sought by both scholars and peasants. In these roles he acted as spiritual director, confessor and counselor. He was a man of great humility and devotion. In 1865, he returned to monastic life and in 1866, served as chaplain to Capuchin novices. His health deteriorated in his final years, perhaps hastened by the many long fasts he underwent during his time as a monk. He passed away on January 6, 1901, of natural causes in the Capuchin convent of Sant’Elia a Pianisi, in the town in which he was born 66 years earlier.
A great-great-nephew of Padre Raffaele, Guido Petrucelli, is a member of the Sant’Elia a Pianisi Club of NJ, NY and PA. The club is located in East Hanover, New Jersey and holds an annual pilgrimage by bus to Barto each year.