Vera M. Calandra, 69; helped Italian monk become a saint

Posted: August 27, 2004

Vera M. Calandra, 69, formerly of Norristown, who helped an Italian monk become a saint, died Aug. 19 of heart failure at her home in Barto, Berks County.

In 1966, Mrs. Calandra gave birth to her fifth child, daughter Veramarie. The baby had severe urinary tract defects and was operated on several times by Dr. C. Everett Koop at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Koop eventually removed the child's bladder and told her parents that she could not survive.

At the time, Mrs. Calandra and her husband, Harry, were operating a grocery store in an Italian American neighborhood in Norristown. Their eldest daughter, Julia Calandra-Lineberg, said that a customer told her parents about Padre Pio, a Capuchin monk and mystic who showed signs of the stigmata - the wounds Jesus suffered when crucified. Padre Pio was believed to have healing gifts, the customer said.

In 1968, though she knew no Italian, Mrs. Calandra went to Padre Pio's monastery in Foggia, Italy, with 2-year-old Veramarie and another daughter, Christina Rocus, who was 5 weeks old at the time. The monk kissed her hand and blessed both her daughters.

Back home, Veramarie's bladder began to grow back. Padre Pio died later that year, and the Calandras opened a shrine in his honor at their home in Norristown. With donations, in 1990 they built a replica of Padre Pio's monastery and a spiritual center in Barto, which became the National Centre for Padre Pio.

For years, Mrs. Calandra lobbied for Padre Pio's canonization and traveled the world to speak to Roman Catholic groups. Veramarie's cure and the later healing of a 9-year-old Italian boy whose family had prayed to Padre Pio were eventually approved as miracles by a committee studying the possibility of his sainthood.

In 1999, Mrs. Calandra gave a scripture reading at the beatification of Padre Pio by Pope John Paul II in Rome. She was too ill with cancer to attend Padre Pio's canonization in Rome June 16, 2002. That day, her family was among the thousands who gathered at the National Centre in Barto at 4 a.m. to watch a live broadcast of the ceremonies on a huge TV screen.

Every year, Calandra-Lineberg said, more than 20,000 people visit the center, which will open a new museum next month. Among the artifacts to be displayed will be the vestment the Pope wore during Padre Pio's beatification ceremony and a canonization certificate the Pope signed.

Mrs. Calandra is also survived by her husband of 50 years; son Michael; daughters Francesca Salkowski and Maria Koltunuk; four brothers; three sisters; and eight grandchildren.

A Funeral Mass will be said at 10:30 a.m. today at Most Blessed Sacrament Church, 610 Pine St., Bally, Pa. Burial will be in the church cemetery.

Memorial donations may be made to the National Centre for Padre Pio, 2213 Old Route 100, Barto, Pa. 19504.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or

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