This weekend, Padre Pio will be canonised in Rome.
Among the millions celebrating will be Alice Jones, an Anglican whose life changed dramatically 22 years ago
thanks to his intervention. Paul Burnell hears her story In 1980, Alice Jones was just about on speaking terms with God and had certainly never heard of an Italian Capuchin friar reckoned to be one of the Catholic Church's greatest mystics. Not only was Alice, now aged 70, an Anglican — she was full of anger and bitterness at the freak accident that had left her with a completely numb left leg, a right foot turned outwards a misshapen spine and a body that was cocooned in a spinal corset and callipers.
If this was not enough, she had a particularly nasty ulcer on her leg.
Alice had been a schoolteacher at her local parish primary school, St James C of E, Haydock, Lancashire.
On lunch duty she had been lifting a table when a child ran into her and she fell, catching the base of her spine on a radiator. The nerves were trapped; her leg had no use and she was in searing pain.
Two operations had failed dismally; the second had been for spinal fusion bone taken from hip to put into spine. That had left her for 14 weeks in full body cast.
"I was fitted with a huge spinal corset and given crutches and then callipers fitted to my completely numb left leg," she recalled.
A non-nonsense Northern matriarch she admits she did not give a visiting vicar much of a welcome when he arrived at her home as part of a mission in 1980 marking the centenary of the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool.
The Revd Eric Fisher had come to Haydock with a confrere from the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, West Yorkshire, to help the mission and had given a talk on the healing ministry.
A devotee of Padre Pio, he had been given a list of the sick by the parish clergyman and had called to see Alice and her husband Frank, an orthopaedic nurse.
"He was reported to be a healer but I didn't want to see him; I'd had enough. I was in constant pain," said Alice.
She added, "However he laid his hands on my back and it went very warm. That was it.
"The next morning he returned saying he had been interceding for me and had been told to come back — I didn't understand.
He told me to take off my calliper and I was very reluctant to do that. My legs used to droop everytime I did that. He put his hands on my leg, the muscles had been wasting, and it felt warm, then I felt a lot of pain. They seemed to be growing and as I looked down I did not see Fr Eric Fisher — I saw the face of an older man with a beard. I thought it was a hallucination, then the old man spoke to me, 'Rise and walk in the name of Jesus.'
"The old man took me by the arm and walked me across the floor then he was gone and I was walking alone.
"It was unbelievable. By this time I was almost hysterical with joy, I wanted everyone to come and look at my leg."
Even the ulcer which her husband Frank had dressed so-dutifully had vanished.
The next day Alice kept her promise to Fr. Fisher that she would go to church to give thanks for her healing. It was then the next remarkable experience took place.
"He gave us a prayer card on the way out and on it was the face of the old man I had seen in my house. It was amazing. "I had never heard of Padre Pio and had never seen a photograph of him.
"There is no doubt in my mind I was cured through the intercession of Padre Pio. To me he has always been a saint. But the main thing is that he makes you change your life, which is a far greater miracle than the physical healing. Even after all these years I am only just realising what God has done. I still get a shiver every time I talk about it." The result of this healing was that Alice became an Apostle for Padre No. "My doctor was delighted and even gave me a certificate verifying what had happened to me. I never say I was cured. I say I was healed, because the whole of my life was touched.
"It is difficult to get a consultant opnion in this country to certify' what happened to me."
Two years later Alice went on pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo and met the late Fr Alessio Parente, who had been Padre Pio's faithful companion up to his death.
"He told me if you have come in the peace of Christ there is nothing to stop you working for Padre Pio."
Alice has travelled the length of the country telling her story to Catholics, Anglicans and even Quakers.
"I'm not very road conscious and I remember in the early days being asked to give a talk in Hull and looking at the map saying it's only three inches. I didn't get home until 4am" "I had a believing family and my husband has been a great support."
Some people might have been tempted to convert to the Roman Catholic Church after such an experience so why not Alice?
"I am a High Anglican and I do not see anything as a High Anglican that is any different from the Roman Catholic Church, so why should I change?"
She added: "I have been able to reach people that I would not have been able to reach if I was a Catholic. I am a spiritual child of Padre Pio and he will meet me at the gates of heaven when I die but I must never make him ashamed of me."
Alice attended the beatification but sadly this year will not be in Rome as her husband Frank is still recovering from a bad road accident which has left him needing two separate operations.
For Alice however Padre Pio is with her in Haydock just as much as he will be with the pilgrims in Rome.
"There's no doubt that once Padre Pio touches you, he never lets you go."