Father Joseph Picco was born on July 4, 1867 in Nole (Turin Piemonte), Italy. He studied in the Seminary at Turin, and entered the Society of Jesus on September 22, 1885. For more than a quarter of a century he labored as the Apostle of Gozzano and of the country places in the neighborhood of Navara. He was distinguished for his zeal, his humility, charity, and self-sacrifice. He died with the reputation for sanctity on August 31, 1946.
Ten years after his death the review, “Orizzonti,” under date of August 19, 1956, carried the following article:
Throughout the eighty years of his life, Father Picco never filled an important position, he left no memorable writings, he preached no impressive sermons, for his voice was not powerful, and he had no genius for organization. Yet he had a heart full of love for the suffering and wretched.
His face, always lit by an encouraging smile, hid a soul, which shared the sorrows of the poor who are crushed beneath life’s burdens. His neglected outward appearance concealed the magnificent radiance of his interior life. At times he would shed tears when someone had to be dismissed from some spiritual exercise because of misconduct.
Proclamation at His Death
When Father Picco died on August 31, 1946, the Mayor of Gozzano felt it his duty to publish this proclamation: “Due to the death of Father Joseph Picco, S.J., a general mourning of the entire population will be observed.” The observance was extended to include the population of the surrounding districts as well.
Despite his hiddenness, devoted clients came, and still come from everywhere to venerate this remarkable, poor priest who still remains the great benefactor of those who suffer.
Servant of the Sick
During life, to serve the sick, he was always ready to set out, regardless of bad weather. Pouring rain or snow did not deter him.
He often slept without undressing. Time and again he would reach a dying person without having been summoned – no one knew how. People were touched and astounded and eternally grateful.
Once a man lay dying in the village of San Stefano. “Call for Father Picco,” he pleaded, “or I die in despair.” It was past midnight, and the dying man’s wife tried to make him understand how impossible it was to reach Father Picco at that moment. However, to quiet him, one of the relatives left the room as if to go for him. Outside the room stood Father Picco. The relative could not believe his eyes.
“Father,” he exclaimed, “how can this be?”
A big smile was his only answer.
“But who told you to come?”
Another bright smile. “I knew it; I knew it.”
A Man of Penance
Why was it that unbelievers, even the most obstinate, were time and again converted by Father Picco? He used to rub his hands with nettles, mix ashes with his food, and he often slept on a bench in the church, and in wintertime, in a stable. Once he was found sleeping in the snow near the front gate. Another time he returned home barefooted in the snow because he had given his shoes to a poor man. To beggars he used to give everything, even the bread he had in his pocket to eat on his journeys. Then he would beg bread for himself.
Special Friend of the Unemployed
A newspaper in Bologna styled Father Picco the special helper of the unemployed. Indeed, most of the graces obtained through his intercession are in favor of those without work who have families to provide for. Thus Antonio Algranati of Bologna writes: “I was in a desperate situation. The father of eight children, I was terribly discouraged, since I was without work for over a year. How could I get work since I was sixty and somewhat deaf due to a war injury? I heard of Father Picco and trustfully besought him with all my heart to help me. I was heard at once, and I found just the position I wanted, with higher wages than I had hoped for. When my son brought me the happy news, I was so overjoyed that I could hardly believe it.”
Many similar graces and favors have been reported from many places: as, for instance, from one Vito Olivetti of Lanzo Toriense; from Giovanni Ruata of Chieri; from throughout Italy and even from distant Venezuela.
Surely Father Picco would heed the pleas of needy devotees even in these United States. Let us pray daily for his canonization, thereby bringing showers of graces and favors on those in our families and country during these difficult times.