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Ortrud and Dr. Germain Bianchi have an extraordinary story of being joined together by the famous Italian stigmatist priest, Saint Padre Pio! Ortrud joins me on The Dignity of Women to tell how she came to find her Catholic faith, befriend the saint who would change her life forever, and ultimately how that saint would lead her to her future husband.
Ortrud Bianchi was born in 1945 in Ronsperg, Czech Republic as the youngest of six children. Her family settled in a small town in Germany for a few years until her parents divorced when she was only five years old. Her mother’s difficult life as a divorcee convinced her that she would never marry. Although Ortrud grew up without a religious atmosphere at home, she received religious instruction at school and the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
When Ortrud was a teenager, her maternal grandmother died unexpectedly and her mother traveled to Austria for the funeral, deciding to remain there permanently. There Ortrud’s mother returned with fervor to her Catholic faith after the loss of her mother, and began to fast and pray for the return of her six children to the faith as well.
Meanwhile, Ortrud moved in with her oldest sister and brother-in-law in Landshut, Germany to finish her schooling and often visited her mother in Austria on school vacations. She strongly resisted her mother’s new mission to convert her however, and even threatened to stop visiting if she kept talking about religion. Although her mother remained silent on the matter, she handed Ortrud a pamphlet with Jesus on the cover as their next visit came to a close. Despite accepting the pamphlet in order to avoid an argument with her mother, Ortrud avoided it until Easter vacation was about to begin. She decided to read one small page of the pamphlet in order to appease her mother at their upcoming visit.
She was home alone when she finally opened the pamphlet from the diary of the Polish nun, Saint Faustina Kowalska, randomly. Jesus’ words to Sister Faustina hit her like lightning as He explained that His mercy was greater than any human or angelic mind could fathom and invited every soul, no matter how sinful, to draw close to His merciful heart. Ortrud realized in that moment that Jesus loved her more than she could imagine and was convicted that she didn’t want to be indifferent to Him anymore. She was overwhelmed by deep emotions of contrition and felt a force that brought her to her knees as she cried out over and over, “Jesus, from now on, I want to be your friend.”
The next morning was Sunday and to her sister and brother-in-law’s great shock, Ortrud woke up early and went alone to church for confession and Mass, never missing another Sunday Mass again!
Meeting Padre Pio
By 1964, Ortrud was living with her mother in Austria. Two years later, the family had planned to meet in Rome for her brother’s wedding. When the documents for his wedding disappeared, Ortrud’s mother decided to seize the opportunity for the family to use their time together to visit a holy monk named Padre Pio, who had the stigmata and lived near Rome, in San Giovanni Rotondo.
At first, Ortrud was excited to see a saint, but their first experience was Padre Pio’s 5:00 a.m. Mass, in which people were pushing and shoving so much that her brother-in-law lost his shoe, another person’s glasses flew off their face, and people were racing down the middle aisle and jumping over the pews in such a frenzy that it seemed more like a sporting event. When Padre Pio entered the sanctuary, he looked old, weak and sickly. Ortrud felt sorry for him and for the misled people who seemed more devoted to him than to Jesus and Mary. As she watched Padre Pio celebrate Mass, she was disappointed that nothing extraordinary happened, even inside of her.
Two years later, Ortrud made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Loreto in Italy with her mother and a man from the Legion of Mary. Her mother insisted they drive the 230 extra miles to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. Their 1949 Volkswagen broke down along the way and Ortrud and her mother sat in a ditch praying the rosary as they waited for their friend to return from hitchhiking to get the car parts they needed. When the car broke down a second time, the three of them hitchhiked through the night, arriving at San Giovanni Rotondo for the 5:00 a.m. Mass once again. This time, Ortrud’s mother obtained tickets to go to confession with Padre Pio and secured a place in the sacristy as he passed. Yet Ortrud knew better than to expect anything. But as she knelt down for a blessing while Padre Pio passed, he stopped and placed his hand on Ortrud’s head. Her whole body felt like electricity was going through it and even her soul was touched. A strong bond and deep spiritual relationship between her and Padre Pio was established in that moment. He had become her spiritual father and she had become his adopted spiritual daughter.
After speaking about Padre Pio nonstop back in Austria, Ortrud’s two sisters, her brother, brother-in-law, and mother decided to return with her to San Giovanni Rotondo only three weeks later. Those next weeks together as a family in San Giovanni Rotondo were like being in heaven for Ortrud and she realized that Padre Pio was leading all of the people who came to see him closer to Jesus – he was like a magnet drawing them closer to God.
On the morning of August 25, 1966, when Ortrud’s family packed for their return trip back to Austria, she firmly decided not to accompany them. Being a religious education teacher, she still had three weeks of vacation and despite not knowing Italian, not having any money, and her family’s resistance, Ortrud refused to leave San Giovanni Rotondo and Padre Pio.
After that evening’s Benediction service, Ortrud began to worry about where she would stay and said a prayer to Padre Pio for help. A young man who was sitting on a nearby bench under a tree walked toward her and they talked for a few minutes. After telling him that she was looking for a place to stay for the night, he asked her to wait on the bench before returning fifteen minutes later and leading her down a hill to the first house across from the monastery. It cost her only fifty cents a night to stay in one of the beds at the house. After thanking the young man and saying goodbye, he returned again providentially with two paper bags containing sandwiches and fruit.
The next day, not only did an Italian lady who stayed at the same residence serve her a big dish of pasta with bread and wine, but Ortrud also ran into the young man again. He was an American studying medicine in Rome and felt inspired to spend his free time in San Giovanni Rotondo near Padre Pio. Ortrud also met a woman named Adelinde from Austria who confided in her that she was anxious about traveling alone and was praying for a traveling companion back to Austria. This was an answer to both of their prayers and Ortrud happily agreed to travel back with Adelinde. They also offered the American a ride back to Rome where Adelinde needed to stop on business. Adelinde left Ortrud and the American alone in the car for a half hour while in Rome and Ortrud suggested to him that they pray the Rosary together, leading the first part of the Hail Mary in German and he answering in English. On their way to drop the American off at his hotel, Ortrud felt his hand on her right shoulder. In that moment she experienced the same powerful feeling that she had when Padre Pio put his hand on her head – almost supernatural. Before leaving the car, he handed her a piece of paper that said “Germain Bianchi, Yonkers, New York.”
Ortrud put the American out of her head, but several days after returning home to Austria, he shocked her by showing up at her door. Ortrud wanted to introduce him to her mother but couldn’t remember his name. He came to visit again, just three weeks later, which alarmed Ortrud as to his intentions. She told him firmly that she was not interested in marriage and was very happy to remain single. She didn’t want to divide her love for Jesus or compromise going to church whenever she liked. Ortrud wanted to remain a religious education teacher and feared getting married because of the promises she had seen broken in marriage.
Germain responded thoughtfully to each of her points, suggesting that she could be happy as a married person as well and that she would never have to divide her love for Jesus. Rather, they would both help each other to love Jesus more and more. Germain gave his word that he would never be unfaithful to her. When Ortrud pointed out the fact that they barely knew one another, Germain told her that when they were sitting in the car in Rome and she asked him to pray the Rosary, she was the first girl who had ever done that, and somehow he knew that he wanted her to be his wife.
Germain took a train to San Giovanni Rotondo the next day and in confession he told Padre Pio that he had met a girl that he wanted to marry but that she was not sure about him. Padre Pio said, “Marry her and prepare well for your marriage.” This solidified it for Germain, but Ortrud still needed her own confirmation. Germain and Ortrud went to San Giovanni Rotondo together at Christmas time, where Ortrud hoped to ask Padre Pio about marrying Germain. She was delighted to have an excellent position in the front row of the crowded sacristy among the many other women where Padre Pio would soon be passing.
Brother Joseph Pius, one of the Capuchins who lived at the monastery, approached her and insisted that she follow him. Ortrud reluctantly followed Brother Joseph Pius through a door to the monastery where she was instructed to wait. A few minutes later he returned with Germain, who had been waiting among the men for Padre Pio to pass by their section. He told Germain to stand next to Ortrud and then left without any explanation. They waited until Padre Pio, aided by two friars, entered at the end of the hallway. He walked slowly towards them and put his hands on their heads, giving them one blessing, together. No words were spoken, no angel appeared, but Ortrud knew at that moment that she and Germain were meant to be joined in marriage.
Ortrud visited Padre Pio regularly and on August 15, 1967, Germain proposed with an engagement ring made from a miraculous medal surrounded by tiny pearls. Padre Pio kept the ring in his room and blessed it. Ortrud and Germain were married on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1968, in the church of Our Lady of Grace, where Padre Pio received the stigmata, celebrated Mass for most of his life, and heard daily confessions. Although he no longer performed weddings, he came down to meet them in his wheelchair before their wedding ceremony. Padre Pio blessed their wedding rings, gave them his blessing and tapped Ortrud three times on her head, which created such an indescribable happiness that she asked God to remove it that night, fearing her heart would burst with joy.
Brother Joseph Pius and Father Ermelindo surprised the Bianchis at the wedding reception with a personal gift from Padre Pio. The friars handed them a picture of Our Lady of Grace, which Padre Pio inscribed with the words, “Maria vi tenga stretta nel sua amore” (May the Virgin Mary hold you tightly in her love). They stayed in San Giovanni Rotondo for several weeks as a honeymoon.
Padre Pio sadly died one month after their wedding and as they stood in line to pass by his coffin, Ortrud prayed that Padre Pio would bless their marriage with a child. Nine months later, their first son was born, and seven more children followed. The last two children, twins, were born on the feast of Our Lady of Grace, the patroness of San Giovanni Rotondo! Padre Pio not only brought Ortrud and Germain together, he has remained with them ever since. His fatherly care and love has been with them for over fifty years of married life.
Ortrud and Germain married at Our Lady of Grace
- The power of a mother’s prayers and fasting
- Meeting Padre Pio
- Becoming a spiritual daughter of Padre Pio
- The matchmaking of Ortrud and Germain
- Miraculous encounters and encouragement in faith
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