Mildred Norman was born on a small New Jersey chicken farm in 1908. A review of her youth provides few clues to the destiny that lay ahead. Her family didn’t attend church and adhered to no particular religion. Mildred graduated from high school, got a job, wore makeup, bought nice clothes, drove a fancy car, went out on dates, and wrote amateur plays for a local Grange group.
The momentum of conventional living carried Mildred into marriage just as America fell into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Her husband had trouble finding work, and later, due to differences in fundamental values, their paths eventually diverged and the marriage ended. In this time of crisis, Mildred began to question her entire existence and its meaning. It was a turning point and time of preparation for her life to come.
The seeds of her future were beginning to sprout; out of her inner search came new directions along the mountain paths she would hike — the solitude in the midst of nature’s companionship brought clarity, as she prepared for something she couldn’t yet name. In one six-month period, Mildred ended up hiking the entire length of the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail — the first woman to do so.
Near the end of that journey came a revelation that was to shape the rest of her life. In her journal she wrote:
At the age of thirty, out of desperation, and a deep longing for a more meaningful way of life, while walking alone in the woods one night, I came to a moonlit glade and prayed. In that mo-ment, I felt a complete willingness, without any reservations, to give my life — to dedicate my life — to service. “Please use me!” I prayed to God. A great peace came over me.
By morning’s light, her old life was finished. But Mildred Norman’s preparation had only begun.
Nothing in her early years had foreshadowed this transformation. Many family members, friends, and neighbors, dismayed by the changes in Mildred, dropped out of her life. What followed was fifteen years of testing — a war between what she called her “lower, self-centered nature and her higher, God-centered nature.”
Struggling to integrate the spiritual awakening that came to her that night on her Appalachian journey, Mildred spent more and more time serving — working with senior citizens and the emotionally disturbed, and volunteering for various peace organizations. During this time, she slowly rid herself of unnecessary possessions, attachments, and useless activities. A pacifist and early advocate of voluntary simplicity, she pared her life to the bone. She now owned only two dresses — the second to wear while the other was in the wash. Mildred’s years of preparation culminated one morning in a second illumination, on her daily silent walk in nature:
All of a sudden I felt more uplifted than ever before — I knew timelessness, spacelessness, and lightness — I did not seem to be walking on the earth. Every bush, every tree seemed to wear a halo….There was a light emanation around everything, and flecks of gold fell like slanted rain through the air. The most important part was not the phenomena…it was the realization of the unity of all creation.
With this realization, the preparatory phase of Mildred’s life ended, and a new life began. She changed her name to Peace Pilgrim and resolved to walk across the length and breadth of North America, speaking of peace among nations, of peace between individuals, and of the all-important inner peace. Her life became a pilgrimage.
In the years that followed, Peace Pilgrim divested herself of all possessions except for the clothes on her back — she kept no coat, no sleeping bag, no money — only plain, rubber-soled shoes, long pants, and a simple tunic. In her pockets she carried her only earthly belongings: a folding toothbrush, a comb, a map of the area where she was walking, and her current mail.
She wore the tunic over a long-sleeved shirt in winter, and short sleeves in the summer. On the back of her tunic, Peace Pilgrim had printed the words, “10,000 miles for Peace.” Later it changed to “25,000 miles” — a number she far surpassed in her twenty-eight year pilgrimage, in which she crossed each Canadian province once and the entire United States nearly seven times.
As a pilgrim, Peace, as she was called, relied on the goodness and generosity of others, and on the grace of God. She never asked for food or lodging, but ate only what others offered freely. She took her rest in country fields, parks, bus stations, and homes across North America. Everywhere she walked she spoke of peace, inspiring her listeners to consider their highest ideals, and to begin or to continue living them.
Peace walked south in winter and north in summer; she had her share of sweltering days, frozen nights, and mortal dangers. But her faith in divine providence sustained her. When a hulking, half-crazed teenage boy attacked her, she made no effort to defend herself. She showed him only love and compassion, and was soon reassuring this lost young man that there was a way for him to find inner peace. Eventually he did.
Another time a man invited her into his car, they talked a while, and he invited her to get some sleep. She curled up trustingly and did just that. When she awoke several hours later, he confessed to her that he’d planned to rape her, but her trust rendered him unable to go through with it.
Once she faced down another disturbed man attempting to assault an eight-year-old girl. Peace stood her ground, gazing at him without anger or criticism, until he finally turned and left. Peace often said, “There is a spark of good in everyone, no matter how deeply it may be buried. It is the real you.” It was this divine spark that she addressed in every person she met.
Once, on an isolated road, Peace was caught by a sudden snowstorm — a blizzard so dense and fierce that she could not even see her hand in front of her face. Close to freezing, she surrendered to God’s will and stumbled on. Soon she found the railing of a bridge. Groping her way down the snowy embankment, she crawled underneath the bridge and found a cardboard box filled with wrapping paper. She curled up inside it, and went to sleep.
Peace woke to a blue sky and sparkling sun. Another day had begun. “Aren’t people good!” she loved to say. And everywhere she went, people proved her right, opening their hearts and their hearths to her. In this way, for nearly three decades, Peace Pilgrim lived as a spiritual servant in the world, touching and inspiring thousands on her journey for peace. Today, she is known by millions worldwide for her simple yet profound message: “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love. Live according to your highest light, and more light shall be given.”
After Therese Neumann, Padre Pio is perhaps the most widely observed modern Western mystic to demonstrate divine powers of healing and regeneration. The first signs of his extraordinary qualities occurred unexpectedly on September 20, 1918. Then a thirty-one-year-old Capuchin monk, Padre Pio was sitting alone in the monastery chapel, praying after Mass. Outside, Padre Leone heard a scream within the chapel and ran in to find Padre Pio lying unconscious on the floor, bleeding profusely from the five wounds of the stigmata.
Several monks carried Padre Pio to his room, where he begged them to keep his condition a secret. But word spread. The church quickly put a ban of silence on him, concerned that this untested monk might be manifesting symptoms of hysteria. He was forbidden to write or speak in public — yet over the next five decades, Padre would prove to be one of the most remarkable Western saints in history.
Like Therese Neumann, Padre Pio bore for his entire life wounds of the stigmata that never healed. And thousands of individuals — from ordinary Italian peasants and fellow clerics, to high public officials and pilgrims from around the world — witnessed and testified to his powers of telepathy, prophecy, bilocation, levitation, and healing.
Although Padre Pio never left the city of San Giovanni Ro-tondo in his last fifty years, he often appeared to those in need far from his physical body — to teach, admonish, comfort, and heal. Numerous testimonies, by telegram, letter, telephone transcript, and personal declaration, document Padre Pio’s long-distance appearances in places he never physically visited — throughout Italy, Austria, Uruguay, and even Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Padre Pio admitted appearing on June 25, 1950, to attend the death of a fellow monk’s father. When asked about his ability to appear in two places, Padre Pio replied, “If Christ multiplied the loaves and fishes, why cannot he multiply me?”
And the fragrance of violets that often emanated from Padre Pio also often manifested to those who prayed to him, and was noticed by witnesses in those places where he had miraculously appeared.
Padre Pio’s miraculous healing powers were well documented. He cured many illnesses deemed incurable, and on more than one occasion restored sight to the blind. His most well-documented case of healing involved a little blind girl named Gemma Di Giorgi, from Ribera, Sicily, who had been born with no pupils in her eyes. In 1947 her grandmother brought her on a long journey to see Padre Pio. Gemma’s grandmother, ardently devoted to Padre Pio, believed the saint could give sight to her granddaughter, even though her doctors declared it physically impossible for a human being to ever see without pupils.
That morning, Gemma and her grandmother arrived in Padre Pio’s village to wait in the enormous crowds that always attended Padre Pio’s Mass. Afterward, in the silence following Mass, all present heard a voice shout, “Gemma, come here!” Gemma’s grandmother led her through the crowd up to Padre Pio, where they both knelt at his feet. Padre Pio, after hearing Gemma’s confession, sweetly administered her first Communion, then gently stroked her eyes. Before they left, Padre Pio bid them farewell, saying, “May the Madonna bless you, Gemma. Be a good girl.”
At that very moment, before the crowd of witnesses, Gemma uttered a shriek as the power of sight was given to her for the first time — a miracle that would last for the rest of her long life. Numerous doctors who examined Gemma later admitted their bewilderment. By all known science, she should not have been able to see without the apparatus required for sight.
The testimonies of miraculous cures and demonstrations of Padre Pio’s supernatural abilities fill volumes. And the volumes written about this great contemporary saint are increasing each year.
Padre Pio left his body in 1968. More than one hundred thousand people came from around the world to attend his funeral in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, and half a million devotees would gather in Rome in 2002 to witness Pope John Paul II proclaim Padre Pio Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.
Many thousands wept at the passing of this humble saint, for the awe with which he was regarded for his miraculous powers was less than the love that his kindness had awakened in the hearts of his people.
Bios for Dan Millman and Doug Childers:
Dan Millman is a former world trampoline champion, hall of fame gymnast, university coach, college professor, and bestselling author whose eight books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, The Laws of Spirit, and The Life You Were Born to Live, have inspired millions of people in more than twenty languages. His books and seminars have influenced people from all walks of life, including leaders in the fields of health, business, education, entertainment, and sports. A youthful grandfather, he lives with his family in northern California.
Doug Childers is an author, editor, and writing coach whose books include The Energy Prescription and The White-Haired Girl. He lives with his family in northern California.
It will look like this: An Unlikely Pilgrim – One Woman’s 28 Year Trek for Peace