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Paul VI - Overseer Of Change

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Picture of Paul VIGiovanni Battista Montini was born in Brescia, Lombardy, on September 27, 1897. His father was a successful journalist and a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. As a young man the future pope had such poor health that he was allowed to attend the seminary as a day student. He was ordained at Brescia on May 29, 1920, and sent to Rome for further studies. Having entered the papal diplomatic service he was sent to Warsaw as secretary to the nuncio. His health failed and he returned to Rome, where he was assigned to the secretariat of state.

By 1937 he was under secretary, and by 1952 acting secretary, of state. During World War II he was in charge of the Vatican's work for refugees and prisoners of war. He was there all during the occupation of Rome when there was a real danger the Germans would take the Pope and his chief aides with them when they were driven north. On December l, 1954, Pius XII made him Archbishop of Milan, the largest and, after Rome, the most important diocese in Italy.

Since Pius XII made no cardinals after 1953, the Archbishop of Milan was not a member of the conclave of 1958; but he was one of the first cardinals made by John XXIII in December of that year. He played a prominent role in the Council and since he was clearly the favorite of John XXIII, his election as his successor (June 21, 1963) was almost taken for granted.

The pontificate of Paul VI will always be linked with the Council. His was the task of bringing it to a successful conclusion (December 8, 1965) and of starting, though he knew he could not finish, the implementation of its decrees. One of its major themes was collegiality, or the collective responsibility of all the bishops, under the pope, for the general welfare of the Church. He wished to govern with and through the various national episcopal conferences. He was determined to hold firmly to basic Catholic teaching on faith and morals and to allow any other changes circumstances might suggest. Since conditions vary greatly from place to place and some people had unusual notions of the changes the Council had intended, there was some confusion about what could be done.

He will be remembered for his work toward the reunion of all Christians, his reaching out to the immense multitudes who belong to non-Christian religions or to none, his internationalizing the Roman Curia, and his untiring work for peace. He was deeply interested in the emerging nations of the Third World and supported every effort for their social advancement. He was the first pope to visit every continent, and the first since St. Peter to visit the Holy Land. The first papal visit to the Western Hemisphere was his visit to the United Nations Headquarters in New York on October 4, 1965. His attempt to establish better relations with communist governments had few results and aroused mixed feelings in various Catholic circles. His exceptional capacity for work lasted to the end, which came quite suddenly on August 6, 1978.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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