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St. Pius V - A Reformer Pontiff And Saint

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Pius VA report circulated in Rome that Pius IV would be succeeded by an angelic pastor. For once such a report proved true. The next pope was the great St. Pius V.

Antony Ghislieri was born of poor parents near Alessandria on January 17, 1504. Educated by the Dominicans he entered the order and took the name Michael. He was ordained in 1528 and for years taught philosophy and theology. He served his order in several high offices and the Church as an inquisitor. A man of great austerity and prayer, he caught the eye of the reforming Caraffa. When Caraffa became Paul IV, he made the holy Dominican a bishop, cardinal, and grand inquisitor. Under the easy-going Pius IV, Ghislieri found himself out of favor, and it was a surprise when on January 7, 1566, he was elected pope. He took the name Pius V.

Pius set his heart on carrying out the reforms of Trent, extirpating heresy and promoting peace among princes to unite them against the Ottoman menace. He accomplished the reform objective to a large extent. One department after another felt the force of his zeal. Religious orders bloomed anew under his fostering hand. He published the catechism of the Council of Trent, and an improved edition of the missal and breviary. Pius tried to make Rome truly a holy city. Immorality he punished severely. Bull fights were forbidden. He actually tried to stop bull fighting in Spain, but that was too much even for a pope!

A former grand inquisitor, Pius dealt harshly with heretics. Queen Elizabeth he excommunicated in 1570, an act which, while it heightened the persecution of Catholics in England, also did much to strengthen them.

The great concern of the Pope's last years was the Ottoman's fierce onslaught. When in 1570 they tore Cyprus from the Venetians, the Christian outposts in the Levant shook with fear. Then Pius, in Chesterton's words, "called the kings of Christendom for swords about the cross." But "the cold Queen of England is looking in the glass. The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass." The Venetians, however reluctantly, had to fight because the Turks were attacking them, and Philip of Spain alone joined the Pope and the Venetians in a crusading league. After disappointing delays, the league fleet under Don John of Austria smashed the big Turk fleet at Lepanto in 1571. The delighted Pope established the feast of Our Lady of Victory to commemorate this astounding victory, which he attributed to Mary's intercession.

It had been weary work getting this crusade going, work that took a good deal out of the old Pope. Though he suffered much from stone, his prayer was: "Lord increase my pains, but increase my patience too." Pius died joyfully on May 1, 1572. Venerated at once by the Roman people, he was beatified by Clement X in 1672 and canonized by Clement XI in 1712. His feast is kept on May 5, and on this day Romans still gather at his shrine to venerate a great pope and a holy man.


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

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