A 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.
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
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.