Meet the (New) Saints… Pope Paul VI (Part 1 of 7)

On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis held the canonization Mass for seven blesseds.  Now saints, these holy individuals join the ranks of the souls we know to be in heaven who can intercede for us in a special way before the Father.  This post is part of a seven part series that will tell the story of these people and their path to sainthood.  

First up…  Pope Saint Paul VI

Who he was

Before he became pope, he was named Giovanni Battista Montini. Giovanni was the middle child; he had two brothers. They all lived in northern Italy. Giovanni was born in 1897 to an educated Catholic family that was involved in their community. He went through years of schooling at both Jesuit and public schools, though his education was sometimes interrupted by illnesses.

When he was nineteen, Giovanni entered the seminary, and was ordained as a priest four years later. He continued his formal education by doing graduate studies in philosophy, literature, and canon law. Then, in 1924, he joined the Vatican Secretariat of State, where he worked for thirty years. This unique path meant that Giovanni never held an office as a parish priest. In 1925, he helped found Morcelliana, a publishing house near his home village, which focuses on a “Christian-inspired culture.”

Giovanni, or Fr. Montini, was named archbishop of Milan in 1954. While serving in this role, Fr. Montini focused on disaffected workers who had strayed from the Church. He would visit factories regularly to serve those people, and referred to himself as “archbishop of workers.”

In 1958, Fr. Montini was named as a cardinal by Pope John XXIII. He helped prepare for Vatican II, and was an eager participant of its early sessions. In June 1963, when Fr. Montini became pope himself, he chose to continue the council and advocate for its sixteen documents. Because of his efforts, those documents were met with favor by the strong majority of bishops.

During his papacy, Paul VI made several important trips. For example, he visited Athenagoras, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, in the Holy Land in 1964. The following year, he visited New York City and gave a speech advocating for peace to the United Nations General Assembly. He also instituted the World Synod of Bishops, and established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and forty different countries. Paul VI penned seven encyclicals, the last of which was published in 1968. Humanae Vitae was and is a landmark encyclical that examines the sacredness of human life, and various offenses against it, such as hormonal birth control.

On August 6, 1978, Pope Paul VI passed away. He was beatified on October 19, 2014. Four years later, he was canonized on October 14 by Pope Francis. His feast day is the 26th of September.

What he did

Pope Paul VI is most often associated with Vatican II and Humanae Vitae, but they are not the only manifestations of his legacy. He also called for a more collaborative, conversation Church that was able to have dialogue within and without. This is apparent in the synods that continue to this day because of him. He encouraged us to act as witnesses, rather than teachers, in his commentary on evangelization.

The world calls for, and expects from us, simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile

Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi (“On Proclaiming the Gospel”)

Pope Paul VI’s travel outside of Italy was ground-breaking for its time. He was the first pope of the modern era to visit other countries. He discarded some of the materialistic trappings of the papacy, such as the triple tiara, to show that the pope was a servant, not a king. He also focused on unity. When facing dissent, his motto was “No one defeated; everyone convinced.” This shows a beautiful focus on achieving conversion of thought so that everyone moves forward of one mind because they fully understand and agree, rather than dragging a group along because they lost the debate.

His choices were controversial. Some people were upset with his teachings about birth control, and others were upset with his reform of the liturgy. But despite this discord, Pope Paul VI was a loving, holy, and optimistic man intent on improving the Church and serving its people. On this, his feast day, let us ask for his intercession over our lives and the trajectory of the Church.


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