Angelo Roncalli was born November
25, 1881, at Sotte il Monte, Italy.
He was educated at the seminary
of the Bergamo diocese and the Pontifical Seminary in Rome,
where he was ordained to the priesthood Aug. 10, 1904.
Father Roncalli spent the first
nine or 10 years of his priesthood as secretary to the bishop of
Bergamo and as an instructor in church history at the seminary.
During World War I, he served as a medic and chaplain in the
Italian army. Afterwards, he resumed duties in his own diocese
until he was called to Rome in 1921, where he helped to
reorganize the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
He began diplomatic service in
1925 as titular archbishop of Areopolis and apostolic visitor to
Bulgaria. A succession of offices followed: apostolic delegate
to Bulgaria (1931-1935); titular archbishop of Mesembria,
apostolic delegate to Turkey and Greece, administrator of the
Latin vicariate apostolic of Istanbul (1935-1944); apostolic
nuncio to France (1944-1953). On these missions, he was engaged
in delicate negotiations involving Roman, Eastern-Rite and
Orthodox relations; he played a role in rescuing Jews from
Nazi-controlled Hungary; and helped fulfill the needs of people
suffering from the consequences of World War II.
He was made a cardinal 12 January
1953, and three days later appointed patriarch of Venice. On 28
October 1958, at the age of 77, he was elected Pope.
John soon announced his intention
of convoking the 21st ecumenical council, to renew
life in the Church, to reform its structures and institutions,
and to explore ways and means of promoting unity among
Christians. The council ushered in a new era in the history of
the Church, completing its work two and one-half years after his
death. He died of stomach cancer, 3 June 1963.
John was a strong and vigorous
pope whose accomplishments exceeded all expectations.
Besides convoking Vatican II, he
established a commission, in March 1963, for revision of the
Code of Canon Law. The revised Code was promulgated in 1983.
He canonized 10 saints and
beatified Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native of the
U.S. to be so honored.
He created 52 cardinals,
including the first from the Philippines, Japan, and Africa,
making the College more international, and raising the
traditional number above 70.
He promoted the Church's
missionary activity and established native hierarchies in
Indonesia, Vietnam, and Korea.
Of his eight encyclicals, two
outstanding were Mater et Magistra ("Christianity
and Social Progress") and Pacem in Terris
("Peace on Earth"), addressed to all men of good will,
on natural-law principles of peace.
John continued liturgical reforms
begun by Pius XII, authorized use of the vernacular in the
administration of Sacraments, and selected the liturgy as the
first major topic of discussion by the Council.
He used his moral influence for
peace in 1961 when cold war tensions developed over Berlin, in
1962 during the Algerian revolt from France, and later the same
year in the Cuban missile crisis. In 1963, he was posthumously
awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Though he was a highly cultured
man—his writings include a five-volume study of St. Charles
Borromeo—he was proud of his peasant origins. He had a common
touch that endeared him to millions, and a sublime humility that
showed the depth of his spirituality. His influence on the
Church and on the world was far out of proportion to the
shortness of his reign.