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Papacy began 28 October 1958
Papacy ended 3 June 1963
Predecessor Pius XII
Successor Paul VI
Personal details
Birth name Ângelo Giuseppe Roncalli
Born November 25, 1881(1881-11-25)
Sotto il Monte, Italy
Died June 3, 1963 (aged 81)
Vatican City
Other Popes named John

Blessed Pope John XXIII (Latin: Ioannes PP. XXIII; Italian: Giovanni XXIII), born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (25 November 1881 – 3 June 1963), known as Blessed John XXIII since his beatification, was elected as the 261st Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City on October 28, 1958.

He called the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) but did not live to see it to completion, dying on 3 June 1963, two months after the completion of his final encyclical, Pacem in Terris. He was beatified on 3 September 2000, along with Pope Pius IX.


Early life and ordination

Ângelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte, a small country village in the Province of Bergamo, Italy. He was the firstborn son of Giovanni Battista Roncalli (1854–1935) and his wife Marianna Giulia Mazzolla (1854–1939), and fourth in a family of 14, including: Angelo Giuseppe, Alfredo, Maria Caterina, Teresa, Ancilla, Francesco Zaverio, Maria Elisa, Assunta Casilda, Giovanni Francesco, Enrica, Giuseppe Luigi and Luigi.[1] His family worked as sharecroppers like the largest part of Sotto il Monte peoples, a striking contrast to his predecessor, Eugenio Pacelli, who came from an ancient aristocratic family, long connected to the Papacy. However, he was still a descendant of an Italian noble family, from a secondary and impoverished branch.[2]

In 1904, Roncalli was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo in Rome. He was trained as a historian.

Priest and bishop

In 1905, Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, the new bishop of Bergamo, appointed Roncalli as his secretary. Roncalli worked for Radini-Tedeschi until the bishop's death in 1914. During this period Roncalli was also a teacher in the diocesan seminary.

During World War I, Roncalli was drafted into the Royal Italian Army as a sergeant, serving in the medical corps as a stretcher-bearer and as a chaplain.

In 1921, Pope Benedict XV appointed him as the Italian president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925 Pope Pius XI appointed him as Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria (1925–1935), also naming him for consecration as titular bishop of Areopolis. He chose as his episcopal motto Obedientia et Pax ("Obedience and Peace"), which became his guiding motto.


In 1935 he was made Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. Roncalli used this office to help the Jewish underground in saving thousands of refugees in Europe, leading some to consider him to be a Righteous Gentile (see Pope John XXIII and Judaism). In 1944, during World War II, Pope Pius XII named him Apostolic Nuncio to France. In this capacity he had to negotiate the retirement of bishops who had collaborated with the occupying power.


In 1953, he was appointed as the Patriarch of Venice, and, accordingly, raised to the rank of Cardinal-Priest of Santa Prisca by Pope Pius XII. As a sign of his esteem, President Vincent Auriol of France claimed the ancient privilege possessed by French monarchs and bestowed the red hat on the now-Cardinal Roncalli at a ceremony in the Elysee Palace.


Styles of
{{{papal name}}}
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Blessed
File:John XXIII Sedia Gestatoria.jpg

Pope John XXIII being carried on the sedia gestatoria for a Solemn Papal High Mass, ca. 1959.

Papal election

Following the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, Roncalli was elected Pope, to his great surprise. He had even arrived in the Vatican with a return train ticket to Venice. Many had considered that Giovanni Battista Montini, Archbishop of Milan, was a possible candidate, but, although he was Archbishop of one of the most ancient and prominent Sees in Italy, he had not been appointed a cardinal.[3]


Pope John XXIII's coronation in 1958.
He was crowned wearing the 1877 Palatine Tiara.

As a result, he was not present at the 1958 conclave and most of the cardinals abided by the established precedent of voting only for a member of the College of Cardinals, in spite of the affirmation in Canon Law that any Catholic male could be chosen.

After the long pontificate of Pope Pius XII, the cardinals chose a man who, it was presumed because of his advanced age, would be a short-term or "stop-gap" pope. In John XXIII's first consistory, Montini was raised to the rank of cardinal; and in time he became John's successor, Pope Paul VI. John XXIII's personal warmth, good humor and kindness captured the world's affections in a way his predecessor, for all his learning, had failed to do.

Upon his election, Cardinal Roncalli chose John as his regnal name. This was the first time in over 500 years that this name had been chosen - previous Popes had avoided using this name as the last bishop of Rome to use this name came to be considered an Antipope following the Western Schism.

On the choice of his name Pope John said that

I choose John ... a name sweet to us because it is the name of our father, dear to me because it is the name of the humble parish church where I was baptized, the solemn name of numberless cathedrals scattered throughout the world, including our own basilica [St. John Lateran]. Twenty-two Johns of indisputable legitimacy have [been Pope], and almost all had a brief pontificate. We have preferred to hide the smallness of our name behind this magnificent succession of Roman Popes.[4]

Upon choosing the name, there was some confusion as to whether the new Pope would be known as John XXIII or John XXIV. In response, John declared that he was John XXIII, thus affirming the antipapal status of Antipope John XXIII.

Before this Antipope, the most recent Popes called John were John XXII (1316–1334) and John XXI (1276–1277). However, there was no Pope John XX, due to confusion caused by medieval historians misreading the Liber Pontificalis to refer to another Pope John between John XIV and John XV.

Visits outside Rome

On 25 December 1958, he became the first pope since 1870 to make pastoral visits in his diocese of Rome, when he visited children infected with polio at the Bambin Gesù hospital and then visited Santo Spirito Hospital. The following day he visited Rome's Regina Coeli prison, where he told the inmates: "You could not come to me, so I came to you." These acts created a sensation, and he wrote in his diary:

...great astonishment in the Roman, Italian and international press. I was hemmed in on all sides: authorities, photographers, prisoners, wardens...[5]

Calling the Council

Far from being a mere "stop gap" Pope, to great excitement John called an ecumenical council fewer than ninety years after the Vatican Council. Cardinal Montini remarked to a friend that "this holy old boy doesn't realise what a hornet's nest he's stirring up".[6] From the Second Vatican Council came changes that reshaped the face of Catholicism: a comprehensively revised liturgy, a stronger emphasis on ecumenism, and a new approach to the world.

Pope John and papal ceremonial

Pope John XXIII was the last pope to use full papal ceremony, some of which was abolished subsequently after Vatican II, while the rest fell into disuse. His papal coronation ran for the traditional five hours (Pope Paul VI, by contrast, opted for a shorter ceremony, while later popes declined to be crowned). However, as with his predecessor Pope Pius XII, he chose to have the coronation itself take place on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, in view of the crowds assembled in St. Peter's Square.

Final months and death

On 23 September 1962, Pope John XXIII was first diagnosed with gastric carcinoma. The diagnosis, which was kept from the public, followed nearly eight months of occasional stomach hemorrhages, and reduced the pontiff's appearances. Looking pale and drawn during these events, he gave a hint to his ultimate fate in April 1963, when he said to visitors, "That which happens to all men perhaps will happen soon to the Pope who speaks to you today."

On 11 May 1963, the Italian president Antonio Segni awarded Pope John XXIII the Balzan Prize for his engagement for peace. It was the Pope's last public appearance.

On 25 May 1963, the Pope suffered another hemorrhage and required blood transfusions, but the cancer had perforated the stomach wall and peritonitis soon set in. By 31 May, it had become clear that the cancer had overcome the resistance of Pope John. "At 11 A.M. Petrus Canisius Van Lierde as Papal Sacristan was at the bedside of the dying pope, ready to anoint him. The Pope began to speak for a very last time: “I had the great grace to be born into a Christian family, modest and poor, but with the fear of the Lord. …My time on earth is drawing to a close. But Christ lives on and continues his work in the Church. Souls, souls, Ut omnes unum sint, [7] Van Lierde then anointed his eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet. Overcome by emotion, he forgot the right order of anointing. Pope John gently helped him. Then the Pope bid him and all the other bystanders a last farewell." [8] His last words, according to Jean Guitton, the only lay person to serve as a peritus at the Second Vatican Council were "Stop the council, stop the council!"

The Pope died 7:49 p.m. (local time) of peritonitis due to a perforated stomach cancer on 3 June at the age of 81. He was buried on 6 June, ending a reign of four years, seven months.

On 3 December 1963, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award, in recognition of the good relationship between Pope John and the United States.

Legacy and beatification

The body of John XXIII

Known affectionately as "Good Pope John" and "the most beloved Pope in history" to many people, on September 3, 2000, John was declared "Blessed" by Pope John Paul II, the penultimate step on the road to sainthood. He was the first pope since Pope Pius X to receive this honor. Following his beatification, his body was moved from its original burial place in the grottoes below St Peter's Basilica to the Altar of St. Jerome and displayed for the veneration of the faithful. At the time, the body was observed to be extremely well-preserved—a condition which the Church ascribes to embalming[9] and the lack of air flow in his sealed triple coffin rather than to a miracle. When John was moved, the original vault above the floor was removed. A new vault was built beneath the ground, and Pope John Paul II was later buried in this vault.

The date assigned for the liturgical celebration (where authorized) of Blessed John XXIII is not 3 June, the anniversary of his death, as would be usual, but 11 October, the anniversary of his opening of the Second Vatican Council.[10] Although his feast day is October 11 in the Roman Catholic Church, he is commemorated on 3 June by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and on June 4, by the Anglican Church of Canada.

From his early teens, he maintained a diary of spiritual reflections that was subsequently published as Journal of a Soul. The collection of writings charts Roncalli's efforts as a young man to "grow in holiness" and continue after his election to the Papacy; it remains widely read.

Sedevacantist and Conclavist groups have been some of Pope John's most outspoken critics.

Many who subscribe to the teachings of Our Lady of Fatima also believe that Pope John deliberately withheld secret prophetic information revealed by an apparition of the Virgin Mary.[11] This is perhaps the basis for Internet reports in the late 1990s about the supposed discovery of Pope John's diary where he received prophetic insight into the future, including the return of Jesus in New York in 2000.[12]

Although Pope John did have a diary, there is no evidence in it to suggest that he received apocalyptic visions of the future.[13]

In 2003, The Guardian newspaper found a confidential communique from John to Catholic Bishops, allegedly mandating confidentiality in matters of pederasty with the threat of excommunication.[14] These allegations were later refuted by Archbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols, Chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults. Nichols explained that the communique "is not directly concerned with child abuse at all, but with the misuse of the confessional. This has always been a most serious crime in Church law." [15]

See also


  1. Pope John XXIII
  2. Armas e Troféus, Instituto Português de Heráldica, 1990s
  3. Pope Paul VI : 1963 – 1978, Retrieved 28 February 2006.
  4. "I Choose John . . ." from Time Magazine
  5. Hebblethwaite, Peter (1987). Pope John XXIII: Shepherd of the Modern World. Image Books. pp. 303. 
  6. George Weigel, "Thinking Through Vatican II", First Things, June/July, 2001.
  7. (that all may be one).
  8. Peter Hebblethwaite, John XXIII, Pope of the Council, Revised edition, Harper Collins, Glasgow,1994 502
  9. ”Vatican not afraid to show Pope’s face of death”, Phil Stewart, Reuters, 06/04/2005
  10. Saint of the Day
  12. Pope John XXIII Predictions
  14. Guardian: Vatican told bishops to cover up sex abuse
  15. Vincent Nichols statement in full

Further reading

  • Hebblethwaite, Peter & Hebblethwaite, Margaret (2000), John XXIII: Pope of the Century, Continuum International, ISBN 0826449956 
  • Martin, Malachi (1986), Vatican: a novel, New York: Harper & Row, ISBN 0060154780 
  • Martin, Malachi (1990), The Keys of this Blood, New York: Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0671691740 
  • Pope John XXIII, Journal of a Soul ("Giovanni XXIII Il Giornale dell' Anima". trans. Dorothy White, 1965 Geoffrey Chapman ISBN 0-225-66895-5
  • Williams, Paul L. (2003), The Vatican Exposed, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, ISBN 1591020654 

External links

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Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Valerio Valeri
Apostolic Nuncio to France
23 December 1944–12 January 1953
Succeeded by
Paolo Marella
Preceded by
Carlo Cardinal Agostini
Patriarch of Venice
15 January 1953–28 October 1958
Succeeded by
Giovanni Cardinal Urbani
Preceded by
Pius XII
28 October 1958 – 3 June 1963
Succeeded by
Paul VI

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