Feast Day: April 30
Pope St. Pius V, was born Michael Ghisleri in a little village, Bosco, in the Diocese of Tortona near Alessandria in northern Italy. He was a firm believer in the Truths of the Church. He embraced the Dominican Order at age fourteen and entered the Seminary. From the beginning of his days in formation, it was obvious to all his superiors that he was chosen far above the rest. The Dominicans knew he would go far in the Order, do great things for God, and advance the rule of his Father-in Faith, St. Dominic Guzman. He did move ahead as his superiors thought he would, assuming the posts of lector in Theology and Philosophy for many years. He also served as novice master and in the governing houses of the Order. In 1556, he was chosen bishop of Nepi and Sutri, Italy, and the following year was appointed inquisitor general, and also cardinal—in order, as he ruefully remarked, that irons should be riveted to his feet to prevent him from creeping back into the peace of the cloister.
In December 1565 Pius IV died, and Michael Ghisleri was chosen pope, largely through the efforts of St. Charles Borromeo, who saw in him the reformer of whom the Church stood in need. He accepted the “shoes of the fisherman” at a time when the Church was suffering from the Protestant revolt in most of Northern Europe. The Council of Trent had been convened before his papacy, and he implemented many of its reforms. He issued a new Roman Missal for Mass, the Roman Breviary—a scriptural prayer book for priests, and catechism—as the basis for other catechisms from children to adults, and a vernacular translation of the Bible. In addition, he enforced reform among bishops and priests, demanding that they live in the diocese and parish to which they were assigned; and he fought against ‘simony’ (the buying and selling of ecclesiastical favors) and nepotism. These moves ushered in the age of the Counter-Reformation. Many new religious communities were formed, which helped create the armies of reform and bring back those souls lost to Catholicism.
As a politician, however, Pius V received mixed reviews. When monarchs, such as Queen Elizabeth I, left the Church and followed a new brand of religion, Pius excommunicated them. But the monarchs themselves were hardly affected. To the Catholics who remained in England, however, the excommunication proved disastrous. Those who remained in the faith were persecuted; many were sentenced to death for “high treason.”
When it came to dealing with the Turks and the Muslim Ottoman Empire, however, the pope was more successful. The West united in the famous Battle of Lepanto, in which Christianity was victorious. Pius V saw the victory on October 7, 1571, as a gift from God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He proclaimed a celebration known to this day as the Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. He also inserted the words ‘Help of Christians’ in the Litany of Our Lady.
Pope Pius V was struck down by a painful disorder from which he had long suffered, he was beatified one hundred years to the day after his death and was subsequently canonized forty years later. History has told the story of this strong man, totally committed to his God, to his Church, and to the people of God. He was tried and found to be a powerful soldier of the Counter-Reformation.
Lord, Bob and Penny. “Super Saints Book III-Defenders of the Faith: Saints of the Counter-Reformation.” Robert and Penny Lord, 1998.
Trigilio, Rev. John, Ph.D, Th.D, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, Ph.D. “Saints for Dummies.” Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010.
Walsh, Michael, ed. “Butler’s Lives of the Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 1991.
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