Papacy began October 28, 1958
Papacy ended June 3, 1963, age 81
Predecessor Pius XII
Successor Paul VI
Born November 25, 1881
Sotto il Monte, Italy
Died June 3, 1963
Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Other Popes named John
Pope John XXIII (Latin: Ioannes PP. XXIII), (Italian: Giovanni XXIII),
born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (November 25, 1881 – June 3, 1963),
was elected as the 261st Pope of the 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 June
3, 1963 two months after the completion of his final encyclical, Pacem
in Terris. He was beatified on September 3, 2000, along with Pope Pius
IX, the first popes since Pope St. Pius X to receive this honor. He
is widely considered to be one of the greatest Popes of all time.
Angelo Roncalli was born on November 25, 1881, in Sotto il Monte, a
small town in the Province of Bergamo, Italy. He was the son of Giovanni
Battista Roncalli and his wife Marianna Giulia Mazzolla. The fourth
in a family of 14, his family worked as sharecroppers, a striking contrast
to his predecessor, Eugenio Pacelli, who came from an ancient aristocratic
family, long connected to the Papacy. In 1904, Roncalli was ordained
a priest in the Roman Church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo.
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
During World War
I, Roncalli was drafted into the Royal Italian Army as a sergeant, serving
in the medical corps 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,
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. In 1944, during
World War II, Pope Pius XII named him Apostolic Nuncio to Paris, France.
In 1953, he was
named the Patriarch of Venice, and, accordingly, raised to the rank
of cardinal. 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
Election as pope
Pope John's Coat of ArmsThe 1958 papal conclave which elected Roncalli
as pope was later surrounded by conspiracy theories claiming that a
conservative cardinal, Giuseppe Siri, was the conclave's first choice
for pope but was forced amid threats of pogroms against Roman Catholics
in the Eastern Bloc to decline the papal tiara. The claim is accepted
only by some separatist sedevacantist and conclavist groups.
The United States
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) allegedly claimed that Siri had
indeed been elected on the third ballot of the 1958 papal conclave.
What is unambiguously known is that Vatican Radio did conclude, on the
basis of apparently white smoke, that a pope had been elected on the
third ballot and announced it as such, telling listeners "The smoke
is white. . . . There is absolutely no doubt. A pope has been elected."
An FBI source also claimed that Siri was elected a second time on the
third ballot. After the 6pm 3rd ballot white smoke appeared, not
only the public was confused. The Swiss Guards assembled to give the
ceremonial salute to the new pontiff, only to have to withdraw again.
The white smoke
often had proven a confusing symbol in the past, leading John Paul II
to decree the use of ringing bells in addition to the smoke after a
papal election. Allegedly, Siri had even chosen a name, "Gregory
XVII", and was preparing to appear at the balcony, but was threatened
somehow and forced aside, leaving the cardinals free to elect Roncalli
John often preferred
wearing the lightweight 1922 tiara of Pope Pius XI on less formal occasions.Following
the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, Roncalli was, to his own great surprise
(he had arrived in the Vatican with a return train ticket to Venice),
elected Pope. Many had considered that Archbishop Montini, Archbishop
of Milan, was a possible candidate, but, although Archbishop of one
of the most ancient and prominent Sees in Italy, Montini had not been
created a cardinal. 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 celibate Catholic male could be chosen. After
the long pontificate of Pope Pius XII, the cardinals chose a man whom,
it was presumed, because of his advanced age, would be a short-term
or "stop-gap" pope. In Pope John's first consistory, Montini
was raised to the rank of cardinal, and was himself elected as John's
successor, Paul VI.
Pope John XXIII
being carried on the sedia gestatoria for a Solemn Papal High Mass,
ca. 1959.Pope John's personal warmth, good humor and kindness captured
the world's affections in a way his predecessor, for all his great learning
and personal holiness, had failed to do. While Pius would look slightly
away and up from the camera whenever his photograph was taken, John
would look directly at the camera and smile.
John's own personal
It was a gift of the people of Bergamo in 1959.He undertook the first
official acts[citations needed] of a Pope away from Vatican territory
since 1870 on 25 December 1958, when he visited children suffering from
polio at the Bambin Gesù hospital and then visited Santo Spirito
Hospital. The next day he visited Rome's Regina Coeli prison, where
he told the prisoners: "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 ... [Peter Hebblethwaite,
Pope John XXIII: Shepherd of the Modern World, Image Books (1987) p.
Far from being a
mere "stop gap" Pope, to great excitement John called an ecumenical
council fewer than ninety years after the controversial Vatican Council.
Cardinal Montini remarked to a friend that "this holy old boy doesn't
realize what a hornet's nest he's stirring up". From the Second
Vatican Council, (colloquially known as Vatican II), came changes that
reshaped the face of Catholicism: a comprehensively revised Liturgy,
a stronger emphasis on ecumenism and a new approach to the world.
He met the Most
Rev. Geoffrey Francis Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for about
an hour in the Vatican on December 2, 1960. It was the first time in
over 400 years, since the excommunication of Elizabeth I, that the Archbishop
of Canterbury had met with the Pope.
Pope John XXIII
excommunicated Fidel Castro on January 3, 1962 in line with a 1949 decree
by Pope Pius XII forbidding Catholics from supporting communist governments.
Pope John and papal
Main article: Papal coronation
Pope John XXIII was the last pope to use full papal ceremonial, much
of which was abolished subsequently after Vatican II. His papal coronation
ran for the traditional five hours. (Pope Paul VI 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 in view of the crowds assembled
in St. Peter's Square.
As images (above)
show, unlike other popes who tended to just wear one papal tiara, John,
much to the delight of photographers, wore a number of tiaras from the
papal collection. On formal occasions, such as giving the Urbi et Orbi
blessing he wore the traditional 1877 Palatine tiara he had been crowned
with. However on other occasions he wore the lighter and more comfortable
1922 tiara of Pope Pius XI, which he used so often that it became strongly
associated with him.
1962 Man of the
Year Pope John XXIIIAs with most other popes in the last two decades
up to that point he was given an expensive silver papal tiara by the
people of Bergamo. The Tiara of Pope John XXIII, the lightest in the
papal collection at 2 lb (900 g), was given to him eventually in 1959.
When asked about the tiara during its manufacture, John asked that the
makers halve the number of jewels with which they planned to decorate
it and give the financial saving to the poor.
High Masses and most papal ceremonial, including the flabelli (ceremonial
fans made of ostrich feathers) and the Palatine Guard, and the saluting
of the pope on his arrival at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica by the playing
of trumpets, were abolished by Pope Paul VI in phases during his reign.
None of the tiaras associated with Pope John have been worn by later
the traditional papal ceremonial, Pope John continued his predecessor's
policy of a gradual reform to the Roman liturgy, the last such reform
of that rite before the major reform of the liturgy after Vatican II.
Pope John was also
the last pope to date to have his Requiem Mass celebrated within St.
Peter's Basilica, amid traditional papal pomp. His successor, Pope Paul
VI abolished the traditional papal funeral and had his funeral as a
simple concelebrated Mass in St. Peter's Square.
(A note on numbering:
The previous Pope named John was Pope John XXII. The Pope named John
before that was John XXI. But the last Pope named John before that was
Pope John XIX (1024–32), who was additionally the eighteenth Pope
named John. And there is no Pope John XX. This is due to John XVI having
been an anti-pope, and the confusion caused by historians mistakenly
believing the legend of a Pope named John between John XIV and John
Signing his encyclical Pacem in Terris.
The scale of his illness was not realized until this image, showing
him gaunt after major weight loss due to his cancer, was released. He
died soon afterwards.Pope John XXIII was first diagnosed with stomach
cancer on September 23, 1962. The diagnosis, which was kept from the
public, followed nearly eight years 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 May 11, 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 May 25, 1963,
the Pope suffered another hemorrhage and required blood transfusions,
but peritonitis soon set in, resulting in his death at 7:49 p.m. (local
time) on June 3 at the age of 81. He was buried on June 6, ending a
reign of four years, seven months and six days. He died from stomach
On December 6, 1963,
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.
Pope John, posing to give a blessing, in his official photograph. Taken
1959.Sedevacantist and Conclavist groups on the right of the Catholic
Church have been some of Pope John's most outspoken critics. Some groups
have even made unsubstantiated claims that John was a Freemason, and
as such, allegedly could not be a valid Pope since Catholics are prohibited
from joining Freemasonry under pain of excommunication. On that basis
one group, the U.S. Washington State-based true Catholic Church elected
its only priest as "pope" in 1998, claiming that there had
been no valid pope since Pope Pius XII died in 1958.
Some also make the
claim that John's choice of regnal name marked him as an antipope, as
the name John had lain unused since Antipope John XXIII used it in the
14th century (other Popes have similarly used names taken by anti-popes,
for example Benedict XIV).
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.  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. 
Although Pope John
did have a diary there is no evidence in it to suggest that he received
apocalyptic visions of the future. 
Solemn Pontifical High Mass Celebrated by Pope John XXIII in St. Peter's
Basilica in the early 1960sKnown affectionately as "Good Pope John"
and "the most loved Pope in history" to many people, in 2000
John was declared "Blessed" by Pope John Paul II, the penultimate
step on the road to sainthood. 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 the lack of oxygen in his sealed triple coffin
rather than to any miraculous event (although it was certainly seen
as such by many of the faithful). When John was moved, the original
vault — which was above the floor — was removed. A new vault
was built beneath the ground, and Pope John Paul II was later buried
in this vault.
He is honored by
many Protestant organizations as a Christian reformer. Both Anglican
and Lutheran denominations commemorate John XXIII as a "renewer
of the church." The then fiercely anti-Catholic Belfast City Council
flew the flag over city hall at half-mast in his honor after his death.
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.
He was appointed
the secretary to the new bishop of Bergamo and with him learned forms
of social action and gained an understanding of the problems of the
working classes. Meanwhile he taught at the diocesan seminary.
In 1915 he was recalled
to the army in World War I and served in the medical and chaplaincy
corps. After the war he was made the spiritual director of the seminary.
In 1921 he was called to Rome by the pope and made director of the Society
for the Propagation of the Faith in Italy.
He was consecrated
archbishop in 1925 and sent to Bulgaria. At Sofia the capital he dealt
with the problems of Eastern Rite Catholics in a troubled oriental land.
In 1934 he was sent
to Turkey and Greece. There he fostered harmony among various national
groups in Istanbul in a time of anti-religious fervor under Kemal Ataturk.
Archbishop Roncalli introduced the use of the Turkish language in worship
and in the official documents of the church and eventually won the esteem
of some high Turkish statesmen. He made a series of conciliatory gestures
toward the Orthodox and met with the Ecumenical Patriarch Benjamin in
1939. During World War II Istanbul was a center of intrigue and espionage,
and the archbishop gathered information useful to Rome and helped Jews
flee persecution. His work in Greece, which was occupied by the Nazis,
was less successful.
When he was sixty-four
years old (1944), an age when most men are thinking of retirement, Roncalli
was chosen by Pius XII for the difficult post of nuncio to Paris, where
he worked to heal the divisions caused by the war. He travelled widely.
[A nuncio, where
they exist, has the rank of an ambassador. While in Paris, Roncalli
once said: "You know, it's rough being a papal nuncio. I get invited
to these diplomatic parties where everyone stands around with a small
plate of canapes trying not to look bored. Then, in walks a shapely
woman in a low-cut, revealing gown, and everyone in the whole place
turns around and looks -- at me!"]
At age seventy-two he was made cardinal and Patriarch of Venice and
he had charge of a large diocese for the first time in his life. He
quickly won the affection of his people, visiting parishes, caring for
the working classes, establishing new parishes, and developing forms
of social action.
In 1958, nearly
seventy-seven years old, he was elected pope upon the death of Pius
XII. He was expected by many to be a caretaker and transitional pope,
but he astonished the church and the world with his energy and reforming
[Before the accession
of John XXIII, when the official Vatican newspaper, the Osservatore
Romano, quoted any statement by the Pope, on any matter whatever, it
had a standard introduction: "These are the words of the Holy Father,
as we were able to gather them from his august lips:" Under Pope
John, this was changed to "The Pope said:" This and similar
changes, not in themselves significant, helped to set the tone for the
He expanded and internationalized the college of cardinals, called the
first diocesan synod of Rome in history, revised the code of canon law,
and called the Second Vatican Council to revitalize the church. This
council was the major achievement of his life [and undertook] to renew
the life of the church and its teachings, with the ultimate goal of
the reunification of Christianity.
[The council marked
the beginning of a new spirit of openness on the part of Rome toward
Christians not of the papal obedience. The story is told that, when
it was announced that Protestant leaders would be nvited to the council
as observers, the conservative Cardinal Ottaviani was horrified. He
"But Your Holiness, Protestants are heretics!"
"Do not say,
'heretics,' my son. Say, 'separated brethren.'"
"They are in
league with the devil!"
"Do not say,
'devil,' my son. Say, 'separated angel.'"
Moreover, as Bishop
of Rome, he was unremitting in his care of his diocese, visiting hospitals,
prisons, and schools. When he died 3 June 1963, he had won the widespread
affection of Christian and non-Christian alike.