The Forgotten Pope

Eamonn Clark, STL

Secret messages to a dictator living down the road. Escaping the Vatican. Immense building projects. The first papal speech by radio. An unpublished encyclical on racism hidden from the world by the machinations of a powerful Jesuit.

Just a taste of what is contained in the epic but almost entirely forgotten 17 year long papacy of Pius XI. This is to say nothing of his monumental career prior – only about 2 years of which was as a bishop.

I’ve just finished my 2nd biography of the late Pontiff. His writings and ministry are central to my doctoral thesis, which is a deep study of his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, the first commemorative document of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.

Only a few days ago on February 6, we unceremoniously passed the Pope’s 100th anniversary of election. He also died in February, on the 10th, in 1939.

I think it’s altogether unfitting that the man who created Vatican City and essentially braced Europe for World War II should be so utterly lost to the sands of history so quickly. Pius wrote 30 encyclicals, for goodness’ sake. And as I get to know him more, I am inclined to say that he is among the top 10 most significant popes after Trent.

In this series of posts – with an indefinite end – I will be breaking down some of the more interesting moments, great accomplishments, and yes, mistakes, of Achille Ratti. There is much to learn from Manzoni’s greatest fan… The expert alpinist from Milan who rose from librarian to diplomat to pope was a man whose life spans the gap between “old Europe” and modernity. This is all the more true with the archives now being wide open – archives I will soon be digging around in myself.

So strap yourself in for a ride into the world of the interwar papacy.

4 thoughts on “The Forgotten Pope

  1. A great favorite of mine, largely ignored. Rather a fierce temper though usually l fueled by righteous anger. There was a novel published decades ago about a covert mission sent into Russia until betrayed. A slaughter followed. The leader, I want to say a Jesuit, had to spend the reat of his life in a Vatican Prison. Great story- part truth, part fiction. Stay well, Kid. Papa Roach The author claimed he heard the story from a Jebbie at Georgetown. ________________________________

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    1. Pacelli was usually there to calm him down – though I’m skeptical about that approach when Ethiopia was under the gun, and the Fuhrer was beginning to climb… Worked for Pacelli later, but who knows. And then there’s the speech he never gave – couldn’t hang on just another day or two (when he was also supposed to publish “Humani Generis Unitas”)… Anyway I am getting way ahead of myself!


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