People who know nothing else about Pius V are quite apt to remember
him as the Pope of the Rosary, recalling his remarkable connection with
the Battle of Lepanto.
Antonio Michael was born into the distinguished but impoverished
Ghisleri. His parents could not afford to educate their alert little boy, who
seemed far too talented to be a shepherd. One day, as he was minding
his father's small flock, two Dominicans came along the road and fell into
conversation with him. Recognizing immediately that he was both
virtuous and intelligent, they obtained permission from his parents to take
the child with them and educate him. He left home at age 12 and did not
return until his ordination many years later.
After a preliminary course of studies, he received the Dominican habit at
the priory of Voghera at age 14 and, as a novice, was sent to Lombardy.
Here, for the first time, he met the well-organized forces of heresy
which he was to combat so successfully in later years.
After his ordination in 1528, he went home to say his first Mass, and he
found that Bosco had been razed by the French. There was nothing left
to tell him if his parents were alive or dead. He finally found them,
however, in a nearby town. After he said Mass, he returned to a career
that would keep him far from home for the rest of his life. He began as a
lector in theology and philosophy for 16 years.
Then he served as novice-master, than as prior of several convents,
Michael proved to be a wise and charitable administrator. He was made
inquisitor at Como, Italy, where many of his religious brethren had died as
martyrs to the heretics. By the time of Michael's appointment there, the
heretics' chief weapon was the printed word; they smuggled books in
from Switzerland, causing untold harm by spreading them in northern
Italy. The new inquisitor set himself to fight this wicked traffic, and it
was not the fault of the heretics that he did not follow his brethren to
martyrdom. They ambushed him several times and laid a number of
complicated plots to kill him, but only succeeded in making him determined
to explain the situation more fully to the pope in Rome.
He arrived in Rome on Christmas Eve, tired, cold, and hungry, and here it
was not the heretics that caused him pain, but his own brothers in
Christ. The prior of Santa Sabina saw fit to be sarcastic and inhospitable
to the unimportant looking friar, who said he was from Lombardy. The
pope knew very well who he was, however, and immediately gave him
the commission of working with the heretics in the Roman prisons.
He was a true father to these unfortunates, and he brought many of
them back to the faith. One of his most appealing converts was a young
Franciscan, a converted Jew of a wealthy family, who had lapsed into
heresy through pride in his writing. Michael proceeded to straighten out
his thinking, to give him the Dominican habit, and to assure him of his
personal patronage, thus securing for the Church a splendid Scripture
scholar and writer.
In 1556, Michael was chosen bishop of Nepi and Sutri. The next year he
was named inquisitor general against the Protestants in Italy and Spain
and was appointed cardinal, in order, as he said, that irons should be
riveted to his feet to prevent him from creeping back into the peace of the
cloister. In 1559, Pope Pius IV made him bishop of the war-depleted
Piedmont see of Mondovi, to which he soon brought order. Insofar as
possible, Michael continued to adhere to the Dominican Rule.
He constantly opposed nepotism. Michael opposed Pius IV's attempt to
make 13-year-old Ferdinand de'Medici a cardinal, and defeated the
attempt of Emperor Maximilian II of Germany to abolish clerical celibacy.
January 7, 1565, when the papal chair was vacant following the death
of Pius IV, the cardinals, chiefly through the influence of St. Charles
Borromeo (f.d. November 4), elected Cardinal Ghislieri pope. With great
grief, he accepted the office and chose the name Pius V. Charles
Borromeo had backed Michael during the election, trusting that he would
act as a much-needed reformer.
His judgment proved true: on Pius's coronation, the money usually
distributed to the crowds was given to the hospitals and the poor, and
money for a banquet for the cardinals and other dignitaries was given to
poor convents. When someone criticized this, he observed that God
would judge us more on our charity to the poor than on our good
manners to the rich. Such an attitude was bound to make enemies in
high places, but it endeared him to the poor, and it gave right-thinking men
the hope that here was a man of integrity, and one who could help to
reform the clergy and make a firm stand against the Lutheran heresy.
There were massive problems of immediate urgency during the brief
reign of Pius V. From within, the peace of the Church was disturbed by
the several heresies of Luther, Calvin, and the Lombards, and by the
need for clerical reform. In addition, England was tottering on the brink of
a break with Rome. The Netherlands were trying to break away from
Spain and had embraced Protestantism. The missions across the sea
needed attention. And all through the Mediterranean countries, the
Turkish were ravaging Christian cities, creeping closer to world
conquest. In the six years of his reign, Pope Pius V had to deal with all
these questions--any one of which was enough to occupy his entire
One of Pius's first actions was to demand that bishops should live in their
dioceses and parish priests in their parishes. His efforts at regulating his
see embraced issues ranging from the abolition of bullfighting,
bear-baiting and prostitution, to cleaning out the Roman _curia_ and
eliminating nepotism, to cutting down the activities of bandits. He insisted
that Sunday must be hallowed. Once a month he held a special court for
anyone who felt they had been treated unjustly. He also brought in
shipments of corn during a famine at his own expense.
In his personal life he continued to be a devout mendicant friar; as pope
he set himself to enforce the decrees of the Council of Trent with energy
and effect. The catechism ordered by the Council of Trent was
completed during his rule (1566), and he ordered translations made. The
breviary reformed (1568) and missal (1570). He also commissioned the
best edition to date of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas (f.d. January
28); it was he who made Thomas a Doctor of the Church in 1567.
His was a rigorous character; he made full use of the Inquisition and his
methods of combatting Protestantism were ruthless. Pius had hoped to
convert Queen Elizabeth of England. The unfortunate Mary Queen of
Scots enjoyed his sympathy and encouragement. He sent reassuring
letters to her, and once, at a time when no priest was allowed to go near
her, he granted her special permission to receive Holy Communion by
sending her a tiny pyx that contained consecrated Hosts. It was he who
finally had to pronounce excommunication on Elizabeth of England in
1570, after he had given her every possible chance of repentance.
Pius V had a high estimate of papal power in secular matters, though
sometimes showing little talent for dealing with them. When he
excommunicated Elizabeth I, he absolved her subjects of the allegiance
to her as queen. This served only to endanger the Catholics in her realm,
however, and many were accused of treason and martyred. (It is
interesting to note that Elizabeth II visited Pope John XXIII at the Vatican
on Pius V's original feast day, May 5, nearly four centuries later.) That
he also came into conflict with Philip II of Spain shows with what
consistency he applied his principles.
He encouraged the new society founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola (f.d.
July 31) and established the Jesuits in the Gregorian University. He
consecrated three Jesuit bishops for India, gave St. Francis Borgia (f.d.
October 10) his greatest cooperation, and helped to finance missionaries
to China and Japan. He built the church of Our Lady of the Angels for
the Franciscans and helped St. Philip Neri (f.d. May 26) in his
establishment of the Oratory. Probably the act for which he will be
longest remembered in his leadership at the time of the Battle of Lepanto.
In 1565, the Knights of St. John defended Malta against a tremendous
attack by the Turkish fleet and lost nearly every fighting man in the
fortress. It was the pope who sent encouragement and money with
which to rebuild their battered city. The pope called for a crusade among
the Christian nations and appointed a leader who would be acceptable to
all. He ordered the Forty Hours Devotion to be held in Rome, and he
encouraged all to say the Rosary.
When the Christian fleet sailed out to meet the enemy, every man on
board had received the sacraments, and all were saying the Rosary.
The fleet was small, and numerically it was no match for the Turkish
fleet, which so far had never met defeat. They me in the Bay of Lepanto
on Sunday morning, October 7, 1565. After a day of bitter fighting, and,
on the part of the Christians, miraculous help, the Turkish fleet--what
was left of it--fled in disgrace, broken and defeated, its power crushed
Before the victorious fleet returned to Rome, the pope had knowledge of
the victory through miraculous means. He proclaimed a period of
thanksgiving; he placed the invocation, "Mary, Help of Christians" in the
Litany of Loreto and established the feast in commemoration of the
victory. It was almost the last act of his momentous career for he fell
victim to a painful illness that killed him in less than a year. He was
attempting to form an alliance of the Italian cities, France, Poland, and
other Christian nations of Europe to march against the Turks when he
died. He is enshrined at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
Although he was criticized for 'wanting to turn Rome into a monastery,'
St. Pius had the respect of the Roman people, who knew his personal
goodness and concern for everybody's welfare. He gave large sums to
the poor, lived a life of austerity and piety, and personally visited the sick
in hospitals. Pius V is remembered as one of the most important popes
of the Counter-Reformation (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney,
In art, he is shown reciting a rosary; or with a fleet in the distance; or
with the feet of a crucifix withdrawn as he tried to kiss them (White).
Other Saints Honored April 30
+ = celebrated liturgically
Blessed Hildegard, Empress (AC)
Died in Thionville (Diedenhofen), France, in 783. Said to have been the
daughter of the duke of Swabia, Hildegard was known for her aid to
religious and was much venerated at the time of her death. She was
just 17 when Charlemagne put Hermengard aside and made her his
second wife in 771. She had nine children during their 12-year marriage.
She is said to have had a special fondness for St. Lioba (f.d. September
28). Her tomb is at Kempten Abbey, of which she is considered the
foundress (Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia).
Hildegard is generally shown with Charlemagne or as an empress
tending the sick (Roeder). She is the patroness of the sick (Roeder).
5th century. "A virgin who was blotted out of existence and found
Laurence of Novara & Companions MM (RM)
Died c. 397. Laurence came from the west, either from Spain or France.
He is said to have assisted Bishop St. Gaudentius (f.d. January 22) of
Novara in the Piedmont. He was put to death with a group of children
whom he was catechizing (Benedictines).
Louis (Ludwig) von Bruck M (AC)
Born in Ravensburg, Swabia, Germany; died 1429. Ludwig is another of
the boy martyrs claimed to have been martyred by Jews at Easter
+ Marian, James, & Companions MM (RM)
Died in Africa, May 6, 259. Marian, a lector, and James, a deacon, were
thrown into prison at Cirta (Constantine in Algeria) during the persecution
of Valerian. They were savagely tortured to persuade them to
apostatize, but each was strengthened by a dream of his triumphant
martyrdom to come. They were put to death at the military town of
Lambaesis (Lambesa) in Numidia, with others victims so numerous that
they were drawn up in rows and the executioner passed down the
ranks striking off heads, 'in a rush of fury.' Marian and James are known
from an authentic, touching account written by a man who shared their
imprisonment but was later released (Attwater, Benedictines,
Encyclopedia). In art, Marian is shown hung up by his thumbs with
weights on this feet (Roeder).
+ Maximus of Ephesus M (RM)
Died c. 251. Maximus, a citizen of Ephesus, was a merchant by
profession. On the publication of the edict of Decius against the
Christians in 250, he presented himself to the judge as a Christian and
was martyred. His proconsular _Acta_ are still available (Benedictines).
Pomponius of Naples B (RM)
Died 536. Pomponius was bishop of Naples from 508 to 536. He was a
strong opponent of Arianism, then undesr the patronage of the Gothic
king Theodoric (Benedictines).
Sophia of Fermo VM (RM)
Died c. 250. Sophia, a maiden of Fermo in central Italy, was martyred
under Decius (Benedictines).
Swithbert the Younger B (AC)
Born in England; died 807. Swithbert may have been a Benedictine
monk. He joined the missionaries in Germany and eventually became
bishop of Werden in Westphalia (Benedictines).
Attwater, D. (1983). The penguin dictionary of saints, NY:
Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate. (1947). The
book of saints: A dictionary of servants of God canonized
by the Catholic Church extracted from the Roman and other
martyrologies. NY: Macmillan.
Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate. (1966). The
book of saints: A dictionary of persons canonized or
beatified by the Catholic Church. NY: Thomas Y. Crowell.
Bentley, J. (1986). A calendar of saints: The lives of the
principal saints of the Christian year, NY: Facts on File.
Delaney, J. J. (1983). Pocket dictionary of saints, NY:
Delany, S. P. (1950). Married Saints. Westminster, MD:
The Newman Press.
Dorcy, M. J., OP. (1964). Saint Dominic's family: Lives
and legends. Dubuque, IA: Priory Press.
Encyclopedia of Catholic saints, April. (1966).
Philadelphia: Chilton Books.
Roeder, H. (1956). Saints and their attributes, Chicago: Henry
White, K. E. (1992). Guide to the saints, NY: Ivy Books.