The pope is the leader of the Catholic Church, and the papacy is the system of government he follows. The pope has been ruling the Catholic Church since Jesus Christ designated St. Peter the leader of this institution over 2,000 years ago. Each pope, throughout the various centuries, has left their legacy within the Church. Those of the 20th and 21st centuries have especially contributed to the more modern thinking of the Catholic Church that exists today and each one has added to the traditions and disciplines that currently make up this institution.
We begin with Leo XIII, born Giocchino Pecci on March 2, 1810, near Rome. He died on July 20, 1903. He reigned from 1878 to 1903. He was considered a humanist who composed poetry and supported Christian Democracy.
Next came St Pius X who was born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto and born in Riese, Lombardy-Venetia, Austrian Empire. He was in power from August 1903 to August 1914 (a little over 11 years). He is mainly known for encouraging and expanding the reception of Holy Communion as well as taking on the modernistic theologians of that time. These modernistic theologians were mostly protestants and Anglicans who had a different view of the church and its interpretations. He is the most recent pope to be canonized through the Catholic Church and will always be known as the pope who lowered the age for First Communion. He left a legacy of being adamantly against slavery.
Benedict XV was in power from September 1914 through January 1922. His birth name was Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista Della Chiesa and he was from Genoa, Kingdom of Sardinia. He is credited with intervening for peace during World War I and is known as the “Prophet of Peace” throughout the world. He was responsible for the canonization of Joan of Arc.
Pius XI followed and held this office from February 1922 to February 1939. He held this office for over 17 years. He was born in Desio, Lombardy-Venetia, Austrian Empire. He is known for signing the Lateran Treaty along with Mossulini in 1929, which created the Vatican City and made it a sovereign state. He is also known as a pontiff between the two wars and for using the radio as a way to reach followers throughout the world. His spell to power lasted 17 years.
Ven. Pius XII followed thereafter. Pius XII was born on March 2, 1876, in Rome, Italy, and died October 9, 1958. His true name was Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli. He headed the Catholic Church from March 1939 through October 1958 and represented the Holy See (Episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome) in Munich and Berlin. His papacy lasted 19 years and 221 days. He was an aristocratic Pope associated with failing to assist in the prevention of the Holocaust.
From October 1958 through June 1963, Bd. John XXIII was voted into office. His birth name was Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli and he was born in Sotto il Monte, Bergamo, Italy. He is known for opening the Second Vatican Council which was instrumental in creating many changes within the Catholic Church. John XXIII was nicknamed “Good Pope John,” and was popular because of his friendly and generous nature.
Ven. Paul VI headed the church from June 1963 through August 1978. His birth name was Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini and he was born in Concesio, Brescia, Italy. He will always be known as the first pope to visit the United States and also the last pope to be crowned with the Papal Tiara. Paul VI’s incumbency came during the Second Vatican Council, which involved the struggle over modernizing Church teachings. He came under fire in 1968 for a doctrine banning the use of contraceptives. He, will, however, be known as the pope which concluded the Second Vatican Council.
Servant of God John Paul I then followed. His birth name was Albino Luciani and he was born in Forno di Canale, Veneto, Italy. He had the shortest reign of all the popes in this century as he was only in office from August 1978 through September 1978 – 33 days. Some say he died of a heart attack; although, others believed he was poisoned. He is the only pope to hold the title “Servant of God” which was given to him in 2003.
Bd. John Paul II reigned from October 1978 through April 2005. He was in power for 26 years and 168 days. He was born Karol Józef Wojtyła and was from Wadowice, Poland. He will always be known as the first Polish pope and the first non Italian pope in 455 years. Of all his predecessors, John Paul II canonized more saints than those before him. He traveled throughout the world and also is known as the first pope to ever visit Canada. He was credited for helping bring down communism in Europe.
Benedict XVI then followed and he reigned from April 2005 through February 2013. His power lasted for 7 years and 315 days. He is the first known pope in modern times to retire and renounce the papacy. His birth name is Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger and he was born in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany. He is one of the oldest persons to become pope. His term was tainted by scandals such as the concealment of child corruption and the lack of action against the convicted abusers.
After the denouncement of Benedict XVI papacy, Pope Francis was voted into the papacy. He is presently the current pope and his reign began on March 2013. His birth name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J. and he was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is now known as the first pope coming from the Americas and the first to be born outside of Europe since St. Gregory III. He is also the first Jesuit pope.
There have been many other popes throughout the centuries which have left their mark and legacy on this institution; however, in the 20th and 21st century, the abovementioned popes are the ones that have reigned and provided direction to the millions of Catholics around the world. What changes will Pope Francis make within the Catholic Church and what will his legacy be? Only time will tell, but with the many controversies surrounding the Catholic Church today, we may see some arguable rulings that haven’t been seen within the church’s borders for a long time.