Saint Pope Pius X
Grand Master, feast day 21 August.
The future Pope Pius X was born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto at Riese, near Venice, on 2 June 1835. He was the second of 10 children in a poor family, his father being the village postman. On 18 September 1858, Giuseppe Sarto was ordained priest and became curate at Tombolo. While there, the young priest deepened his knowledge of theology while carrying out most of the functions of his parish pastor, who was quite ill. In 1867, he was named Archpriest of Salzano. He became popular with his people when he worked to help the sick during a cholera plague that swept northern Italy in the early 1870s. 1884 he was made Bishop of Mantua.
In 1893 Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal and he was named as Patriarch of Venice. This caused difficulty, however, as the government of the reunified Italy claimed the right to nominate the Patriarch based on a privilege formerly exercised by the Emperor of Austria. Sarto was finally allowed to assume the position of Patriarch in 1894.
As Cardinal and Patriarch, Sarto avoided politics and gave his time to social works and strengthening parish finances. In 1903, Pope Leo XIII died and, on the fifth ballot, Giuseppe Sarto was elected the 257th pope on 4 August 1903. He took as his motto “Instaurare omnia in Christo” (‘To restore all things in Christ’, a quotation from the Letter to the Ephesians, 1:10).
Many of his achievements as pope were directed towards the fulfilment of this ideal. They included the encouragement of more frequent reception of Holy Communion and the admission of children to the Sacrament from the age of seven (an age at which it was felt children could understand the meaning of the Sacrament). He also gave new life to Catholic Action and pointed it in new directions beyond the merely social and political. In 1913 Pius suffered a heart attack from which he never fully recovered. In 1914, the Pope fell ill on the Feast of the Assumption (15 August). The outbreak of the First World War only worsened his condition and the 79-year-old pope became deeply depressed. He died on 20 August 1914 . In his will he wrote: “I was born poor, I have lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” Much of the pomp and ceremony of the Vatican he found profoundly distasteful.
On 29 May 1954, less than three years after his beatification, he was canonized, following the recognition of two more miracles. Pius X thus became the first pope to be canonised since Pope Pius V in the 17th century.