There is so much information on this holy pontiff that it is only possible to touch on a few aspects of his life in this short article.
William de Grimoard was born into a noble family in the year 1310 at Grisac, Languedoc, France. He joined the Benedictine order and became a monk in Chirac, near his home. After being ordained, he studied theology and canon law at the universities of Toulouse, Montpellier, Paris, and Avignon, and received his doctorate in 1342. He went on to teach canon law at Montpellier and Avignon, and served as Vicar General at Clermont and Uzes. Pope Clement VI appointed him Abbot of St. Germanus at Auxerre in 1352 and he served on many diplomatic missions to Italy.
Later the pope appointed him Abbot of St. Victor’s in Marseilles and legal advisor to Queen Joanna of Naples. In September of 1362, William de Grimoard was elected pope and took the name Urban V. He so loved the Benedictine order that even after becoming pope, he wore the Benedictine habit.
As pope, Urban immediately went about reforming the Church. He made peace with Barnabo Visconti and tried to suppress the marauding bands of soldiers in France and Italy, but was unsuccessful. During the time of Urban V, the papacy was in Avignon, and had been there for fifty years; however, at the urging of Emperor Charles IV, Urban returned the papacy to Rome. Rome had become rundown and the faithful had lost their zeal from the absence of the papacy. To the world, the return of the pontiff to Rome was seen as both a great event as well as a religious action. Urban V went to work right away restoring the rundown city, the basilicas, and papal palaces. To the poor and unemployed, he offered employment restoring the gardens of the Vatican. He introduced strict discipline within the clergy and encouraged frequent use of the sacraments.
In 1368, Urban V crowned Emperor Charles IV’s consort German empress and Charles agreed to respect the Church’s rights in Germany. The pope also received Greek Emperor John V Palaeologus back into the Church. All Urban’s attempts at peace, however, were disrupted when Perugia revolted and caused great unrest in Italy. Then war broke out between France and England. Urban had a great love for his country and decided to go there to try to bring about peace, even though St. Bridget had warned him that his return to Avignon would bring about his death. Deeply saddened by the state of affairs, he embarked on the journey anyway and three months after returning to Avignon, he died.
Urban was a peacemaker even though most of his efforts were in vain. He had all the right intentions and worked zealously to bring about peace in Europe. He was a great scholar and did much in the area of education by founding universities in Cracow and Vienna. He caused the emperor to build the University of Orange. He also provided financial aid to students who wanted to attend these universities.
Heavenly Father, we are grateful for all that Blessed Pope Urban V accomplished during his papacy and we thank you, Father, for the holy men who watch over our souls. Amen.