Giuseppe Sarto (1835-1914), the future Pope Pius X, was one of the greatest religious figures of the early twentieth century. He was born near Venice, the second of ten children in a very poor family. Giuseppe was educated at the village school and eventually ordained a priest in 1858 (a year before the usual minimum age). After twenty-six years of parish work he became bishop of the Italian city of Mantua, and in 1893 he was made Cardinal of Venice.
At the papal enclave following the death of Pope Leo XIII in 1903, Cardinal Sarto was elected, taking the name Pius X. The new pope remained very aware of his humble origins, and was embarrassed by some of the pomp of the papal court. “Look how they have dressed me up,” he said tearfully to a friend. On another occasion he remarked, “It is a penance to be forced to accept all these practices. They led me around surrounded by soldiers like Jesus when He was seized in Gethsemane.” Pius and his family did have a sense of humor, however. It’s said that after his mother kissed his papal ring at his installation, she then presented her hand with her wedding ring, saying, “Now you kiss my ring — for without it, you never would have received yours.”
During his pontificate, Pius struggled with the anti-religious government of France over control of the French Church, and strongly opposed the heresy of Modernism (a belief that the Church should exchange some of its teachings and practices for more modern or up-to-date views).
Pope St. Pius X is known for his efforts to improve the Church’s worship, and especially for his encouragement of frequent reception of the Eucharist and for lowering the age at which children are allowed to make their First Communion from twelve to seven. He foresaw the coming of World War I, but to his great regret was unable to help prevent it, and died heartbroken a few weeks after the war began.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1641), Widow, Religious, Co-Foundress of the Visitation Order
Our Lady of Knock (1879)