Pope John XXIII was born Angelo Roncalli in 1881. He studied for the priesthood in the Diocese of Bergamo and was ordained in 1904. During the First World War he served in the medical corps as a stretcher-bearer and chaplain.
Roncalli was appointed Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria in 1925. He was then a bishop, choosing as his episcopal motto, “Obedience and Peace.” From 1935 to 1944 he was Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. While in Turkey he worked to save thousands of Jewish refugees. Roncalli’s next assignment was as Apostolic Nuncio in France from 1944 to1953. He made such a great impression on the French during these delicate years that the French claimed the right to bestow his red biretta at the Elysee Palace when Roncalli was named Patriarch of Venice (1953–1958).
Cardinal Roncalli was surprised in the conclave of 1958 to be elected pope. He was 76, and the general thinking was he would be a “transition” pope. Soon after his election John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), with the first session opening October 11, 1962. He did not live to see it completed, dying in June, 1963.
As pastor of the Church in Rome, John XXIII visited the prisons, hospitals, and new parishes. His concern for social justice is seen in his classical encyclicals Mother and Teacher, on social justice, and Peace on Earth, which was addressed to all people of good will.
Pope John XXIII was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000 and canonized by Pope Francis in 2014.
Image credit: Vatican [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons