Born Giuseppe Melchior Sarto in 1935, the some-day pope and saint, Pius X, was truly a magnificent and humble man.  His intellect shone bright, but never did he glory in it or lose grasp on his humble poverty.  He lived a life dedicated to “restoring all things in Christ” and, upon reading his biography by F.A. Forbes, I am inclined to agree he achieved this noble aim.

Giuseppe was born into poverty in the village of Riese, Italy to the parents of Giovanni and Margherita Sarto.  Even as a young child, he had a strong devotion to Our Lady.  He would walk to a chapel about a half a mile away and pray before statue known as the Madonna delle Cendrole.  Brilliant and hard-working, Giuseppe would walk four miles each morning to attend grammar school at Castelfranco and then return four miles home to complete his chores for the family.  After completing his grammar school and coming in first at every subject, he was granted a free scholarship at the seminary of Padua.  Had he not received this scholarship, he would never had been able to attend for it was far beyond his family’s means to send him.

He excelled in seminary just as he had excelled in grammar school and in 1858 was ordained a priest at age 23.  His first parish was the village of Tombolo where he served his flock not only by his beautiful and eloquent sermons, but also by helping “his people both materially and morally, visiting[ing] the sick, succour[ing] the poor and instruct[ing] the ignorant…with all the vigour of his soul he threw himself into the work.”(p.12)  A habit he maintained his entire life, Don Guiseppe would study late into the night and rise early to offer Mass.  He was generous to a fault as well and neglected his own well-being in the service to his people.  “Everything that could be saved out of Don Guiseppe’s tiny income went straight to the poor.  They knew it, and when he went to preach in a neighbouring village would lie in wait for him as he returned with his modest fee in his pocket.  It sometimes happened that when he reached home not a penny would be left.” (p.14)

Due in no small part to both his brilliance and his habit of neglecting himself, Don Guiseppe was assigned to a seminary as a professor.  “The bishop had not forgotten the warnings of Don Guiseppe’s friends.  By this arrangement the newly appointed canon would reside at the seminary, where the care of his health would not be left entirely in his own hands.  He would, moreover, preside at the professors’ table, and therefore would be unable to indulge his tendency to starve so as to feed the poor.” (p.23)  There he continued his service to the people of God and his passion for catechesis.

In 1884, then Monsignor Guiseppe Sarto was called to the bishopric of Mantua.  Upon receiving the letter, “the strong man who all his life long welcomed hardship and suffering with a cheerful smile, wept like a child.  He was, he declared, utterly incapable, quite unworthy of such a trust.  The bishop [Monsignor Apollonio], who knew better, but whose heart was touched at the sight of his friend’s distress, comforted him as best he could. ‘It is God’s will,’ he said; ‘trust in His help.’ Convinced, however, in his own mind that Pope Leo XIII was wholly mistaken in his judgement of him, Monsignor Sarto wrote to Rome to profess his incapacity and worthlessness.  His arguments were not accepted.”(p.28-29)

As Bishop of Mantua, Bishop Sarto continued his habits of sacrificial service for his people, and, in 1893, was made a cardinal and appointed as archbishop of Venice.  Venice, like all those places he had served before, was transformed under the loving service of Archbishop Sarto.  He held a Eucharistic congress in 1898, reformed the liturgical music restoring the ancient practice of Gregorian chant, and revitalized the poor parish of Burano by pouring himself into fostering its ancient industry of lace production.  “Although unflinchingly firm in everything that concerned the faith and the rights of the Church, the frank courtesy of [Archbishop] Sarto and his conciliating spirit kept him always on good terms with the government” (p.45) even though at the time, the relationship of the state and the Church was often contentious elsewhere.

Archbishop Sarto, as he had his whole life, “hated ostentation of any kind and would often travel about the country incognito.”(p.48) He was always quick to “fulfill the duties of a simple parish priest” (p.47) and continued his habit of sacrificial love by giving his entire self to others.  It was in 1903 that the great Pope Leo XIII died and, Cardinal Sarto prayed, “that God may send to His Church a shepherd after His own heart.” (p.49)  Unbeknownst to him, Cardinal Sarto was himself to be that shepherd.

Sixty-three Cardinals assembled at the Vatican, Sarto among them, and the conclave began.  “At the first scrutiny Cardinal Rampolla had twenty-four votes, Cardinal Gotti seven, and Cardinal Sarto five.  There was nothing alarming in this; but when, at the second scrutiny, the votes in favour of the Patriarch of Venice [Cardinal Sarto] had doubled, and at the third doubled again, it was another matter, and his anguish was obvious to all.  With trembling voice and tears in his eyes, he spoke to the Cardinals, begging them to give up all thought of him.  ‘I am unworthy, I am not qualified,’ he pleaded, ‘forget me.’ ‘It was that very adjuration, his grief, his profound humility and wisdom,’ said Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, ‘that made us think of him all the more; we learnt to know him from his words as we could never have known him by hearsay.’” (p.54)

On the fourth day of the conclave, Cardinal Sarto received fifty votes of the sixty-three and, with tears, he accepted and took the name Pius X.  He immediately set about the work of his pontificate, “the restoring of all things in Christ.” (p.59)  He reigned as Pope for eleven years and, though a man of immense intellect and breadth of knowledge, was first and foremost pastor of his flock.  His effort to restore all things in Christ led him to consistently condemn Modernism and he called the Church “to reinstate Jesus Christ in the family, the school and society; to re-establish the principle that human authority represents that of God; to take closely to heart the interests of the people, especially those of industrial and agricultural workers, to endeavour to make laws conformable to justice, to amend or suppress those which are not so…to defend and support the rights of God in everything, and the no less sacred rights of the Church.” (p.65)

Numerous miracles abounded during his whole life, but especially during his pontificate.  “The touch of his hand or even his blessing [was] strangely efficacious for healing.” (p.107) He healed the sores of a young English girl who visited Rome without a word and by simply blessing her as he passed through a crowd.  So Pope Pius X 2dramatic was the transformation of two nuns suffering from an incurable disease that the taxi driver who had brought them, “refused to take them back to their convent. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will take back the two I brought or their dead bodies.’ ‘But we are the two you brought,’ they insisted.’ ‘No,’ repeated the vetturino, ‘the two I brought were half dead; you are not in the least like them.’” (p.108)  Many more stories of the miracles he worked could be told, but Pope Pius X never claimed the glory for himself.  He insisted, “I have nothing to do with it…it is the power of the keys.” (p.110)

Pope Pius X spent his last days seeking a way to prevent the war soon coming to Europe, but was unable to do so.  When war broke out in 1914, he encouraged all the faithful to pray that the impending disaster might be avoided.  He himself died only a few weeks after the war began.  Upon his tomb was written this inscription:

POPE PIUS X

POOR YET RICH
MEEK AND HUMBLE OF HEART
UNDAUNTED CHAMPION OF THE CATHOLIC FAITH
TO RESTORE ALL THINGS IN CHRIST
HAVING DONE SO MUCH
DIED HOLILY AUGUST 20, A.D. 1914

Pope St. Pius X, pray for us!

*All citations taken from F.A. Forbes book Pope St. Pius X published by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc.

*All images from Wikipedia.