Pope Pius XI Biography


Birthday: May 31, 1857 (Gemini)

Born In: Desio, Italy

Pope Pius XI, birth name Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, was the 259th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. His tenure as the head of the church began in February 1922 and ended with his death in February 1939. During this period, the Vatican became an independent city-state in 1929, which effectively made him its first sovereign. His papal motto was "Pax Christi in Regno Christi”, the translation of which is "The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ." Pius XI sent out several encyclicals, enunciating the capitalistic greed of international finance, the problems of socialism/communism, numerous social justice issues, and Quasprimas, which set up the feast of Christ the King as a reaction to anti-clericalism. To highlight the position of the Catholic Church, Pius XI held a record number of concordats. However, he failed to put an end to the oppression of the Church and the murders of clergy in Mexico, Spain and the Soviet Union. While he was in the papal office, a number of important religious figures were made saints by the Catholic Church. In the final years of his tenure, he became one of the most vocal critics of Adolf Hitler and Mussolini.

Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In May

Also Known As: Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, Pius XI

Died At Age: 81


father: Francesco

mother: Teresa

siblings: Camilla (1860–???), Carlo (1853–1906), Cipriano, Edoardo (1855–96), Fermo (1854–???)

Born Country: Italy

Italian Men Italian Spiritual & Religious Leaders

Died on: February 10, 1939

place of death: Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

Notable Alumni: Pontifical Gregorian University

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

Founder/Co-Founder: Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Catholic Near East Welfare Association

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education: Pontifical Gregorian University

awards: Order of the White Eagle

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Childhood & Early Life
Born on May 31, 1857, in Desio, Lombardy-Venetia, Austrian Empire, Ratti was one of the six children of Francesco and Teresa Ratti. He had four brothers, Edoardo, Carlo, Fermo, and Cipriano, and a sister, Camilla. His father owned a silk factory.
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Early Career
In 1879, Ratti became a priest and subsequently began an academic career within the church. He earned doctorate degrees in philosophy, canon law, and theology from the Gregorian University in Rome and then served as a professor at the seminary in Padua between 1882 and 1888. Ratti was a highly-trained paleographer and studied ancient and medieval church manuscripts.
Ultimately, he stopped seminary teaching to join the Ambrosian Library in Milan in 1888. He was part of the institution until 1911. He then relocated to the Vatican on Pope Pius X’s request to serve as the vice-prefect of the Vatican Library.
In 1914, he was appointed a prefect. In 1918, Pope Benedict XV requested him to change his career and become an unofficial papal diplomat or apostolic visitor in Poland, which had newly regained its sovereignty.
In 1915, Ratti was made a papal nuncio in Warsaw. In October 1919, he was appointed a titular archbishop. When the Bolsheviks (Red Army) moved their military against Warsaw in August 1920, Ratti did not leave the city, becoming the only foreign diplomat still remaining in Poland.
He wanted to serve Poland by fostering relationships with men of goodwill in the Soviet Union and was not even afraid to bleed for Russia. However, Benedict wanted him as a diplomat and not as a martyr and did not allow him to travel to USSR, though Ratti was the official papal delegate for Russia.
His continued interactions with the Russians garnered him criticism in Poland. When he travelled to Silesia on the pope’s behest to thwart potential political agitation within the Polish Catholic clergy, the nuncio was told that he should leave Poland.
After German Cardinal Adolf Bertram issued a papal ban on all political activities of Catholic preachers in November 1920, the demand for Ratti’s expulsion reached its clamorous peak.
Papal Election & Enthronement
On June 3, 1921, Pope Benedict XV made Ratti a cardinal, as well as the archbishop of Milan. Benedict XV passed away from pneumonia on January 22, 1922. In the subsequent papal conclave, which turned out to be the longest of the 20th century, two main fractions emerged under Rafael Merry del Val and Pietro Gasparri. The first fraction preferred the policies and style of Pope Pius X, and the second preferred those of Pope Benedict XV.
Ultimately, Ratti was elected the pope, primarily because he was considered to be neutral, on February 6, 1922. He adopted the name Pius XI and stated that the reason behind his choice was that Pius IX was the pope when he was young, and Pius X made him the head of the Vatican Library.
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Papal Tenure
Pope Pius XI’s first act as the pope was the reintroduction of the traditional public blessing from the balcony, Urbiet Orbi ("to the city and to the world"). This had been discarded after Rome was taken away by the Italian state in 1870. This indicated his willingness to reconcile with the Italian government.
In March 1922, as all four cardinals from the western hemisphere could not take part in his election, he introduced “Cum proxime” to permit the College of Cardinals to postpone the conclave for as long as 18 days after a pope has passed away.
During his pontificate, the ascent of Benito Mussolini took place. On February 11, 1929, Pope Pius XI and Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty, which turned the Vatican into an independent city-state.
The treaty also stipulated that the church had to accept the establishment of the kingdom of Italy and declare perpetual neutrality in military and diplomatic disputes of the world. Furthermore, the pope consented to get involved in foreign affairs not as a leader of a sovereign state but as the head of the Catholic Church.
Helped by his Secretaries of State, Eugenio Pacelli and Gasparri, he held concordats that empowered and brought together Catholicism in countries like Latvia (1922), Poland (1925), Romania and Lithuania (1927), Prussia (1929), and Austria and Germany (1933), which had been enduring the horrible after-effects of World War I. However, in the advent of World War II, many of treaties were rendered pointless.
In the 1920s and the 1930s, the priests, bishops, other members of the Catholic Church were at the receiving end of oppression in Mexico. More than 5,000 Catholics died during this period in that country.
In November 1926, the pope vehemently criticised the slaughter and persecution. In 1929, the United States of America stepped in and brokered an agreement. In 1931, the oppression began once more.
Pope Pius XI failed to offer much support to Catholic institutions in Spain after the Republican government assumed office in 1931. This government was severely anti-clerical, made education secular, and threw out the Jesuits.
The concordat he concluded with Nazi Germany in order to reduce the suffering of German Catholics did not last long. Between 1933 and 1936, he published several protests against the Third Reich. Furthermore, his stance towards the Italian fascists completely shifted after the Nazi’s racial policies began to be implemented in Italy.
Pope Pius XI turned a number of important Catholic figures into saints, including Thomas More, Peter Canisius, Bernadette of Lourdes and Don Bosco. He held Thérèse de Lisieux in high regard and made her a saint as well. Because of the spiritual depth of his writings, the 13th-century German Dominican friar and bishop Albertus Magnus received the title Doctor of the Church from Pope Pius XI.
He devoted much effort to ensure the inclusion of common people throughout the Catholic Church, particularly in the Catholic Action movement. He sent out several encyclicals over the course of his tenure. One of these encyclicals, Quadragesimo anno, was issued to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's revolutionary social encyclical Rerumnovarum.
Death & Succession
Pope Pius XI passed away on February 10, 1939, in the Apostolic Palace following a third heart attack. He is interred in the Papal Grotto of Saint Peter's Basilica. During the excavation for space to place his tomb, two levels of burial grounds were discovered where some bones were found. These bones have since started to receive veneration as the bones of Saint Peter.
After his death, Pacelli became the 260th Pope, taking the name Pius XII.

See the events in life of Pope Pius XI in Chronological Order

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