Pope Pius X - an Idea of his Character

September 02, 2019
Source: District of Asia
Pope St. Pius X

The following letter is an extract from ‘the Woodstock Letters’ Vol XXXII (1903), p 103-106. It was written by Fr. Chandlery, substitute Secretary for English Assistancy to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Rev. Fr. Anton Anderledy. The letter was written a few days after Pope St. Pius X ascended the throne of St. Peter. It reveals very many interesting and inspiring details of our heavenly patron.

Castel Gandolfo, Presso Roma,

August 16, 1903. 

Reverend and Dear Father,

The new Pope is a delightful man, so kind, so winning, so humble, and at the same time, so learned, and practical. God has distinctly chosen him to rule the Church in these critical times. He has all along shown himself to be a Priest and Bishop after God's own Heart and his Pontificate is sure to be rich in blessings to the Church. 

A prominent Cardinal said to one of Ours : " No one could see and know Cardinal Sarto without loving him : he is so full of goodness, humility and simplicity." He added, - “Yet, though so humble, he has a strong character." His great characteristic is said to be zeal, zeal for doctrine, zeal for discipline, zeal for Catholic union, by Catholic associations and organizations.  He has done wonders at Mantua and Venice, infusing fervor into the Catholics, and strengthening them by association against their enemies the liberals and anti-clericals. So little did he dream of the great honor that awaited him, that he had in his pocket a return ticket to Venice, and was anxious to get back as soon as possible. His humility made him shrink from the dignity of the Papacy, and he fainted when he saw the votes of the Cardinals centering on him. Recovering consciousness, he urged all sorts of reasons health, incapacity, etc. against accepting the exalted position offered him ; but the Cardinals, chiefly Cardinal Ferrari, calmed his scruples and overcame his reluctance.

He is full of the spirit of piety and, if there be any truth in the prophetic title Ignis Ardens, this appellation would refer to his piety and zeal. 

During the Conclave, Cardinal Lecot of Bordeaux hearing his brother Cardinals speak highly in praise of Cardinal Sarto, went to make his acquaintance, and find out what sort of a man he was. He addressed him in French. Cardinal Sarto replied, - " Non satis intelligo linguam Gallicam." 

The French Cardinal, affecting to be horrified at such an admission, exclaimed, " Qui non intelligit linguam Gallicam, non potest esse Pontifex."

" Deo Gratias !" was Cardinal Sarto's reply, much to the amusement of those standing by, and much to the discomfiture of the French Prelate.

 Beautiful stories are told of his charity. He once sold his horse and carriage to relieve some case of distress; and, on another occasion, pawned his episcopal ring for a similar purpose. To a poor person, who was begging at the door, he gave away all the meat that was being prepared for his dinner, content to dine that day on bread and fruit.

He was idolized by the people of Mantua and Venice, because of his charity. Whatever money he got went straight to the poor, and all his influence was used to alleviate the hardships of the poor. At the same time, he taught the poor and the laboring classes, to help themselves; and, by establishing rural banks, cooperative societies, etc., promoted thrift among them, and did much to lessen the sufferings of the North Italian peasantry.

He has never sought to conceal in any way that he is a child of the people; and his great work as parish priest, Bishop and Patriarch, has been that of the apostle of the poor and of the working classes, by whom he was loved, as hardly ever Bishop was loved before. 

A laboring man at Venice, who was declaiming violently against priests before a throng of poor people, said in a passionate tone: " I hate all priests." Suddenly checking himself, he added: " All, except the Patriarch. For him I would go through anything, even through fire." 

Beautiful instances, too, are also related of his simplicity. At Venice his two sisters kept house for him, and he wished them always to dress like plain country people. He refused to make use of the gilded barge belonging to the Patriarch, and went about Venice in a common black gondola, with a single rower. It is said that this boat will now be put in a museum.

His fare at table was that of the poorer priests, chiefly rice and boiled meat. He talked to the people in their own native patois, to show that he was one of themselves. Full of consideration for all, he tried to spare his servants all extra trouble, dispensing with their attendance, especially in the hot hours of the day. (…)

The London Times correspondent (a Protestant) gives the following appreciation of the Pope's character : “Kindly and charitable almost to a fault, for he is, perhaps, too easily moved by any tale of distress; intensely religious in sentiment ; shrewd in his dealings with the world and not easily deceived ; genial in his manners and not without a certain and marked innate dignity; and, above all, possessing a keen sense of humor which inclines him to meet foolish pretensions or vexations with a good-tempered jest. A strong and lovable character, not without those contradictions which strong characters sometimes possess."

The Italian liberals are very sore at his election, for he has the reputation of being absolutely uncompromising on the Roman question ; ‘intransigente verissimo.' (truly intransigent)

Commendo me SS. Sacrificiis.

Yours very sincerely in Christ, 

P. I. CHANDLERY, S. J.
Substit. Assistae Angliæ