By Moina Arcee, Jul 3, 2013 Edited August 28 2018
“I was born poor, I lived in poverty, I wish to die poor.” Will and testament of Pope Pius X.
He was his mother’s son, so feelings ran deep in young Guiseppe Sarto. Quick with a smile and with a fist, he was equally willing to befriend as to fight. His father wanted his second born son’s energy and muscle applied at home for the benefit of the Sarto‘s poor, large Catholic family. But Guiseppe had already decided to become a priest.
Intelligent and pious, he was sent as a boy to the junior seminary at Castelfranco. It cost too much to pay room and board at the school, so Guiseppe rose at dawn for his daily 10 mile round trip walk to school. He strapped a small lunch to his chest, laced his shoes together and slung them over his shoulder to save wear and tear. He usually walked barefoot to school, and when he returned home at night he studied Latin.
When his years at Castelfranco ended he and dozens of other boys took the examinations of the diocesan seminary of Treviso. Sarto scored first in every subject, and received a scholarship to the Seminary of Padua. He finished his first term in first place among fifty-six students. During the course of his seminary studies he received the following commendation: “Disciplinae nemini secundus – ingenii maximi – memoriae summae – spei maximae” (“In discipline second to none, of the greatest ability, blest with a very great memory, and giving the highest promise.”)
The piety and self-denial lived by his family stayed with Father Sarto for the rest of his life. As assistant priest at Tombolo he disciplined himself to get by on four hours of sleep a night, in order to study Scripture, Canon Law, and the Church Fathers. He emptied himself in service to his parishioners, sometimes giving his own meals to the needy. “He kept just as much as he absolutely had to have to clothe himself,” observed a biographer. “He ate only what he had to, to keep alive; the rest he gave to the poor.” 
“All lean on my income,” he laughed, “which amounts to six Venetian lire a day.” His generosity so outweighed his income that he told his cousin, “After seven years in the priesthood I am in debt a little less than a thousand lire.”
His first assignment set the mark for things to come. “He is so zealous, “ remarked Don Constantini, the senior priest at Tombolo, “so full of good sense and other precious endowments that I can learn much from him.“ He predicted a bishop’s mitre for Father Sarto.
Father Sarto worked every waking minute, continually forgetting himself in the service of others. As an administrator he was organized, practical, and efficient, balancing books to the penny. He set up catechism classes, rehearsed Gregorian chant, and spent long hours in the confessional. He slept little at night in order to study, meditate, and pray. Yet he was always calm and pleasant, and never seemed frayed at the edges. At a young age Sarto had already mastered himself into a finely tuned instrument, which he placed at the will of his Creator.
Underlying all his talents was what is today called “lack of self-esteem”; that is, humility. “I am just a poor country priest,” he would say to deflect praise. His humility was often confounded by promotions, but soon recovered. When appointed Patriarch of Venice, Sarto would still insist, “I am just a poor country Cardinal.” Later Merry del Val would observe:
“Truly deep and unaffected humility was, I consider, the prominent characteristic of the Holy Father. It struck me to be so entirely the outstanding feature of his whole temperament as to have become in him a second nature. It cost him no effort to be humble because he had a lowly conception of himself, and the rooted conviction that we owe all our powers to God alone made it easier for him to admire the gifts he discerned in others than to discover any of them in himself…
“He gave me the impression that in his private life it required a definite act on his part and almost a positive effort to realize that he was the Supreme Pontiff, endowed with all the prerogatives of the great office. Habitually, he appeared to consider himself the same humble priest of years gone by, or one of many bishops, without claim to special distinction. And yet, in the exercise of sovereignty and leadership, no one could have surpassed him in the stateliness of his demeanor or the vigor of his command.”
Despite all his talents and all the promotions he received, Guiseppe Sarto retained his poverty: not mere material poverty, but something even more valuable – spiritual poverty.
Bishop and Cardinal
He had been a priest for twenty-five years when he received a Pontifical dispatch appointing him as Bishop of the diocese of Mantua. Father Sarto buried his face in his hands and wept. Then he went about trying to convince everyone the dispatch was a mistake, as he was utterly incapable of such a responsibility. He even wrote Pope Leo XIII, who seems to have ignored the letter. When all avenues of appeal had been exhausted, the new Bishop gave up, laughed, and said, “Really, my Lord, this is the last straw!”
In his first pastoral letter, Bishop Sarto pledged:
“For the good of souls I will spare neither toil, watching nor fatigue, and nothing will be closer to my heart than your salvation. Some, perhaps, will wonder what is my basis for making such promises. It is hope, the emblem of which, the anchor, I have had displayed on my Episcopal coat of arms; as Scripture says (Heb. 6:19), hope is the soul’s sure and firm anchor; hope is the sole companion of my life, the greatest support in uncertainty, the strongest power in situations of weakness.
“Hope, yes; but not human hope, which is imagined to be the source of the greatest happiness even in the midst of the greatest misfortune; but the hope of Christ, which culminates in the heavenly promises and can strengthen the feeblest man with the greatness of soul and the help of God…I know that, for the salvation of my sheep, I shall have to fight battles, face dangers, accept insults, suffer storms, struggle against the plague which is attacking morality; but my flock…my flock will always find me gentle, kind and full of charity.”
Bishop Sarto was as good as his word. When his funds were depleted by his generosity of the poor, “it was not unusual for him to pawn his Episcopal ring.” The poor were his “dear friends,“ his “favorites.“ During the liturgy on Holy Thursday, Bishop Sarto would kneel and wash the feet of a group of poor men. A biographer notes:
”The Mantuans were unanimous in asserting that charity to the poor was the characteristic note of the Episcopate of Mgr. Sarto. His motto was “Little for self and all for the poor,” and this he carried into practice with an inexhaustible generosity which excluded no one, not even his own adversaries or the enemies or the Church…”
Like Alcibiade Moneta, a Mantuan Socialist who published anonymous pamphlets containing vicious libels of Bishop Sarto. His identity became known to Sarto, who was urged to prosecute. Instead, he prayed for Moneta, whose fortunes fell. Bankrupt and harassed by creditors, Moneta appeared without recourse when he received anonymous financial assistance that removed his debts. He never found out his rescuer was Bishop Sarto.
Sarto reformed the Mantuan seminary, and improved the diocesan catechetic programs. Not satisfied, he began a second pastoral visitation to examine the religious instruction in his parishes. He declared: “I do not deny that this will be for me and for you a wearisome labour, but reflect that we did not enter the priesthood to seek a life of comfort. We must work! This is our duty. To be obliged to labour constantly and to be a priest are the same thing.” He recalled St. Charles Borromeo, who, when told his health would fail due to overwork, replied: “What use is my health if I don’t work?”
Pius’s chief weakness, if it can be called that, was coming to terms with success. When Pope Leo appointed him Cardinal of Venice, Pius admitted he was “anxious, terrified and humiliated” by the promotion. Characteristically, he wrote a letter of protest to Leo, “putting forth every conceivable motive in the hope of moving the Holy Father to dispense me from the honor of the Roman Purple.“ Only when told that his refusal would greatly grieve a pope who esteemed him did Sarto relent.
It turned out that the Italian government did not want Sarto to be Patriarch of Venice either, and forestalled his appointment for many months. In the interim Sarto remained in Mantua as acting bishop and new Cardinal, accepting Pope Leo’s will, but remaining unfazed by his promotion. When a free-thinking Mantuan professor was dying, Sarto asked if he could visit. The answer ’yes’ came very late at night, and the Cardinal walked the dark streets alone to minister to the lost sheep, administer Viaticum, and usher his soul into eternity.
Early one morning a Monsignor came to visit Cardinal Sarto. The Bishop offered his guest coffee, but no house keepers could be found to make it. Sarto put on an apron, and together in the kitchen they made breakfast. Later this episode would be recalled with fondness by the Monsignor, when he became Pope Pius XI.
Another guest of Sarto’s was his old seminary professor, Mgr. Agnoletti. Early one morning Agnoletti went to the Bishop’s Chapel to say Mass, and found only Cardinal Sarto. “Who will serve?” Agnoletti asked. “I will, of course,” replied Sarto, who cut off Agnoletti’s objections with a smile and a quiet “Don’t you think a prelate in my position is capable of serving a simple low Mass?”
The Mantuans were glad to have their bishop back, if only for a while. Mantuan Jews also seemed to revere Bishop Sarto. “When he passed by their places of business, they made it their pleasant duty to salute him with great reverence and said, ‘Would that we had such priests.’” Another account has it that leading Jewish families in Mantua contributed to the diocese in order for Pius to maintain his ceaseless philanthropy. Throughout his ecclesiastical career Sarto had working relationships with (conservative) Jewish politicians. It was one of these politicians, Leone Romanin Jacur, who successfully intervened on Sarto’s behalf to persuade the Italian government to relent and allow Sarto to enter Venice to begin his Cardinalate.
In his first sermon from the pulpit of the Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice, Cardinal Sarto pledged:
“It is my earnest wish to manifest my love for you in all that I undertake in this Patriarchate, and my greatest consolation will be to know that you return that love and realize that your pastor has no other ambition than the defense of the truth and the welfare of his flock.
“And should it happen that one day I fail in this promise which I now solemnly make, I pray that God will rather let me die. How I tremble to think that souls can be punished for all eternity on account of the negligence of their pastor, that innocent people can be led from the path of truth because the words of the Inspired Text were never preached to them, and that the spirit of the world, and of our time especially, should pour into ill-instructed minds for want of a firm hand to check its tide. I have a sacred duty to defend the truth openly, for God will ask me to render an account for all those souls who have strayed into the ways of perdition; even though they hate in me the Bishop and pastor, their fate is my responsibility.”
But it was more than burning words that made Sarto a favorite of Venetian Catholics.
“He would walk along the streets, one pocket filled with coins, the other with candy. When the children came running to him, the poor among them received money, the better dressed, candy. Before long the parents of the children would gather around him, and he would listen to them with patience and interest, interrupting now and then with questions and advice. The poor especially found him a willing listener to their troubles, but all found in him a personal friend, and he treated those whom he had met before as old acquaintances and friends. His social visits took him among all classes of people, from the nobility to the poor.”
He walked the streets of Venice in an ordinary black cassock, on his way to various poor hovels, or to the Lagoon, where he would laugh and joke with the fishermen, and give them alms under the pretext of buying fish. A steady stream of poor and downtrodden Venetians were admitted to his Palace, and it is said that none left empty handed. He became known among the Venetians as “the poorest of the poor in Venice.” It was around this time that Cardinal Sarto told his nephew-priest, “Giovanni, when I die you will find nothing.”
Pope Leo died in 1903, almost exactly ten years after making Sarto Patriarch of Venice. Although Leo had privately predicted in 1898 that Sarto would be his successor, the Patriarch of Venice apparently never considered this possibility, for the tickets Sarto purchased to attend the conclave were round trip.
Cardinal Mathieu of Paris recalled meeting Sarto at the conclave:
“When I met the Patriarch from Venice for the first time in the conclave, I asked him in French if he were an Italian Cardinal; to which query I received in Italian the answer, ‘I’m sorry, I do not speak French’ “Well, then, you will never become pope!” I responded in Latin. To which Cardinal Sarto graciously responded, “Deo gratias, I shall never become pope.”
This appeared true during the initial balloting, which gave Leo’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Rampolla, an early lead. Then came the famous intervention of Krakow Cardinal Puzyna on behalf of the Emperor of Austria, against the election of Rampolla. The attempted veto was met with indignation by the Cardinals, and Rampolla’s best chance to become pope occurred during the next vote, when in reaction to Austria’s move Rampolla received even more votes.
After that, Rampolla fell and Sarto rose. Although most accounts of the conclave by Pius X’s biographers speak of the dignity with which Rampolla handled the situation, Yves Chiron notes that Rampolla also became determined to block Sarto’s election, persisting even against the advice of several conclave Cardinals, who met privately with Rampolla to reason with him.
Sarto appeared as determined as Rampolla to block his own election. As the votes in the conclave swung to the Patriarch of Venice, he declared he was not made for the papacy. When the next ballot confirmed he was the leading candidate for Pope, Sarto declared again that he was unworthy, and begged his fellow cardinals to elect someone else pope. Midnight found the unwilling papabile kneeling “on the marble floor near the altar” in a “silent, shadowy chapel.” A certain young Monsignor made a discreet visit. Sarto was tearful, and firmly resolved not to become pope. “Corragio, Eminenza!” – “Courage, Eminence, the Lord will help you!” whispered the young Monsignor. It was the first meeting between Guiseppe Sarto and Rafael Merry del Val.
The next morning Sarto was elected Pope, “his eyes full of tears, drops of sweat were like pearls on his cheeks, and he seemed close to fainting.” He was asked what name he would bear, and he replied, “Pius Decimus”, in honor of the “holy pontiffs who have borne this name, and of those who, in recent times, have been persecuted for the Church.” A month later he selected Cardinal Merry del Val as his Secretary of State
Pius X and Merry del Val were viewed with skepticism at first. It was assumed Pius was elected because he was simple and pious, and probably wouldn’t be as politically involved in the affairs of Europe as Leo had been. Del Val was dismissed as too young, certain to be overmatched by his new position. When the pair went to work, however, conventional wisdom went out the window. One of Pius’ first papal audiences was to a group of diplomats. After the audience the French statesman, Emilio Olivier, wrote:
“The new Pope has not the majestic appearance of Leo XIII, but instead an irresistible kindness and pleasantness of manner. His super-eminent gifts of mind, the keenness of his intellect, the clearness and precision of his thoughts, left a deep impression on me. He is an excellent listener and can pick out at once all the important points in a speech. His answers are short; in a few decisive words he can make a situation live. He possesses all the qualities of a great statesman; he has a remarkable foresight of what is possible and what is not. In his calm, courageous manner he is slow to condemn, but once he has made up his mind he is inflexible. I think he will be seen at his best when difficulties arise – then he will prove himself a hero and a saint.”
The words were prophetic. Pius surprised many with his astute political sense. He picked his battles carefully, and fought hard against Masonic attempts to separate Church and state in France and Portugal. Merry del Val recalled:
“The Prince of Bulow had immense admiration for Pius X. The Pope surprised the statesman by the lucidity with which he comprehended every situation and by his foresight and clear judgment about men and things…the statesman told me: ‘I have made the acquaintance of many rulers and princes, but I have rarely found in any of them such a clear and all-embracing knowledge of human nature as in His Holiness.‘”
Pius’ response to such praise may be guessed by now: “I’m just a poor country priest,“ said the Pope, “and have only one point of view – the crucifix.“
It was this point of view that led Pius to condemn modernism in two encyclicals, Lamentabili Sane and Pascendi dominici gregis. At least one modernist had the honesty to admit that Pascendi had scored a bulls-eye. Calling the author of Pascendi a “subtle scholastic theologian extraordinarily familiar with the subject,“ English Jesuit George Tyrrell declared:
“No modernist has any right to be surprised at this encyclical, though he may marvel at the courage and unaccustomed simplicity with which, leaving aside diplomacy and the usual equivocations, it presents fearlessly before the eyes of an astonished world, all the logical consequences, practical as well as speculative, of scholastic theology…“
Lost in the hue and cry over Pius X’s persecution of the modernists were his admonitions to overzealous modernist hunters to proceed with charity, and his advice to the diocesan bishop of excommunicated modernist Alfred Loisy: “You are going to be Fr. Loisy’s bishop. If you have the opportunity, treat him kindly; and if he makes one step towards you, make two towards him.”
Father of the Poor
The motto of Pius’ pontificate, Instaurare Omnia in Christo – To restore all things in Christ, was applied first of all to himself. ”Of his faults we are told only that in his youth he was of a quick temper and easily moved to anger,” wrote a supporter of Pius’ canonization cause. “If this is true, then he must have learned to hold himself in complete control, for he was unusually gentle and forbearing…”
A biographer writes:
“Many witnesses observe that his life was a constant struggle in order to gain complete self-mastery, and no physical mortification could be greater than this. He was not born with a big generous heart: this was the result of prayer and self-denial. By nature he had a fiery temperament, but his wonderful strength of will converted him into one of the meekest of men. One of his private secretaries asked him how was he able to control himself in the face of such grave danger and difficulties. ‘Only with the self-mastery which is gained by years of practice,’ came the simple reply.”
A French politician noted: “He is a man of magnetic personality and splendid appearance, with an open face from which decision and firmness shine forth, but on the other hand the mildness of his eyes tempers all severity. Every manifestation of dignity is contrary to his nature, but there is nothing servile in him; his manners are perfect; they are the manners of one who is completely master of himself.”
According to Merry del Val:
“I have never noticed in him an ungoverned movement, not even in things which cause him the greatest internal pain. Even when he was obliged to reprove, he always remained completely master of himself and expressed his grief and displeasure with tranquility, mildness, and fatherly care. He manifested a just anger only when the rights of the Church were in danger or God was blasphemed.”
Yet he suffered. His grief over the first World War killed him, and before that, he knew sorrow and loneliness. When it pierced him overly he would whisper the words of Isaias: “De gentibus non est vir mecum – And of the gentiles there is not a man with me.”
The night before he condemned the French Masonic government for separating Church and state, he prayed prostrate for hours in St. Peter’s Basilica before the tomb of the first pope. Later he said, “No one can imagine how much I have suffered and prayed, but the Lord has strengthened me and enlightened me.“
When the Portuguese Masonic government separated Church and state, a delegation of Portuguese Catholics came to Rome. Pius asked how he could help, and was told $100,000 was needed. He said he didn’t have the money, but asked the delegation to return the next day. The next day a stranger made a short visit to the Holy Father. Pius left the meeting smiling. The stranger had given him the exact sum petitioned by the Portuguese delegation. “It comes in through one door and goes out through the other,” the Pope laughed.
Merry del Val said that Pius “never stopped to haggle over what he gave away in charity, and he gave unceasingly.” It was also observed that:
“As Pope, he persisted in refusing to approve any expense that appeared to be intended for his personal comfort; his sole personal possession was his native home in Riese, which he refused to dispose of for the simple reason that he wanted to assure his sisters…of a roof over their head should anything befall him. Throughout his life those who looked after his material needs complained that his charities knew no bounds. His sisters kept his linens in hiding for fear that he would give them away.”
If possible, Guiseppe Sarto’s charitable works increased when he became pope. When a great earthquake struck Italy in 1909 Pius raised 7 million francs to aid victims and rebuild churches and schools. He took special care to see that homes for orphans were likewise rebuilt. He became known as “the Father of the Poor,” a title that became amplified by his fatherly condescension in lowering the age for children to receive First Communion.
A Churchman and friend recalled:
“From the sixteenth of September, 1885, until his death I was constantly with him, and I can bear witness that he was always devoted to duty , labor, and self-sacrifice, without losing anything of his tranquility and sweetness, without showing the least sign of weariness, or behaving as if he himself were of any importance.”
Little is said of the miraculous healings he performed while living, but all attest to an aura of the supernatural that radiated from Pius X. A member of the French Academy testified: “It was not possible to come into contact with Pius X without being deeply moved by his affability and magnanimity. Pilgrims from every part of the world commented on his kindness. At public audiences he appeared with all the majesty of the Vicar of Christ, while his eyes seemed to look into eternity.”
An Argentinean ambassador said, “The first impression the servant of God made on me was that here was a man form whom piety emanated. I could not restrain my tears – a sensation I had never before experienced. Of all the Popes whose acquaintance I had the honor to make, none made a deeper impression on me than Pius X.”
Cardinal Baudrillart said of Pius X: “His appearance, his words and his personality manifested his generosity, firmness and faith: generosity revealed the man, firmness the leader, and faith the priest, the Pope, the man of God. A more spiritual man it would be hard to imagine.”
Pius X died on August 20, 1914, of grief, it is said, over the impending world war. From his bedside he told his Father Confessor: “I offer my life to God for the lives of His and my children.“ His doctor said he had never seen anyone pass on with as much serenity. Pius refused to allow his body to be embalmed, and commanded a burial in a simple, inexpensive tomb. On the twentieth day of each following month, Merry del Val said a private Mass near the tomb of his pope and comrade in arms.
Pius’ generosity to the poor continued after his death, in the forms of healings and miracles. Another miracle was observed when his body was found incorrupt during the beatification process. This occurred in 1944, as a second world war was being waged. Observers noted “a tranquil expression” on the face of Pius X. “On June 27, 1944, the body of Pius X, well preserved and showing great flexibility of the limbs, was clothed in new vestments, the gift of His Holiness, Pius XII.”
* * *
“Father of the Poor” is a title of the Holy Spirit. It is also a fitting title for a saint who was an earthly father to the poor, and was filled with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Ghost. “The fruit of the Spirit,” St. Paul told the Galatians, “is charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continence, and chastity.” Pope St. Pius X spent his life displaying and distributing the fruits of the Holy Ghost. Shall we believe that has ceased now that he enjoys the beatific vision? St. Guiseppe Sarto, Father of the poor, pray for the poor. Pray for us.
 Fr. Hieronymo Dal-Gal, Pius X, The Life Story Of The Beatus, Dublin, M. H. Gill And Son Ltd., 1954, p. 8.
 A Symposium On The Life And Work Of Pope Pius X, Prepared Under the Direction of the Episcopal Committee of The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Published by The Confraternity Of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., 1946, p. 275.
 Ibid., p. 4.
 Giordani Tobin, Pius X, Bruce Publishing Company, 1954, p. 17.
 Cardinal Merry del Val, Memories of Pope Pius X, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1939, pp. 62-63.
 Rene Bazin, Pius X, St. Louis, B. Herder Book Company, p. 68.
 As quoted in Yves Chiron, St. Pius X, Restorer of the Church, Angelus Press, 2002, p. 54. Italics in original.
 Symposium, op. cit., p. 275.
 Dal Gal, op. cit., pp. 92-93.
 Bazin, op. cit., pp. 92-93. Pius commissioned an elderly Catholic lady to deliver the sum to Moneta’s wife, instructing her: “Above all, do not let them know that it was I who sent you. If they are very insistent, you can say that the person who has collected this amount is the most compassionate of all women – Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.”
 Dal Gal, op. cit., pp. 67-68.
 Ibid, pp. 94-95.
 When there was a delay in Sarto going to Venice, Leo made him a Cardinal before the move, making the point that Sarto’s promotion was not due merely to a transfer to Venice.
 Don Benedetto Pierami, The Life of the Servant of God, Pius X, Turin, Casa Editrice Marietti, 1928, p. 66.
 Dal Gal, op. cit., pp. 100-101.
 Pierami, op. cit., p. 65.
 Andrew M. Canepa, Pius X And The Jews: A Reappraisal, published in the Journal Church History. I thank Matt Anger for providing me with this article.
 Dal Gal, op. cit., p. 107. Would to God that our prelates would make such a pledge.
 Symposium on the Life and Works of Pius X, op. cit., pp. 276-277.
 Dal Gal, op. cit., p. 127.
 Chiron, op. cit., p. 115, fn 4.
 Symposium on the Life and Works of Pius X, op. cit., p. 15.
 Austria had partitioned a portion of Poland that included Krakow.
 Chiron, op. cit., p. 126. I am purposely bypassing another angle on the Austrian intervention, ie, that it was due to Cardinal Rampolla being a Freemason. This is dealt with thoroughly elsewhere in this issue of CFN.
 Ibid., p. 127.
 Dal Gal, op. cit., p. 143.
 Ibid., p. 187.
 Bazin, op. cit., pp. 245-246.
 Chiron, op. cit., p. 238
 Symposium, op. cit., Essay by Rev. John S. Mix titled The Cause of Pius X.
 Dal Gal, op. cit., p. 185.
 Ibid., p. 129.
 Cardinal Merry del Val, op. cit.
 Isaias 53, 3.
 Dal Gal, op. cit., pp. 205-206.
 Ibid., p. 204.
 Symposium, op. cit., p. 275.
 Bazin, op. cit., 265.
 Dal Gal, op. cit., p. 180.
 Ibid, p. 180.
 Symposium, op. cit., p. 40.
 Ibid, p. 283.