While the papacy of John Paul I spanned a brief period of time, the man was far from unremarkable beyond serving as the leader of the Catholic Church. This article intends to highlight the life and distinguishing characteristics of this particular pope whom many referred to as “The Smiling Pope.” Rather than be crowned like every pope before him, John Paul I opted to cover his head with the pallium of an archbishop.
Pope John Paul I, then known as Albino, came from a poor family. His father was a bricklayer and he had three siblings: Federico, Edoardo and Antonia. Albino’s first interest in God and the divine came at the age of 10, directly after a Capuchin monk visited his hometown in order to deliver Lenten sermons. One year later, in 1923, after seeking his father’s blessing to pursue the priesthood, Albino would enroll in Feltre’s minor seminary, where he quickly developed a reputation for being over-enthusiastic in his studies. His father, Giovanni, told young Albino that he hoped Albino would grow into a priest that cares for workers, much like how Jesus would.
From Priest to Vicar General.
In 1935, 12 years into his tenure with the Catholic church, Albino would finally receive his ordination into the priesthood. Two years after that, he would teach canon law, dogmatic theology, moral theology and religious art as a professor at Belluno’s seminary. 1947 saw him receive his doctorate in Sacred Theology with a thesis critiquing the teachings of Antonio Rosmini; that year also saw him promoted to the position of chancellor. 1954 saw him rise to the position of vicar general for the Belluno region.
Despite receiving multiple nominations to promote him to bishop, Albino would not accept the position until 1958. That year, Pope John XXII would appoint him to serve the diocese of Vittorio Veneto. Upon his appointment, Albino admitted that he wanted to be known as a teacher and servant in deference to his motto of Humanitas, meaning “humility.”
Thoughts on Being Pope.
When the papal conclave convened to decide upon the Pope Paul VI’s successor, Albino was ready to decline being chosen. However, when upon learning that he had been chosen despite his misgivings, he embraced the selection and proclaimed himself “Pope John Paul I,” sovereign of the Catholic faith out of a sense of obligation.
In his time serving as pope, John Paul I sought to renew the church according to the Second Vatican Council; revise canon law; keep the faith invested in evangelism; promote unity within the church in the face of doctrine; maintain an open dialogue with others and promote global peace and unity. John Paul I was the first pope to speak as one individual, rather than prior popes’ habit of referring to themselves as “we.” John Paul I was the last pope to make use of the sedia gestatoria, a throne that allowed church subordinates to carry the pope throughout public spaces; it has since been replaced with the Popemobile, a vehicle equipped with bulletproof glass windows.
Pope John Paul I’s character was one of warmth, as can be attested to with his nickname of “The Smiling Pipe,” and intelligence. He wrote letters to several famous individuals like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, and they often returned the favor. He would also write letters to Biblical entities as an exercise in contemplation.
Quick Facts about Pope John Paul I.
- He was born on October 17th, 1912 within Canale d’Agordo, Belluno, Veneto, in the country we now know as Italy.
- He was born with the name Albino Luciani.
- He died at the age of 65 on September 28th, 1978 within Vatican city’s Apostolic Palace.
- The cause of his death was a fatal heart attack that occurred late into the night of September 28th. Anecdotes from those around him, coupled with an autopsy, indicated that Pope John Paul I had briefly complained of chest pains a few hours prior to the incident, but chose to ignore them.
- His papacy began on August 26th, 1978.
- His papacy ended 33 days after it began on September 28th, 1978.
- After John Paul I’s death, the papacy transitioned to John Paul II.
Interesting Facts About this Pope.
- He currently holds the record for shortest papacy in recorded history.
- He was the first pope born within the 20th Century and is also the most recent pope to come from Italy, even if he was not born in the Italy that we know of.
- Formally speaking, Albino Luciani was not born in Italy but within “The Kingdom of Italy.” The Kingdom of Italy began in 1861, when Victor Emmanuel II declared himself king of Italy, and was transformed into the Italy we know of today after a constitutional referendum was passed in 1946, immediately after the events of World War II.
- Albino was baptized mere hours after his birth due to concerns over his weak health. While the initial act was performed by the midwife, the full ritual was performed when Albino was three days of age.
- Albino chose the papal name of John Paul in admiration of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, his predecessors. He was also the first pope to choose a double name. He also developed the nickname of “The Smiling Pope” due to his propensity for always having a smile on his face when dealing with the public.
- The circumstances around his papacy resulted in a “Year of Three Popes,” a situation where two papal conclaves are convened to name a successor pope. 1978 marked the most recent year to involve such an event.