Feast Day : April 30 (formerly May 5)
Also known as: Michael Ghisleri, Michele Ghisleri, Pope of the Rosary
Pius V is remembered as one of the most important popes of the Counter-Reformation. He was born Michael Ghisleri in Bosco (near Alessandria), Italy, on January 17, 1504. His impoverished family could not afford to send him to school, and he had to assist his father as a shepherd. He was occupied with this one day when two passing Dominican friars struck up a conversation with him. Recognizing his virtuousness and intelligence, they asked for permission from his parents to take him with them. Thus, Michael left home at the age of 12. After two years of study, in 1518, he donned the Dominican habit at the Voghera priory and, as a novice, was sent to Lombardy. He was ordained a priest in 1528, and returned home for the first time since his departure with the friars to say his first Mass, only to find that Bosco had been razed by the French. He found his parents in a nearby town, however, and after saying Mass, began his career as a lector in theology and philosophy. He also served as master of novices and was elected prior of several Dominican houses. He was a model of piety and austerity: He fasted, did penance, spent hours in meditation and prayer, and always traveled on foot and without a cloak, speaking to his companions only of religious matters. Michael’s reputation for defending the faith won him the appointment as inquisitor at Como, Italy, where many of his brethren had died as martyrs to Protestant heretics. Michael set out to quell the traffic in sacrilegious books smuggled over the Alps from Switzerland. He was ambushed on several occasions and some complicated plots were launched against him, but these only made him more determined to place the situation before the pope in Rome. In 1556, Pope Paul IV (r. 1555–59) made Michael bishop of Nepi and Sutri and appointed him inquisitor in Milan and Lombardy; he named him inquisitor general for all of Christendom the following year. In 1559, Pope Pius IV (r. 1559–65) appointed him bishop of Mondovi. In his official capacities, Michael opposed not only the heresies of the day but also all policies he considered mistaken. Thus, he opposed Pius IV when he wanted to admit Ferdinand de’ Medici to the Sacred College at age 13 and worked to defeat German emperor Maximilian II’s attempt to abolish ecclesiastical celibacy. Pius IV died early in 1565 and on January 7 Michael was elected his successor and took the name Pius V. In the Vatican, Pius continued his religious observances, meditating on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament at least twice a day. He visited hospitals and sat at the bedsides of the sick and dying. He washed the feet of the poor and embraced lepers. It is said that an English nobleman converted to Catholicism after he saw Pius kiss the feet of a beggar covered with ulcers. He forbade bull fights and relegated prostitutes to distant parts of the city. He enforced the discipline of the Council of Trent, reformed the Cistercian order and supported missions to the New World, India, China and Japan. The signal concerns of his pontificate, however, were combating threats from Protestantism in Europe and Islam in Asia. After the Knights of St. John in Malta were defeated by the Turks in 1565, he rallied forces for what was to be the last of the Crusades. He appointed John of Austria the leader and in 1567 collected from all convents one-tenth of their revenues to help pay for the war. He ordered public prayers and increased his own supplications in support of the endeavor. When the Christian fleet finally sailed out to meet the enemy, all had received the sacraments, and all were saying the rosary. Their small fleet of 200 ships was insignificant compared to the Turkish armada. Yet when they met at the battle of Lepanto on October 6 and 7, 1571, they won, dealing the Turks a blow from which they were never to recover. Pius was immediately aware of the victory. He was working with his cardinals when he suddenly flung open the window and, looking up at the sky, cried out: “A truce to business; our great task at present is to thank God for the victory He has just given the Christian army.” In commemoration of the triumph, he instituted the Feast of the Rosary for the first Sunday of October and added the invocation, “Mary, Help of Christians,” to the Litany of Loreto. Pius was in the midst of trying to form another crusade to march against the Turks when he died on May 1, 1572. His last words were: “O Lord, increase my sufferings and my patience!” His relics are enshrined at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. In art, Pius is shown reciting a rosary or kissing the feet of a crucifix. He also is depicted with a fleet in the distance.