Born in a town called Bosco in Northern Italy, and raised in the humblest surroundings of poverty and obscurity, Anthony Ghislieri was born to poor parents in the year 1504. His Baptismal Name was Anthony, as he was born on the Feast of St Anthony of the Desert (Jan 17th).
After entering the Order of Preachers as a young man he became renowned for his holiness, and Fr Michele Ghislieri soon attracted the attention of the hierarchy in Rome. In 1566 he was elected Pope, taking the name Pius V. The new Pope led the Church with the deepest sanctity; a holiness of life that would inspire all those who encountered him. Pius V was a man intent on interior spiritual renewal of the Church. In this desire we see many similarities between him and our present Holy Father, Pope Francis. Pius’ first public act as Pope was to give all the money that was received for the installation ceremonies of the new Pontiff to the poor and neediest. The thousand crowns usually given for the banquet for the Cardinals and ambassadors were sent to hospitals and the poorest convents in the city: “For I know,” said the Pope, “that God will not call me to account for suppressing a feast for the wealthy, but he may punish me severely if I neglect His poor.”
From the first moment of his election Pius V saw as his top priority not so much the battle from without but the need for spiritual renewal within, starting with the hierarchy. Leading by example he endeavored to inspire the Cardinals to a renewed life of Christian simplicity and fervor. He established regular life in the apostolic palace, gave conferences to his court and the Cardinals on the life of virtue that would be needed to reform the Church. Always clothed in his Dominican habit, he slept on a hard pallet and he kept continual fasts according to the rules of the Order, knowing that only sacrifice and a life of holiness would draw down the graces necessary for the re-invigoration of the Church. His table was characterized by its extreme frugality so all saw in him a man devoted to the imitation of the life of Christ shown by his Holy Father Dominic. He had a deep love for the Rosary and for this he was called ‘The Pope of the Rosary.’ Likewise he was called the “The Pope of the Crucifix” loving with all his heart the Sacred Humanity of Christ crucified. In the Saviour’s crucified humanity he saw the deepest expression of Divine love.
On May 1st 1572, Pius V clothed in his old Dominican habit, and clutching his Rosary beads made one last request of his Lord: “Increase my sufferings but also increase my patience.” This saintly Dominican Pope shows us that the path of renewal remains the same in our day; interior conversion of life and the life of holiness practiced by all the faithful who are called by their Lord to be light to the world. He challenges us not to settle for mediocrity but to strive to be the saints of the third millennium, echoing the challenge given to us by Pope St John Paul II.