Pope Paul VI: Biography, Facts & Death

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has taught high school history in several states with a master's degree in teaching.

Giovanni Battista Montini, also known as Pope Paul VI, has one of the most important legacies in the modern Catholic Church. In this lesson, learn about his life, pontificate, and legacy.

Who was Pope Paul VI?

Leaders--political, economic, social or cultural--typically face a set of challenges during their tenure. But what if the challenges you faced came at the very beginning of your rise to power? How much more difficult would it be to learn how to do your job and reach the goals you wanted for the office? This is exactly the set of circumstances Pope Paul VI faced when he became pope. Let's learn about his early life, pontificate (time as pope), and legacy.

When Montini became pope, he chose the papal name Pope Paul VI. Throughout this lesson, he will be referred to by his birth name, Giovanni Battista Montini, until the point that he becomes pope.

Early Life

Giovanni Battista Montini was born in Italy on September 26, 1897. As a child, Montini had poor health and was therefore educated at home for most of his early life. Like most other Italians at the time, Montini was raised Roman Catholic.

In May 1920, Montini began his official, professional journey with the Roman Catholic Church when he was ordained as a priest. Since he was mostly educated at home up to this point, he was sent to Rome to further his religious education. As a young priest in Rome, he developed a reputation for his faith and hard work and was recruited to be on staff at the Vatican. The Vatican is the official governing body for the Catholic Church that also functions as an independent government. For over thirty years, Montini worked hard in his studies at the Vatican and served in a variety of important jobs including Secretariat of State.

In 1954, he left the Vatican to become the Archbishop of Milan. An archbishop is the highest Catholic priest over a diocese (geographic region). Then, in 1958, he became a cardinal. A cardinal is a leader in the church who is selected by the pope to be a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals. One of the most important jobs of the cardinals is to select the next pope from amongst themselves. The variety of increasingly important positions and experiences Montini had over his career contributed to his appointment as pope in 1963.


Giovanni Battista Montini or Pope Paul VI, 1897- 1978

After the death of Pope John XXIII in 1963, Montini was elected by the Sacred College of Cardinals to become the next pope. With this, Montini selected the papal name Paul VI. From 1963 until his death in 1978, Pope Paul VI led the Catholic Church through some of its most difficult and greatest times.

When Paul VI first became pope, the Catholic Church was ending the first session of the Second Vatican Council, a time when the Catholic Church evaluated its fit into the modern world. This was a time of great tension among members of the church as they looked at Catholic traditions to see which parts needed to stay the same and which parts needed to change. As you can imagine, there was much debate and disagreement within the church. Paul VI was perfectly prepared to be the leader during this time. His academic nature allowed him the knowledge to make decisions and add facts to the conversation. Pope Paul VI's goal in Vatican II was to honor tradition unless it was outdated.

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