5 Popes You Should Know

How much do you know about the popes of the Catholic Church? Sure, we know about the ones who have led the Church during our lifetime, but what about the twenty centuries prior to that? Fr. Joshua Wagner, priest of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, joined The Inner Life® to share five popes that we should know.

“The papacy is very important,” said Fr. Wagner. “The popes that I’ve seen in my lifetime have deeply affected my spirituality and I think that they do the whole Church and they have since the very beginning.”

“The papacy is our point of unity, he is our Holy Father, and he’s the father of the family, the Vicar of Christ, all those things. And I think while in some sense it seems like a political office or a functional office, it’s really a very important part of our Catholic spirituality because what the pope says deeply affects the whole world, not just Catholics but non-Catholics alike,” said Fr. Wagner. He shared five popes that he believes we should know, and these popes are either great popes or ones who made infallible statements.

St. Peter – The first pope and one of the Twelve Apostles. He helped to establish the early Catholic Church and died a martyr.

St. Leo the Great – A 5th century pope who fought heresies, clarified teaching on the nature of Christ, and worked as a peacemaker to defend Rome against attack.

St. Gregory the Great – A 6th century pope who praised the monastic life and emphasized the missionary work of the Church and service to the poor. He made changes to the liturgy, some of which remain in effect today.

Blessed Pius IX – A 19th century pope who defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Pope Pius XII – A 20th century pope who led the Church during World War II and made the infallible statement about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Another thing that these popes have in common is their deep courage. “At the end of his life, [St. Peter] faced down the emperor Nero and was crucified … he basically faced down the whole Roman Empire,” explained Fr. Wagner. “Fast-forward to Pope Leo the Great, [he] faced down Attila the Hun. Pope Gregory didn’t face down any armies as far as I know, but he was a Benedictian monk and he wanted to be a monk, he didn’t want to be a pope! And so he came out and was a great pope that affected our liturgy; he had to kind of face himself. Pope Pius IX was the pope when the Italian army came in and took over the Papal States … and of course, Pius XII was the pope during World War II.”

“They did these ridiculously courageous things; they fought heretics, they stood for the truth, and they did it absolutely open-heartedly and courageously. That’s their job, of course, as the pope. But the thing is, that that’s your job and that’s my job, not just as a priest and a radio guy, but as baptized Christians, to stand up to evil and preach the truth no matter what the cost is!”

Read about the lives of these popes and you’re sure to find knowledge, wisdom, and inspiration, and learn something new about the history of the Catholic Church.