1953 – Pius XII to American seminarians: be holy, be heroes, be officers of the Church Militant

Pius XII

In looking for a quote by Pius XII, a reader directed me, us, to a speech of Ven. Pius XII delivered on 14 October 1953 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 45 (1953) pp 679 ff.) at the opening of the North American College in Rome.

Here is the main part of the speech, after the intro and before the usual conclusions.

Pretty inspiring stuff.

My emphases.


[The completion of the North American College] lights a stronger flame of hope for the Church in the United States of America and in the world. All this, it seemed to Us, adds up to a grave and sacred responsibility that rests on you, Our dear young seminarians, and on those who are to follow you. Will the sacrifices cheerfully offered for your sake be repaid in kind and with interest? Will the hopes and plans cherished by your Bishops, cherished by Us, be fulfilled? Your eager hearts are quick to answer: yes. But reflect a moment. That will be true only under one condition, that you become priests worthy of the name.

In the priesthood man is elevated to an almost staggering height, a mediator between a world in travail and the celestial kingdom of peace. Christ’s ambassador, steward of God’s mysteries, he exercises a divine power. Heir to the priestly and kingly offices of the divine Redeemer, he is commissioned to carry on the task of salvation, bringing souls to God and giving God to souls. Never, then, unmindful of the supreme importance of such a vocation, the priest will not busy himself with useless things. Modeling his life on that of Him he represents he will gladly spend and be spent on behalf of souls. Souls he seeks everywhere and always, not what the world can offer him. «To be a priest and to be a man dedicated to work is one and the same thing», wrote Bl. Pius X; and he liked to quote the words of the synod presided over by St. Charles Borromeo: «let every cleric repeat again and again: he has been called not to a life of ease and leisure, but to hard work in the spiritual army of the Church».

Those words, beloved sons, recall another fact one dare not forget. We belong to the Church militant ; and she is militant because on earth the powers of darkness are ever restless to encompass her destruction. Not only in the far-off centuries of the early Church, but down through the ages and in this our day, the enemies of God and Christian civilization make bold to attack the Creator’s supreme dominion and sacrosanct human rights. No rank of the clergy is spared ; and the faithful—their number is legion—inspired by the valiant endurance of their shepherds and fathers in Christ, stand firm, ready to suffer and die, as the martyrs of old, for the one true Faith taught by Jesus Christ. Into that militia you seek to be admitted as leaders.

Church MilitantImprisonment and martyrdom, We know, do not loom on the horizon that spreads before your eyes. In an atmosphere of untrammeled freedom, where «the word of God is not bound», the Church in your country has grown in numbers, in influence, in strength of leadership in all that makes for the good of the commonwealth. The college on the via dell’Umiltà has seen your priests increase from twenty-fìve hundred to forty-fìve thousand and more-proud and glorious tribute to the unselfìsh, clear-visioned Catholic family life that prevails among you; a mission country become a seminary of apostles for foreign fìelds. But the Church militant is «one body, with one Spirit … with the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism».(Eph 4, 4 ff.) And that Spirit calls for more than a dash of heroism in every priest who would be worthy of the name, whatever the external circumstances of time and place.

The spirit of the martyrs breathes in every priestly soul, who in the daily round of pastoral duties and in his cheerful, unrelenting efforts to increase in wisdom and in grace, gives witness to the Prince of shepherds, who endured the cross, despised the shame «when He gave Himself up on our behalf, a sacrifice breathing out fragrance as He offered it to God». (Eph 5, 2.)

We raise a fervent prayer to Mary Immaculate, under whose patronage you have placed your country, to Mary gloriously assumed into heaven, whom you have wished to honour in your chapel here, that she would always show a mother’s loving care of the clergy of America, and guide you, beloved seminarians, bearers of such high hopes, along the way that leads to that holiness which will bring her to recognize in you a greater and greater resemblance to her own divine Son.


Pius XII describing the Church in the USA in 1953.  My my how times have changed.

When I was in my gawdawful American seminary in 1980’s I was accused on more than one occasion of wanting the 1950’s back.  Though I was born in 1959 and was a convert and never knew the Church of the 1950’s, what Pope Pius is talking about was the sort of vision I wanted for my Church and from my seminary and in my country.

And, animi caussa, some footage of Pius XII at the NAC. No sound, alas.

I sense that there is something of this spirit stirring in seminarians and young priests and new bishops in the United States.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. tcreek says:

    “The Church is ever militant…” — John Henry Newman, Historical Sketches, Volume 2, Introduction

    “This is a world of conflict, and of vicissitude amid the conflict. The Church is ever militant; sometimes she gains, sometimes she loses; and more often she is at once gaining and losing in different parts of her territory. What is ecclesiastical history but a record of the ever-doubtful fortune of the battle, though its issue is not doubtful? Scarcely are we singing Te Deum, when we have to turn to our Misereres: scarcely are we in peace, when we are in persecution: scarcely have we gained a triumph, when we are visited by a scandal. Nay, we make progress by means of reverses; our griefs are our consolations; we lose Stephen, to gain Paul, and Matthias replaces the traitor Judas.”

  2. Liz says:

    Inspiring indeed. I know who I’m going to ask to intercede on behalf of the priests I pray for in the coming days. Wonderful post, Fr. Z.

  3. shin says:

    I always think of St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori’s ‘Dignity and Duties of a Priest’ and then St. Joseph Cafasso’s ‘Priest – The Man of God’ as required reading. Of course for a parish priest especially there’s St. Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney’s sermons too.

    ‘The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in Heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love.’

    St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars

  4. NoTambourines says:

    Fr. Z said:

    “I was accused on more than one occasion of wanting the 1950?s back. “

    I don’t get it. Speaking as a “cradle Catholic” born in the late ’70s, I’m amazed by the sort of firewall behind which Church tradition before the mid-’60s seems to sit.

    There’s the Hermeneutic of Continuity, the Hermeneutic of Rupture, and the Hermeneutic of Shut Up.

    I learned a new “term” the other night while looking up Godwin’s Law: Reduction ad hitlerem. It’s the ad hominem attack that implies: Hitler liked x (dogs? painting? breathing?). You like x. Therefore you agree with everything Hitler stood for.

    A similar tactic seems to be employed against people who care about the traditions of the Church: you want to go back to the old days. People in the old days had xyz awful traits. Therefore, you must want all these things including x, y, and z, to come back.

    It’s silly, but it’s an emotional argument, and it intimidates people.

  5. NoTambourines says:

    “Reductio,” that is. I plan to get my money’s worth out of that term.

  6. StJude says:

    Wow. What powerful, beautiful words.

    I am going to pray to Pope Pius for strength and wisdom for our Priests. We are in battle and they are the front lines. They need our prayers more than ever.

  7. Mariana says:

    That was great! “Your eager hearts are quick to answer: yes….” – these days no-one is even thought to have an eager heart. I’m about the same age as Father, a convert, and I’d like the old ways back, too! That, and an eager heart, raises the eyebrows of many a cradle Catholic. Very strange.

  8. Ambrose Jnr says:

    This is an inspiring speech indeed. However, history turned out very differently…
    being a seminarian in 1953 probably meant that most of these seminarians turned
    out to be our good priests in their eighties now…however, within a few years still
    under Pius XII, the next batch of seminarians would turn out to be the worst liberal parish priests who almost destroyed our faith…

  9. discerningguy says:

    Beautiful and true words, beautiful tiara and fanon, beautiful video. Sometimes I wish I was born a Roman around the year 1825 or so.

  10. asperges says:

    What an extraordinary Pope this was. What was to follow after him was utterly unthinkable, nothing short of a revolution: and it was Vatican II which, if not causing it directly, allowed it to happen in its wake.

    It is not nostalgia to look back in admiration. History will not fail to compare “then” and “now,” even if we hesitate to do so.

  11. Terrace says:

    Fr. Z, your posts in general and this one in particular are amazing. I am not yet fully Catholic, am almost 72 years of age and will be received into the blessed Church this Easter vigil. I too have a deep yearning for the pre Vatican 11 era. My greatest consolation is Christ’s assurance that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church and here in South Africa, where the modernist Mass leaves so much to be desired, that is comfort indeed.

  12. chcrix says:

    What a wise pope.

    He was said to be able to speak to children as a child while speaking to scientists as a scientist.

    I am old enough to just remember him when I was in first grade.

    I believe it was Amerio in “Iota Unum” that told the anecdote of Pius XII being asked about convening a second Vatican council and responding (I am paraphrasing of course): “You must be kidding, a second Vatican council would become a media circus and you would lose control of everything that happened.”

    Pius XII and Benedict XVI are the two outstanding Popes of my lifetime. (Yes, I know: What’s my opinion really worth? But still, most of us give them grades in our hearts anyway.)

  13. Maltese says:

    asperges, I think Vatican II was the codification of the revolucion in the Church, not its cause. There was the perfect storm of latent Modernism, unfounded optimism, and uber-1960’s-progressivism present to completely change the praxis of the Church. From proselytism to ecumenism; from sacrifice to meal; from the saver-of-souls to liberation theology, etc. Make no mistake, the Church is still in the business of saving souls, but she is a shell of her old self. Bl. Pius XII would be aghast if he walked into the average American Catholic church.

  14. shane says:

    “When I was in my gawdawful American seminary in 1980?s I was accused on more than one occasion of wanting the 1950?s back. ”

    Well I plead guilty as charged! 1950s Catholicism is often derided (not least by traditionalists) but it had very many positive qualities, which are now lost and probably incapable of retrieval. Such vandalism..

  15. Supertradmum says:

    Sending this link to some sems right now.

  16. PA mom says:

    So inspiring and so masculine! Just the sort of language that inspires men, filled with beauty and strength. I go to my first Vocations Committee meeting tomorrow, so pray for me that I can bring some of what is presented here at this site and offer it in ways the others can accept and will be fruitful for the parish.

  17. tcreek says:

    A prophecy from Pius XII? Quoted at many websites but no primary source.
    “The day the Church abandons her universal tongue {LATIN} is the day before she returns to the catacombs.” — Pope Pius XII, 1958

  18. tcreek says:

    Change of subject – If below is true, the bishops can now return to fawning over Obama Care.

    By BEN FELLER, AP White House Correspondent – 28 mins ago
    WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will announce a plan to accommodate religious employers outraged by a rule that would require them to cover birth control for women free of charge, according to a person familiar with the decision.

  19. Frank H says:

    May the cause for the canonization of Venerable Pope Pius XII proceed apace!

  20. Andy Milam says:

    Not that I’m being a total and complete liturgical wonk, but….

    Where is the bishop-crucifer in today’s Church? I’m a little curious….

    Just sayin’….

    Oh, the rest of the video is nice too….

  21. HighMass says:

    Kudo’s to chcrix….couldn’t have said it better, as both Popes are my favorite also….but I have to include Blessed John Paul II…..

  22. irishgirl says:

    Wow, those are some ‘fightin’ words’ from Venerable Pope Pius XII! He ‘called ’em like he saw ’em’!
    They should be sent to every seminarian, priest and Bishop in this country, and made their own!
    A cry to arms! A summons to battle!
    PA mom-‘so inspiring and so masculine’….indeed!

  23. Bill Russell says:

    Actually, I’d rather go back to the 1250’s -except for the dentistry.

  24. You can always get nice mugs, etc., for your seminarian friends!

  25. Pingback: A glorious vision of the priesthood « A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics

  26. Joel says:

    If a young man was listening to this and was not ready to grab his gun …er…stole, he should have immediately re-evaluated his situation.
    I think I’ll save this for my boys, just in case.

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