1953: Pius XII to American seminarians: be holy, heroes, officers of the Church Militant (quotes St. Charles Borromeo)

Because I am still having some internet problems and composition of posts is a little hard, I have pulled a couple things from the archives in which St. Charles Borromeo is mentioned. (His heart, by the way, in the great church on the Via del Corso not far from where I am sitting).

This is also appropriate because, Pius XII, whom I am quoting, is buried even closer and the North American College is also nearby: trifecta.

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{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Linking Back, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, Priests and Priesthood, Religious Liberty, The Drill, The future and our choices, Year of Faith and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


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

    I trust you took this as a compliment rather than as a criticism.

  2. wmeyer says:

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

    High praise, indeed, Father.

  3. lelnet says:

    For too long, the seminaries produced mostly the sort of priests who thought of “want[ing] the 1950s back” as ridicule, and offered it as such.

    But no, Father, your sense of things is not in error. Among the newly-ordained in the last few years, there has indeed been a palpable return to the values Pius XII was speaking of. One of the more powerful examples is the young assistant pastor at the parish where my wife and I attend Mass most frequently. Ordained only this summer, he’s still adapting himself to the mundane duties of parish life, and sometimes stumbles a bit when giving a homily or the like, but it is quite clear to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that what he yet lacks in poise and practice, he more than makes up in knowledge of the solemnity of his duty, which has often been painfully lacking in priests of the generation which preceded him.

  4. robtbrown says:

    I have no desire to go back to the 1950’s–the 13th century maybe, but not the 50’s.

    Anyway, if we go back to either, I hope to keep my IPOD and Laptop.

  5. wmeyer says:

    I’d settle for 1961, when the Mass was not of different form parish to parish, and reverential quiet before Mass was the rule not the vanishingly rare exception. And before the laity started aping the gestures of the priest.

    Too often the atmosphere in the church seems more appropriate to the parish hall. It’s not a picnic, nor a shared meal. It is worship of our Lord.

  6. JMody says:

    And our “vociferous” deacon, newly minted in the last couple years, once again threw barbs at the pre-Vatican-II Church describing it as ossified and a place where people were afraid of bishops. Hmmm … was it fear, Tom, or was it that we USED TO UNDERSTAND that something significant was at stake every day, and that bishops bore a tremendous responsibility?
    In fairness, he did say that Vatican II allowed people to go too far, and part of the Year of Faith is to go back and make sure we recover the good from our old traditions. REALLY TOM? Is that wy you and the pastor and the bishop and the bulletins and the diocese newspapers have said PRECISELY NOTHING about Summorum Pontificum, and it’s three-year trial period? What report was submitted on behalf of the Desert Southwest and interest in or health of the Extraordinary Form IF NOBODY EVER MADE IT KNOWN?!?!

    Sorry, this just inspired a vent that needed to be vented …

  7. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Isn’t it striking how full of energy and life Pius XII is. Seventy-seven at the time! He bounds up the steps and beams like a forty-year old.
    On a secular historical note – the woman with the mantilla walking near the head of the procession must be Clare Boothe Luce, (converted to Catholicism 1946, US Ambassador to Italy 1953-56 – there was no US Ambassador to the Holy See at the time). Something of a sarcastic wit, she is credited with the line “No good deed goes unpunished”
    The man she briefly talks to in the film clip (the one casting a look of despair) is Henry, her much-harried husband.

  8. VexillaRegis says:

    Thanks, Vecchio, she immediately caught my eye, there was something special (negatively) about her.

Comments are closed.