Giuseppe Sarto was born in 1835, one of eight children, six sisters and two brothers. I know, that adds up to nine children, but Giuseppe had another brother, older than he who died in infancy. He was also named Giuseppe. The family loved on a farm and worked the land as tenant farmers. Giuseppe’s father died in 1852 while he was still in school so had had to work on the farm as well as keep up with his studies. As the oldest sone the responsibility to help his mother care for the family fell to him.
From his early years he felt that the lord was calling him to serve Him as a priest. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1858. For several years he served as a parish priest and loved his ministry caring for people, many just like the members of his own family, poor but loving. Later he was chosen by his bishop to teach in the seminary in Treviso where he remained for seven years.
Giuseppe was destined for greater things and was named bishop of Mantova. From there he rose to the position of Archbishop of Venice, one of the highest positions in the church. At that time, he was also elevated to the rank of cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. He grew to love Venice and its people. One of his policies was to be available to the people at all times. He said, ‘my door will always be open’ and it was. He would have loved to remain in Venice for the rest of his life, but God had other plans for him.
In 1903, Pope Leo XIII died and Cardinal Sarto had to go to Rome for the conclave to elect Leo’s successor. After a couple of days of voting the election fell to Sarto. He tried to decline that election and return to Venice, but much pressure was put on him and he finally accepted and chose the name of Pius X. He chose as his motto “To restore all things in Christ”. It was a great challenge and he set out immediately to fulfill that goal.
One of the major changes he made was to lower the age when children could make their first Holy Communion. Up until that time first Communion was delayed until children were sometimes in their early teens. Pope Pius X said they could be prepared for first Communion when they reached the age of seven. There was a secondary purpose in making this change and it was to encourage frequent communion by adults. Again, for many years receiving communion was very infrequent, reserved for feasts like Christmas and Easter. This change had a dramatic effect on the spiritual lives of not only children but their parents and all adults.
He also encouraged singing in the liturgy and the use of chant in the liturgy as well. Changes such as these helped to bring about a restoration of spiritual practices in the lives of all the faithful.
After eleven years as pope, the world was on the brink of war, especially in Europe. Pius X worked tirelessly encouraging world leaders to seek peaceful resolutions to their differences. Unfortunately, that wish was not achieved and in the summer of 1914 World War I broke out in Europe.
Pius X was heartbroken. His health failed greatly and on August 20 of that year this loving and gentle man returned to the Lord. His cause for canonization was started not long after his death and he was canonized a saint in 1954 by Pope Pius XII. His feast day is celebrated on August 20th, also the anniversary of his death.
Pius X was the first of four popes who would be canonized during the following 100 years. John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II. Each one a great leader but also a saintly one.