Pope Pius XI
(AMBROGIO DAMIANO ACHILLE RATTI)
He was born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti on May 31, 1857 in Desio, near Milan to a merchant family. He entered the priesthood in 1879 and during his time studying at the Gregorian University in Rome earned doctorates in theology, philosophy and canon law after which he taught at the seminary in Padua. His expertise was in historic Church documents and after his time at the seminary worked as a Church librarian from 1888 to 1911. He edited a new edition of the Ambrosian Missal, wrote a book about St Carlo Borromeo, restored numerous historic Church documents and eventually was appointed to the post of prefect of the Vatican Library by Pope Pius X in 1914. In a dramatic change in the course of his career, in 1918 Pope Benedict XV made Ratti the papal nuncio to the newly independent country of Poland and was promoted to archbishop the following year. When the Bolsheviks attacked Poland Archbishop Ratti, a robust man who was a mountaineer in his free time, impressed the Polish people by his courage, refusing to leave when Warsaw was targeted for attack.
Archbishop Ratti also angered some officials in the Church by stating his willingness to deal with the Soviets even if it meant his death. His willingness to talk to the Russians and his efforts to end the political involvement of Catholic clergy in Silesia angered the Poles and he was subsequently recalled from the country. Oddly enough, the Germans also protested on the grounds that Ratti was considered too biased toward the Poles. Nonetheless, he returned to Italy to further recognition when, in 1921, Pope Benedict XV presented him with the red hat, making him Cardinal-Archbishop of Milan. However, less than a year later Benedict XV died and the cardinals gathered in Rome to elect his successor. On the fourteenth ballot the choice fell on Cardinal Ratti who, calling to mind his admiration for the man who had given him his first major job at the Vatican, took the name Pius XI. After the election the new Pope revived the tradition of going out on to the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica to give his blessing “to the city and the world”, a custom which had been suspended since 1870 when Italy occupied Rome. It was the first sign that the new Pope was determined to see the long years of self-defeating deadlock known as “the Roman Question” finally ended.