Pope Saint Pius V was born Antonio Ghislieri of poor parents near Alessandria on January 17, 1504. His education began with the Dominicans, and he entered the Dominican order at age 15, taking the name Michael, and became a priest in 1528.
Pope Pius V was a professor of philosophy and theology for years, and served his order and the Church in several high offices: Provincial Superior; Inquisitor at Corno and Bergamo; Bishop of Sutri and Nepi; cardinal; Grand Inquisitor, Bishop of Mondovi and elected Pope Pius V in a modest ceremony on January 17, 1566, his 62nd birthday,
In 1571 a huge Muslim fleet threatened Christendom. Don Juan of Austria led an outnumbered Christian fleet to fight the Muslim navy. Pope Pius V entrusted the Christian fleet to Our Lady.
On October 7, 1571, the Christian fleet won a decisive battle in the Bay of Lepanto. Pope Pius V wished to institute a special feast to honor the Blessed Virgin’s assistance in securing the victory and the safety of Christendom. The feast was to be celebrated on October 7, and Pope Pius V called it the feast day of Our Lady of Victory.
Two years later Pope Gregory XIII changed the name of the feast day to Our Lady of the Rosary as it was through the praying of the rosary that the battle had been won.
October is the month of the Most Holy Rosary. Numerous popes and saints have acclaimed the efficacy of the Rosary. It is, indeed, a most powerful spiritual weapon. Pope John XXIII called the Rosary “The Psalter of the poor.” Theologians have called the Rosary, “The school of contemplation” because it introduces the faithful to meditative prayer.
Among Pope Pius V’s numerous merits were his fervent Marian devotion and the institution of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Pope John Paul II endorsed his predecessor in the Chair of Peter and petitioned, “May the apostolic zeal, the constant pursuit of holiness, and the love of the Virgin, which characterized the life of Saint Pius V, stimulate all.”
Pope John Paul II then challenged us to imitate Pope Pius V’s Marian devotion by rediscovering the simple and profound prayer of the rosary. “Thanks to the fervent recitation of the rosary, extraordinary graces can be obtained through the intercession of the Lord’s heavenly Mother.”
Pope Pius V was a great reformer, committed to eradicating simony, the buying or selling of ecclesiastical pardons or offices, and nepotism from the Roman Curia. To numerous relatives who rushed to Rome with the hope of some privilege, Pope Pius V gave comment that a relative of the pope can consider himself sufficiently rich if he is not indigent.
Pope Pius V published the catechism of the Council of Trent and an improved edition of the Missal and Breviary. The Pontiff tried to make Rome truly a holy city and punished immorality severely. The rigid discipline that Pope Pius V imposed on the Church was the constant norm of his own life.
Pope Pius V promoted several pastoral reforms in the wake of the Council of Trent: The obligation of residence for bishops, the cloister of religious, celibacy and holiness of life of priests, bishops’ pastoral visits, the increase of missions, and the correction of liturgical books.
Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I in 1570, an act which heightened the persecution of Catholics in England, but it also did much to strengthen Catholics.
A man of great austerity and prayer, Pope Pius V died on May 1, 1572. He suffered much, his prayer was: “Lord increase my pains, but increase my patience too.”
He was canonized in 1712. On his feast day, May 5, Romans still gather at his shrine to venerate a great pope and a holy man.