1954 saw the publication of “The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley.” The love letters sent off by that Pulitzer Prize winning poet were addressed to her favorite saints.
The closing line to one of her “Love Letters” informed us that “It takes all kinds to make a heaven.” That line can certainly describe what is happening this early Sunday morning in Rome with the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II.
Their family lives could not have been more different. Giuseppi Roncalli was the fourth of fourteen children born to a pair of sharecroppers in northern Italy, and he carried his son-of-share-croppers-demeanor with him all his life.
Karol Wojtyla’s mother died when he was eight. His one brother, a doctor, died treating Yellow Fever patients when Karol was thirteen. That left him with just his father, a former captain in the Army of Poland, and he died in 1940 when a twenty-year-old Karol was a slave laborer in a Nazi lime quarry.
At war’s end, the Archbishop of Krakow’ door was thrown open to a homeless Karol, and from then on Poland’s hierarchy became Karol’s family. He was at home with Poland’s literature and as a charming young priest, he drew to him clusters of young people who shared his distaste for Communism’s revolutionary ways.
Reading Giuseppi Roncalli’s journal, we see him as a wide-world priest, who recorded his joy at how people were responding to God’s inspirations in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece.
In 1944 as war in Europe was drawing to a close, Rome was faced with a major problem in France. She had to ease out of office all those bishops who had sided with the Nazis, and she hit upon the kindly Archbishop Roncalli as the one to quietly make the changes.
Roncalli had led a double life through the twenty-nine years when as an apostolic delegate he served as the Curia’s voice in various countries. From his journal we see him marveling at the fresh ways Catholics were applying the Gospels to modern situations. However, openly he obediently used his voice only to relay Rome’s restrictions against fresh ideas.
Such obedience won him the position of Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, but then, his election as pope through his obedience into reverse. He felt he had to obey what the Spirit was telling churchmen everywhere.
While there were two hundred and seventeen cardinals at the conclave that elected Pope Francis last year, there were only forty-nine cardinals in the conclave that elected John XXIII in 1958. Insiders tell us that as the voting went back and forth then it was the nine French Cardinals who knew Roncalli’s worth who brought the election around to him.
St. John Paul II is a favorite with conservative Catholics, while Saint John XXIII is a favorite with progressives. As that lady said in her poem sixty years ago, "It takes all kinds to make a heaven."