PAGE 2—THE BULLETIN, August 8, 1959
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From: POPE JOHN XXIII: An
Authoritative Biography by
Zsolt Aradi, Msgr. James I.
Tucek and James C. O'Neill.
Copyright, 1959, by Farrar,
Strauss and Cudahy, Inc.,
calli was back in the army.
For ten years prior to the out
break of World War I, Father
Angelo Roncalli had been mold
ed as a priest and administrator,
as secretary to Bishop Radini
Tedeschi of Bergamo.
SEES HORRORS OF
WAR AT FIRST HAND
In June, 1915, Sergeant Ron-
The Bishop’s death in 1914
closed a chapter in the life of
the future Pope John XXIII. He
remained almost a year in Ber-
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gamo after the Bishop’s death,
teaching at the seminary and
writing. But it was a time of
A new Pope sat on the Chair
of Peter. Succeeding Pope Pius
X, the College of Cardinals
elected the frail, sensitive aristo
crat Benedict XV. He spent his
entire pontificate in a super
human effort to curb inhuman
brutality of both sides, during
World War I.
NURSE AND CHAPLAIN
Despite attacks and having his
efforts ignored by * both sides,
Benedict XV worked incessant
ly, consumed with a sense of
suffering which the war brought
on masses of human beings.
In 1902, Father Roncalli com
pleted his military training in
the Italian Army. In June, 1915,
he was called up.
The 33-year-old priest pre
sented himself at the military
district command in Milan and
was assigned as a non-commis
sioned officer in the Medical
Corps of one of the large mili
tary hospitals. All his brothers
were in the service and the
world around him was a chang
From June. 1915 to May, 1916,
he remained a sergeant and
worked both as a nurse and as
a chaplain. Then in 1916, all
priests under arm became chap
lains, and according to an agree
ment between the Italian gov
ernment and the Vatican were
given special status.
He was transferred to Ber
gamo, where his duties included
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day and night visits to the muti
lated, wounded and dying. The
need for chaplains was great.
Not only the hospitals, but trains
and schools, turned into wards,
were full of wounded from the
front in northern Italy.
In addition to his work in the
hospitals, chaplain Roncalli
helped to build up spiritual
assistance for civil defense and
was the moving spirit in organ
izing special Masses for soldiers.
He saw the horrors of World
War I, the effect on human
beings in combat, the immobil
ized existence in trenches and in
makeshift dwellings, in damp
ness and filth for months on
Don Angelo himself haS writ
ten in his biography of Bishop
Radini Tedeschi (published in
“These pages were written
while in Europe the war went
on, the horrible war that caused
so much bloodshed and tears. I
have written these lines and
worked on this book not in the
sweet quitness of the life of
studies but amid the most varied
occupations following the teach
ings and examples of Monsignor
Radini . . . first for several
months as a simple soldier, then
as a non-commissioned officer
of the lowest rank, and finally
more directly as a priest ...”
CONTINUES AS TEACHER
In addition to his duties as
chaplain, he continued to teach
apologetics in the seminary in
Bergamo as long as there were
students. Gradually the class
grew smaller and smaller as
these seminarians were called
One of his former students,
Simone Bottani,, describes Ron
calli as a military chaplain in
Bergamo. “These students who
didn’t know him were expecting
with great curiosity the man
who was a military chaplain and
a professor of apologetics at the
“W hen Lieutenant-Chaplain
Don Angelo Roncalli entered the
classroom he was dressed as any
other priest, but on his hat and
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on the cuffs of his coat were two I will prepare a feast and there- ^
gold strips. He put down his hat fore please tell me in advance
and smiled at us, made the sign when you are coming. It will
of the cross, and began with a be a feast for me ... ”
quotation from the Letters of FOUNDS STUDENT HOUSE
St. Peter (1 Pet. 4, 15-16): World War I ended in Novem-
“Let none of you suffer as a her, 1918. But the armistice and
murderer, or a thief, or a slan- the subsquent peace treaties
derer, or as one coveting what brought no peace to the souls
belongs to others. But if he of the returning soldiers, partic-
suffer as a Christian, let him not ularly to those who had been
be ashamed, but let him glorify drafted very young and who
God under his name.” returned with the morbid excite-
The ex-student of Chaplain ment of war in their blood.
Roncalli goes on to report: The first weeks after the war
“The course that he gave us were weeks of exultant joy in -y
had to be rushed from two se- Italy, but then the work oi re-
mesters to one. At the end of construction had to begin. In this
that one semester we all left there were great difficulties in
but that one semester remains which ex-Chaplain Roncalli
unforgettable because his apolo- shared.
getics were based on the sound He was discharged from mili-
knowledge of modern science, tary service and dedicated him-
We knew that in order to give self to work among students,
us the course he had to study many of whom had just returned
night after night.” from the war.
While he was Patriarch of In 1919 he established a “Stu-
Venice, the association of mill- dent House” in Bergamo for high
tary chaplains greeted him with school students. It was a sort of
a telegram t/om their conven- a club where they could have a
tion. study hall, recreation rooms,
In reply, Roncalli said - dormitories and where they
“I thank God that more than could get inexpensive meals.
20 years ago, I did my military This was the first student
service and that, during all of house in Italy, an example which
World War I, I was a sergeant was followed in many other
and military chanlain. How cities. Father Roncalli remained
much I learned about the human director of the house until 1921.
heart during this time, how At the same time he resumed
much experience I gained, how his teaching at the seminary
much grace I received to be able and his duties in the various
to dedicate myself to the per- diocesan associations. He was
formanee of my duties as a mili- sniritual adviser of the Union of
tarv chapiain . . . Catholic VIomen and of the
“The military chaplains who Union of Catholic Youth,
are now in service should not In September, 1920, the Italian
he afraid to come and see this National Eucharistic Congress
old chaplain whose celebrity was held in Bergamo. Bishop
does not consist in the perfor- Radini Tedeschi and his secre-
mnnce of arduous military ac- tary had made plans for an In-
tions hut who is the custodian, ternational Eucharistic Congress
and a happv one, of the kindest once hut it had never taken place
memories of a spiritual work ” because of the war. Father Ron-
At the end of his message, he calii was one of the principal
added: “And don’t forget to organizers of the 1930 congress
come to Venic° together with and smoke often. H’s most im-
other former military chaplains. (Continued ori Page 3)
Sergeant Roncalli as an army chaplain during World War I.
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