Albino Luciani was born in Belluno, Italy October 17th, 1912. He was the oldest of four children whose mother was a very devout Catholic and whose father was a socialist.
In 1923, at the age of eleven, he entered the seminary, a lively child who was later denied entry to the Jesuit seminary.
Luciani was ordained a priest in 1935 at the age of twenty-three. Later he was a professor and the vice-rector of the Belluno seminary. He taught theology, canon law and sacred art and eventually earned a doctorate in theology as well.
In 1958, Luciani became the Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, receiving his consecration from Pope John XXIII himself. As a result, he attended all sessions of the Second Vatican Council.
In 1973 Pope Paul VI made him a cardinal.
Albino Luciani was elected pope in August of 1978, taking the name John Paul I. He is the first pope to use a double name and he gave the faithful gathered to hear him the following explanation.
I do not have the sapientia cordis (the ‘great heart’) of Pope John, nor the education and experience of Pope Paul, but I am in their position and I must try to serve the Church. I hope you will help me by your prayers.
Another first from him was to choose an investiture to commence his papacy rather than a traditional papal coronation. He also used the singular form, “I”, when speaking as the pope, rather than the traditional, royal “we”. This language distinction was indicative of his intention to have a different style.
Unlike his predecessors he did not hold diplomatic roles or Curial roles in the Church. As a result, there was some question that he was an intellectual ‘lightweight” despite his doctoral degree, his reputation both as a bishop and as a cardinal, and his publications.
However, immediately upon his election, he touched the hearts of the faithful with his personal impact. It has been said of him that the people and the media fell under his spell and were captivated by his warmth.
About John Paul, Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, He has been the greatest gift of God, a sun ray of God’s love shining in the darkness of the world.
It isn’t a surprise that John Paul, reigning for only thirty-three days, among the shortest reigns in papal history, is remembered in Italy as Il Sorriso di Dio: God’s Smile.
He died on September 28th, 1978.