The Early Years of Pope Francis
Before he was Pope Francis, he was a Jesuit in Argentina. This article gives you a glimpse into the personal history, running through the “pre-pope” days of this unique person from South America.
Italian roots, Argentinian upbringing
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born on December 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Mario Giuseppe Bergoglio Vasallo (an accountant for the railway) and his wife, Regina María Sivori Gogna (a housewife). Jorge’s dad was born in Piedmonte, Italy, and emigrated to Argentina in the 1920s. His mom was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina but the daughter of Italian immigrants from Piedmonte.
Fluent in both Italian and Spanish, the Bergoglio family, like most families who immigrated to Argentina from Italy, was most likely fleeing the totalitarian regime of the dictator, Benito Mussolini.
Although his blood and DNA are Italian, Bergoglio also grew up and spent most of his life in Argentina, South America. He is one of five children, having two brothers (Oscar and Alberto) and two sisters (Maria and Marta). Maria is the only surviving sibling.
Religious vocation pursued by a young Pope Francis
Jorge was a natural scholar and loved to study. He had a keen intellect and yet enjoyed a normal life growing up with siblings and even having a girlfriend early in his young adulthood. His last surviving sister says he always had an infectious smile and a great sense of humor. He enjoyed life, yet he never over-indulged nor crossed the moral line. Moderation best described his lifestyle: not too much and not too little.
After his high school graduation, Jorge studied at the University of Buenos Aires, where he earned a master’s degree in chemistry. He soon felt a calling to the Catholic priesthood, broke up with his girlfriend, and enrolled in the local diocesan seminary, but later entered the novitiate for the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits) in 1958.
He continued his studies of the humanities in Chile and then returned to Argentina in 1963 where he graduated with a degree in philosophy from the Colegio de San José in San Miguel.
Bergoglio taught literature and psychology from 1964 to 1966. Then from 1967 to 1970, he studied theology.
On December 13, 1969, he was ordained a priest and continued studies and spiritual training from 1970 to 1971 in Spain. Bergoglio made his final profession with the Jesuits on April 22, 1973.
The early promising career of Pope Francis
Almost immediately, Jorge Bergoglio became Provincial, which is almost the equivalent of being a bishop in that he has jurisdiction over a territory (province) and is the religious superior for Jesuits in that region. Members of the Province (other Jesuits) elect the Provincial for a term of office. He would assign and transfer his confreres (fellow Jesuits) as a diocesan bishop would the priests of his diocese.
After six years, he went from being Provincial to being rector of a Jesuit college from 1980 to 1986. His superiors then sent him to Germany to complete his doctoral thesis, after which he was reassigned to Buenos Aires and finally to Cordoba, Argentina, as confessor and spiritual director.
Pope St. John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires on May 20th, 1992, and was ordained and consecrated on May 27th in the cathedral.
Bishop Bergoglio was quickly appointed Episcopal Vicar of the Flores district and on December 21st, 1993, was made Vicar General of the Archdiocese. In less than four years he was then named Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires. A coadjutor bishop is usually made when the Pope wants an auxiliary bishop to immediately succeed the current local bishop of a diocese.
Cardinal Quarracino, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, died in 1998, and Bergoglio then became his successor as Archbishop and Primate of Argentina. Three years later he was made a cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II in 2001.
Pope Francis lived like Saint Francis of Assisi
As a bishop then archbishop and as a Cardinal, Jorge Bergoglio was a man of humility who constantly championed the causes of justice and service to the poor. Much like Saint Francis of Assisi who lived in the 12th century and worked among the poor, Bergoglio, too, lived a life of simplicity.
Despite his office as bishop, he took public transportation rather than being chauffeured in an expensive car as had been tradition. Riding the bus and subway with the poor in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio chose to renounce any external signs of prestige or privilege.
Considered by some to be an ascetic (someone who voluntary gives up most comforts in life for the sake of holiness), Cardinal Bergoglio became one of the more popular prelates in Latin America. His solidarity with the poor and his simple lifestyle enamored him to the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and the poor.
Pope Francis followed tradition, unconventionally
Though he was somewhat unconventional in his stark simplicity, Bergoglio was no radical or dissident when it came to Church doctrine or discipline. A humble man of the cloth, he often referred to himself as a “faithful son of the Church.”
He openly opposed efforts by the Argentine government and judiciary to recognize same-sex marriages and allow gay couples to adopt children on the grounds that it would threaten and “seriously damage the family.” Bergoglio wrote a letter to all the Carmelite nuns in Argentina asking them to fast and pray that the nation would not forsake traditional marriage (one man and one woman).
At the same time, he consistently reiterated the Church teaching in the Catechism (#2358) “[homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
He also publicly opposed government efforts to promote free contraception and artificial insemination. His stance against abortion, euthanasia, and attempts to redefine traditional marriage were well known in Argentina and all of South America.