Most commentators have come to agree that it was the most important religious event of the twentieth century. Its proponent, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, a career Vatican diplomat, exercised a spontaneity and openness to the Spirit that was perfectly in character with his personality.
Elected Pope on October 28, 1958, he would surprise his electors and Vatican curial officials. He couched his pontificate always in positive terms. He opened his whole person and his Church to the world, and invited collaboration and dialogue toward fashioning a better Church and a better world.
Pope John had personally experienced the failure of Catholics as transformative disciples before the evils of Nazism, Communism, and Materialism. Integrating faith and life became a compassionate quest for him personally and for the worldwide institution he was charged to lead.
By the time I graduated from the seminary on Dodge St. and headed to Knox Rd. in East Aurora, in the autumn of 1965, changes in seminary education, parish and diocesan life, and myriads of associated ecclesial bodies, would create an unfamiliar landscape that would radically affect all in preparation for future presbyteral service.
Our numbers were unprecedented, the largest classes preparing for ordination in the history of the Church in America. There was an energy to those times that I never experienced before or after them. The Church appeared ready to engage the world, a partner in its hopes and fears.
To prepare you for the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of Vatican Council II, I will use this weekly column to educate you on the reality of this special council, its good achievements, and unfinished agenda. I will be guided by historians, conciliar fathers, Catholic and non-Catholic observers, and the theological and philosophical guides to the conciliar documents and the conversations and debates that forged them.
It’s a fascinating story. Perhaps in its retelling, we will understand our own times better. Connected to our past, maybe we’ll glimpse something of our future.