Watch Mass Online

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages

Who was Pope Paul VI?

Known for his diplomatic leadership during a time of major transition for the Church, Pope Paul VI reigned from 1963 to 1978. Throughout his time in office, Pope Paul VI worked to enact the decisions made during Vatican II, ensuring the Church continued to be effective in a changing world. As we celebrate his memorial this week, we invite you to learn more about his life and legacy, and where you can find him portrayed in the Basilica.

Pope Paul VI’s tiara is presented to the Basilica

Pope Paul VI’s Early Life and Journey to the Papacy

Born on September 26, 1897, in Concescio, Italy, Giovanni Battista Montini was raised in a middle-class family of five. Although Giovanni’s father was a lawyer and journalist, Giovanni suffered from ill health growing up, and was educated at home for much of his youth. After completing his initial studies at a school in Brescia, he was ordained at the age of 23, and sent by the bishop to Rome for further studies in literature, philosophy, and canon law.

Upon completion of his graduate studies, he became part of the Vatican Secretariat of State. Giovanni worked there for 30 years, using his position to support Jews and refugees during World War II, as well as serving as chaplain to the Federation of Italian Catholic University students. He worked as papal undersecretary of state and became acting secretary for ordinary (nondiplomatic) affairs in 1944, and 10 years later was appointed archbishop of Milan. During his time as archbishop, Giovanni made it a personal mission to visit factories and reach out to laborers who had grown indifferent in their faith, calling himself “archbishop of the workers.” Four years later, Pope John XXII made him a cardinal, and he served in that role until he was elected pope on June 21, 1963, when he took the name Paul VI.

Pope Paul VI depicted in the Trinity Dome

Paul VI’s Accomplishments as Pope

Soon after his election, Pope Paul VI guided the final three sessions of the Second Vatican Council and oversaw the fulfillment of its new decisions throughout the Church. Though at times he was criticized for a lack of assertiveness, others saw his attitude as an indicator of his thoughtfulness and diplomacy while guiding the Church through a difficult new era, as he did his best to maintain its traditions while ensuring its effectiveness in a rapidly changing world.

Pope Paul VI’s time in office was not without controversy. Perhaps his most contentious act occurred when he wrote the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” affirming the Church’s stance against artificial birth control. He was also criticized for reaffirming celibacy for priests. While in office, Pope Paul VI instituted many changes to the Church offices, including founding the World Synod of Bishops, enabling more countries to have their own cardinals, and placing age limits on certain positions. He was also the first pope to institute the practice of Apostolic Journeys, taking nine international trips over the course of his reign and making the first papal trip to the continent of Asia.

After just over 15 years in office, Pope Paul VI passed away at Castel Gandolfo on August 6, 1978. He was beatified on October 19, 2014, and canonized on October 14, 2018. He left behind a legacy of ecumenicism and caring for workers and the poor.

Pope Paul VI and the Basilica

Papal Tiara
Pope Paul VI’s Papal Tiara on display at the Basilica

Here at the Basilica, we have the honor of displaying Pope Paul VI’s coronation tiara, the only papal coronation tiara to be displayed outside the Vatican. It was presented to Monsignor William F. McDonough at the Basilica on February 6, 1968, and can be viewed in the Papal Exhibit in the Crypt Church.

Pope Paul VI is also featured in the breathtaking artwork of the Basilica, and can be found portrayed in the Trinity Dome, the Second Coming mosaic, and the North Apse Ambulatory Window.


Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour BookWashington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.

Paul VI,” The Vatican.

Saint Paul VI,” Franciscan Media.

St. Paul VI,” Britannica.

Quiz: Heroes of the Bible
Saints of the Trinity Dome: Part VI