The Courage of Pope Pius XI

In times of strife, people have historically looked up to leaders in faith for guidance. Some figures tend to be overlooked when reflecting on major points in history. One such figure was Pope Pius XI. Much commentary focuses on the role of his successor, Pope Pius XII with the outbreak of WWII, but not much is discussed about the role of Pope Pius XI. He played a critical role in standing up to the emerging Axis powers that were threatening the world prior to the dawn of WWII. His papacy was from 1922-1939. The book, “The Pope’s Last Crusade” by Peter Eisner highlights a notable story about the work of Pius XI during this time. It was a very insightful read.

The story details how he commissioned a Jesuit American priest, Fr. John LaFarge Jr. to compose an encyclical that was to be titled Humani generis unitas (On the Unity of the Human Race) in the summer of 1938on his behalf that was to be focused on the growing anti-Semitism and totalitarianism erupting in Germany and Italy by Hitler and Mussolini. Fr. LaFarge was a notable Jesuit priest in America and was involved with Jesuit publications that gained worldwide attention. He focused much of his writings on the dangers of his racism.

The book discusses much of the challenges that Pope Pius XI and Fr. LaFarge were facing during this turbulent time before the official outbreak of WWII. One notable chapter discusses how Pope Pius XI refused to be present in Rome when Hitler paraded through Italy and instead opted to spend time at his retreat house outside the city. He also actively encouraged the newspapers in Italy that still remained influenced by the Vatican to publish pieces challenging the coming threats he saw emerging that were leading to the outbreak of war. President Roosevelt also had opened up diplomatic channels with the Vatican to help lend support to his work, as he too was aware of this growing threat.

There were also, however, divisive forces in the Vatican that did not support Pope Pius XI’s strong platform and aggressive style against Hitler and Mussolini. These forces ultimately contributed to the encyclical never being published, it was commonly called the lost encyclical, later to be published in draft form by a newspaper decades later. In sum, as elaborated on in the book, those forces disrupted the final service of Fr. LaFarge’s drafted manuscript of the encyclical to the Holy Father. By the time it was received by the Holy Father for review, he was in failing health and never had the opportunity to publish it. Those forces knew how strong the stance against anti-Semitism and racist rhetoric were incorporated into the work, with their familiarity of the Holy Father’s view and Fr. LaFarge’s writings. On the eve of a great speech that was to be made by the Holy Father on February 11, 1939, he passed away after succumbing to his heart ailments that had troubled him for years prior. Many in the Vatican had feared the backlash of the Axis forces against the church and priests. They had cautioned the Holy Father with his approach, but the Holy Father had persisted with his courage.

When Pope Pius XII, who had worked under Pope Pius XI was named pope, he decided to not proceed with publishing the encyclical, thinking it raised too many controversial issues. It was, however, later understood that Pius XII had in fact worked to support the Jewish people harmed by the Holocaust and sought to shelter them within the confines of the Vatican. His approach, however, was more of an underground approach, not one to the public stature of his predecessor.

While Humani generis unitas was never published, the project still reflected Pope Pius XI’s passion for challenging the growing threat of Hitler and Mussolini that threatened the world. He was not afraid of the consequences, but persisted by staying true to his values and embodying the mission of Christ. I highly recommend, “The Pope’s Last Crusade”.  When we look to heroes in history, let us not forget Pope Pius XI and his courage.

Forgotten African-American Icons

This past month was Black History Month and we reflected on the historical contributions of African-Americans in our nation’s history. Many reflected on the iconic work of Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. The purpose of this discussion, however will reflect on some of the forgotten or seemingly lesser well known and explored figures. We will then conclude our discussion with some notable figures presently influencing society and those with a bright future and on the path to significant influence.

Booker T. Washington

            Booker T. Washington is a classic American success story– born into slavery in Antebellum Virginia in 1856, but through personal study and persistence rose to become one of the greatest minds of the late 19th- early 20th centuries. Once freed from bondage, Washington walked over 500 miles to reach the Hampton Institute, one of the few black high schools established at the time. After graduating, he returned home, albeit briefly, to teach elementary school before being asked to return to the Hampton Institute in 1880 as a teacher. A year into his tenure at Hampton he was nominated to head a new school in Tuskegee, Alabama.

This new institute was simply dubbed “The Tuskegee Institute” and its growth would be Washington’s life work. Contrary to contemporary public schools, the Tuskegee Institute taught farming and skilled trades in addition to training new teachers. Similarly, to Frederick Douglass, this type of economic teaching would lead Washington to the conclusion that hard work and economic merit would be the key to unlocking civil rights for African-Americans. However, he split with Douglass in the opinion that blacks should be granted immediate equality. Washington argued that blacks must prove their value to the American economy by focusing on education, hard work and material gain.

            This vision of economics as a bridge to civil and political rights was accepted by many white Americans including prominent businessmen such as Andrew Carnegie, who would go on to fund the Tuskegee Institute and Washington-associated newspapers. Washington became the most important African-American leader in that time, consulted in matters of political appointments and funding apportionment to black schools and charities.

            Washington was well aware of the racial tensions still permeating through society and did his best to raise awareness on the issues, making fiery speeches denouncing segregation and lynching, often to all-white audiences. Sadly, although taking a hard stand on these issues, Washington was overall unsuccessful in his lifetime at breaking down the racial barriers of the South. He did, however, lay the groundwork for future civil rights movements and icons such as Martin Luther King Jr. to accomplish the goals set forth in this era. 

Robert Smalls

            Robert Smalls was born into slavery and encountered tremendous adversity in his life. He eventually became a Civil War Hero and later a notable Congressman from South Carolina. During the Civil War, Smalls was compelled into the service of the Confederates. Later, he conducted a bold escape and hijacked a Confederate ship in Charleston Harbor that he was assigned to and turned it over to the Union army when he reached their blockade outside of the harbor. He would fight the remainder of the war in the Union army and become an icon in courage for African-Americans.

            In other public forums, he was an outspoken leader in the desegregation movement. He was also elected to the U.S. Congress from South Carolina. During his congressional career he fought for racial integration.

Hiram Revels

Hiram Revels was the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Congress and served as a U.S. senator from Mississippi from 1870-1871. While serving in the senate, he was often classified as a moderate Republican. He strongly advocated against the legal segregation of African-Americans and whites in educational settings. Another signature position was his support for amnesty for Confederate war veterans if they proved their loyalty to the nation. He was willing to work with those of diverse views if it meant moving towards unity to heal a wounded nation.

Prior to serving in the U.S. Senate, Revels was a member of the Mississippi state senate and a Methodist preacher and helped organize churches. He also worked to found schools.  During the Civil War he served as a chaplain in some of the African-American regiments and helped recruit troops to serve in the Union army. Although born free, he sought to educate the enslaved prior to the war and actively remain involved in education following the Civil War. Hiram Revels was a great American and hero in the African-American community. His accomplishments should be recognized and studied in schools today as he was one of the most prominent figures during the Civil War and Reconstruction era.

Modern Day

Daniel Cameron

Daniel Cameron, a former Louisville football player and staffer to Senator Mitch McConnell was elected as the first African-American Attorney General of Kentucky in 2019. He is considered a rising star on the national scene. He already has gotten off to a good start and has led in being a part of national litigation advocating for pro-life laws to go into effect.

John James

John James is a West Point grad and served in the Iraq War. After working as a successful businessman, he ran for the U.S. Senate in Michigan, narrowly losing to Democrat incumbent Debbie Stabenow. He was the closest a Republican came to defeating a Democratic senate candidate in 20 years. He is running again for a U.S. Senate seat in 2020 against Democrat Gary Peters. James is looking to become the first African-American senator in Michigan’s history. With his foreign policy savvy and strong communication skills, he was a finalist for the UN Ambassadorship position. He is considered another rising star in the national political scene.


Overall, African-American leadership has become an integral part of our nation’s history. Our country has been blessed with several African-American leaders that fought through adversity facing them in society to reach influential positions and help shape American policy. There are many well-known figures studied in schools and that have become prevalently focused on in American society, however, there are many others that seem to have been passed over when reflecting on historical significance. It is encouraged that we look to explore these forgotten ones and the leadership that they brought to this nation. It is also helpful to take a watchful eye into the future with promising and aspiring leaders that are bound to one day make a difference and continue to inspire Americans everywhere.