Six Popes: A Son of the Church Remembers

by Monsignor Hilary C. Franco

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism


Anyone who loves History will love this book! The author served under John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis and he wrote from a unique eyewitness vantage on many of the events and movements that shaped our world and the Catholic Church. Monsignor Hilary is Advisor at the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. He has many other prestigious positions and awards that came about as a result of his thoughtful work.


This book is written from a unique eyewitness vantage on many of the events and movements that shaped our world and the Catholic Church. As a young man Msgr. Franco attended Rome’s premier seminary, soon after becoming the special assistant to Archbishop Fulton Sheen. (My own parents used to listen to Archbishop Sheen religiously). As a priest Msgr. Franco recounts a harrowing experience in the Deep South in the early 1960’s, his work at the Second Vatican Council that redefined the Church, and his time posted at the Church’s diplomatic missions in Washington, D.C, and the United Nations. What becomes apparent is Msgr. Franco’s wide understanding of the importance of the Church: there were tales of intellectual, pastoral, and diplomatic service to the Catholic Church that was enlivened by recollections of the fascinating people he came to know from U.S. Presidents and foreign heads of State, to religious leaders like Padre Pio and Saint Mother Teresa.


Msgr. Franco relates stories of the Second Vatican Council when he states: “After the Council the internationalization of the Roman Curia grew in importance. The dicastery I was called to in 1970 had been known as the Congregation of the Council (Sacra Congregatio Concilii) since the days of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), but now it’s the Congregation for the Clergy. When I arrived, nearly all its officials were Piedmontese that is not just Italian, but Piedmontese and they were nearing retirement. Yet as soon as he was created a cardinal, John Joseph Wright, formerly Bishop of Pittsburgh, was called to head this dicastery. After the Council, the English speaking world woke up, so to speak, and we began to receive many letters that made requests of every kind. There was no clergy shortage in 1970. That year our dicastery convened a Congress in Malta to discuss the Distribution of the Clergy. When I was ordained in 1955, ours was a class of more than 40 ordinands. You couldn’t realistically expect to be named apastor of a parish until you were at least 65. Due to an abundance of vocations and ordained priests. The issue was debated at length at Malta. Oater on, the Congregation of the renewable depending upon the local bishop’s decision and the diocese’s needs. The 1983 Code of Canon Law codified Canon 522 states:” A pastor must possess stability and therefore is to be appointed for an indefinite period of time.”


The author writes: “At the end of my ninth decade approaches, I ‘m equally amazed that I can transfer so much of the inner sanction of my mind to the external hard drive of this book. Not long ago, though, I realized I couldn’t take these conditions for granted. How much longer could I ignore either the facts of aging or the importuning of friends? Precious recollects could at any moment be buried or sandblasted away by accident, and there be no second chance. I therefore undertook to record as much as I could of the Clergy. What I witnessed during my priestly life across nearly seven decades, focusing on encounters with popes, canonized saints among them, as well as saints who weren’t popes. I hope cameos of some of the nonclerical dramtis personae who also walked onto my life’s stage have enriched your reading experience. As a power of the human spirit, memory is as great as it is mysterious. When we record our memories, we contribute to a history that, as Cicero aphorized, is the teacher of life; when we exercise this power, we preserve it. I’ve tried to serve Jesus as a priest during some of the church’s most exciting, challenging, even tumultuous times under six popes. As God’s steward and witness, I share these remembrances to remind you that He loves you and will never abandon you.”