Read: "Happy birthday Diocese of Lansing!" by Michael Andrews, Chancellor of the Diocese of Lansing

Today marks the 87th anniversary of the Diocese of Lansing, writes Michael Andrews, Chancellor of the Diocese of Lansing. 

On May 22, 1937, from his retreat at Castel Gandolfo, Pope Pius XI issued the Apostolic Constitution Ecclesiarum in Orbe, stating: “The modification of the boundaries of the churches in the world greatly contributes to the easier exercise of spiritual governance and pastoral ministry. This being before my eyes, I have decided to partition the Diocese of Detroit and thus to establish a new diocese, which I name the Diocese of Lansing.”

Catholics today might well ask: Who was this "founding father" of the Diocese of Lansing, Pope Pius XI?

Born Achille Ratti in northern Italy in 1857, he became a priest at age 22, and was appointed Ambrosian Librarian in Milan, a library named for St. Ambrose, the holy bishop of Milan who played a significant role in the conversion of St. Augustine. Not merely a collection of books and works of art, the Ambrosian Library was among the first libraries to have open access to all students. He later served many years in the Vatican Library. He held three doctorates, in theology from La Sapienza University, in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and in philosophy from the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas, all in Rome. He returned to Milan in 1882 and served, simultaneously, as professor of theology at the Seminary of St. Peter Martyr, and of sacred eloquence and Hebrew at the Theological Seminary of Milan.

This brilliant scholar was also a highly accomplished athlete, with a passion for mountain climbing. In 1889, he became among the very first to have climbed the Matterhorn (14,690 feet above sea level). A year later, he climbed Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, and on his descent, opened a new path to its summit. Several peaks in the Alps, which he was the very first to climb, are now named after him.

Later, as pope, he would reflect on mountaineering:

“Among all the exercises of honest sport, none more than this one (when one avoids imprudence) can be said to be beneficial for the health of the soul as well as of the body. While with hard work and effort to climb where the air is finer and purer, strength is renewed and invigorated, it also happens that, by facing difficulties of all kinds, we become stronger to face the duties of life, even the most demanding ones. Contemplating the immensity and beauty of the scenes that open before our eyes from the sublime peaks of the Alps, our soul easily rises to God, the author and Lord of nature.” (Letter, Quod sancti, naming St Bernard of Menton the patron saint of mountaineers, August 20, 1923).

Indeed, the Lord had many demanding duties in store for him, which he met with courage and faith. In 1919, Pope Benedict XV named Monsignor Ratti as papal nuncio (ambassador) to Poland. Later that year, in the cathedral of Warsaw, he was consecrated titular Archbishop of Lepanto – a name recalling the site of the greatest sea battle since classical antiquity, where Christendom was astoundingly delivered from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, a victory remembered every year on October 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

In 1921, Archbishop Ratti was named Cardinal and was appointed Archbishop of Milan. Only months later, Pope Benedict XV died of pneumonia in January 1922. Achille Cardinal Ratti, archbishop of Milan, was elected to the papacy on February 6, 1922, and took the name Pius XI, in honor of his predecessors, Blessed Pius IX and St. Pius X.

Elected pope just after the close of the First World War, which he called “a senseless massacre,” Pope Pius XI took as his motto Pax Christi in Regno Christi meaning “The peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ”. He coined the term “Catholic social doctrine” and devoted himself to the promotion of a social order based on the virtues of justice and charity. To this end, he established the Feast of Christ the King, stating: “When humanity recognizes, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”

His social teaching hinged on two points: "to care for the dignity of marriage; to work for the good of persons." His encyclical Casti connubii (1930) reaffirmed that Christian marriage is no mere human construct, subject to the whims of man, but a divinely instituted sacrament, “and accordingly” the Lord Jesus “entrusted all its discipline and care to His spouse, the Church.” He likewise affirmed the Church’s perennial teaching regarding the sins of contraception, direct sterilization, and abortion.

Even though Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) is today credited as the beginning point for contemporary Catholic Social Teaching, it has that designation, not because it was the first, but because Pius XI commemorated its teaching forty years later, with his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, beginning a tradition of social encyclicals commemorating Rerum Novarum over the next century. Quadragesimo Anno stated that the Church’s social doctrine belongs to the Church’s teaching authority as it pertains to morality, since it is the Church’s duty is to interpret natural and divine law. In this encyclical, Pope Pius XI also articulated the principle of subsidiarity - that a community of a higher order, such as a federal or state government, should not assume the tasks belonging to a community of a lower order, such as a local government, and deprive it of its authority. The principle of subsidiarity lies at the heart of a stable social order by fostering personal responsibility. Pius XI taught that, while social institutions are a good, they also present dangers. He held that excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative.

In an age of dictatorships, Pius XI issued his encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge, in which the pope directly confronted the neo-pagan and racist ideology of the Nazis, which he ordered to be read from all the pulpits in Germany on March 21, 1937, Palm Sunday. Days earlier, on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1937, he issued Divini Redemptoris (“On Atheistic Communism”) taking aim at Joseph Stalin’s bloody regime in the Soviet Union. He contrasted the atheistic, dehumanizing Communist vision with that of a civilization marked by love, respect for human dignity, economic justice, and the rights of workers. He issued three encyclicals regarding the Mexican government’s secularist persecution of the Catholic faithful during the time of the Cristero War (1926-1929), and successfully negotiated a settlement with the government again allowing Catholics in Mexico to practice the faith publicly. He also settled the longstanding dispute with the Italian government by founding of the Vatican City State (1929).

Pius XI had a tremendous zeal for making disciples. He vigorously promoted the missions, calling on all religious orders to engage in missionary work around the world. As a result, missionaries doubled their number during his pontificate, and the numbers of Catholics in missionary lands rose from nine million to twenty-one million at the time of his death. He established Vatican Radio to transmit the message of the Gospel to every corner of the earth.

He promoted institutes of higher education, and embraced scientific advances, founding the Pontifical Academy of Sciences “to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences.”

Pius XI canonized twenty-nine saints during his pontificate, including St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John Vianney, St. Bernadette, St. Thomas More, and the North American Martyrs.

With the words, "My soul parts from you all in peace," the pontiff surrendered his soul to the Lord on February 10, 1939. He was buried in the grotto under St. Peter’s Basilica, near the tomb of the Apostle St. Peter. During his seventeen years as supreme pontiff, Pope Pius XI faithfully guided the ship of St. Peter through the rough waters between the two great wars. His prophetic voice still calls us to order our lives and society under the kingship of Christ, “according to God and Christian principles in the establishment of laws, in the administration of justice, and in the intellectual and moral formation of youth.” Eighty-seven years after our founding, we in the Diocese of Lansing can look to the zeal and energy of our founding pontiff, and rededicate ourselves, after his example, to promoting throughout society “The peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ.”