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The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church ~Greg Tobin

If you like to read biographies particularly of poor, rural, one of 14 children, farm boys from Italy who become Pope, then The Good Pope is for you.   It is a stunningly detailed well written volume about John XXIII and Vatican II and how a humble man/priest developed to become an amazing diplomat and humanitarian.

October is the month of the 50th anniversary celebration of Vatican II and so Greg Tobin and taken us through the stages and experience that would make a man become a change artist and futurist for a church and religion that was in a prison of tradition.

Time magazine says: “John XXIII was, in the best possible sense, a revolutionary-a Pope of modernization who kept in continuity with the church’s past, yet made even the most enlightened of his 20th-century predecessors seem like voices of another age.”

Tobin is a very formal writer and I have to say that the subject matter kept me moving forward but often the details of hats and robes and red or purple literally put me to sleep reading the book.  I was appalled that the previous Pope left a number of priests in Nazi prison camps after the war and celebrated that John XXIII diligently worked to release at least one.   It is said it is good to know one’s enemies and important to study their politics and it was an excellent study on why so many religious groups carry their zeal into so many conflicts and wars – imperialism – and how they can lose touch with humanity through their traditions, formality, and rules.

The Good Pope never lost sight of his mother and took care of several of his sisters for their whole lives.  He was fortunate to be so intelligent and a quick and steady learner as he was chosen to attend school and continue his education – paying his own way and helping his family survive too.  I think The Good Pope would have  loved the radical elder nuns of the United States right now and their timely work for women and marriage equality, but then have not always the women led the way?

Chapter 9 seems to be a magic spot for me in most of the books I have read recently.  John XXIII was chosen as Pope in a rather default position.  The Cardinals thought that he was old and would not last too many years, and so could not make a huge mess of his position. It was here that his experiences of life and his understanding became  the start of the radical movement this Pope instigated in the church – “Aggiornamento was at the heart of the speech, but the updating John had in mind was not merely window dressing or a useful slogan but a profound change in the way Catholics practiced their religion and viewed themselves and their Church.”

I am not a great fan of Catholicism and yet I have read a great deal of the theology and history of the Catholic Church because of my work on peacemaking.  I have several friends who would love reading this book and learning more.  I could not have gotten through graduate school without the help of 4 wonderful nuns who were my friends and understood the oppressions of the church and how to survive while remaining whole.  It was an older priest and a brand new priest who were most supportive to me when I was first working in this community.  Whereas I was one of the first, I am now just a part of the 56% of women who hold my position.  I worked for Catholic Community Services over the years and admire their work and the medical nuns who assisted the Native Americans and the homesteaders in our state are to be commended.

I also believe that the Pope and Vatican cannot comprehend or understand the horrific damage they have done to the people of this planet with wars and poverty and injustice.  I believe they are an unholy mess of old men.  I admire the folks on the ground and the amazing women who are doing the work and it was good to read this book.

Have you had to force yourself to complete an assignment and then were glad that you did?


This book was sent to me by Harper One Publishing and TCL on line book tours.  I thank them for the opportunity.

If you purchase anything from Powell’s or Amazon from this site I will receive a few beans in my bucket.  Thank you. Donations welcome also.

Related Reading:
Emotional Chaos to Clarity
A Strange Stirring
The Presidents Club

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13 Responses to “The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church ~Greg Tobin”

  1. Sara Says:

    A sign of a good and fair writer is the ability to put together a well written and fair piece on something he or she finds difficult. You did this with this book review.

    You showed the humanity of this pope. I’m not a great fan of Catholicism either, but I think you presented this review in a very fair and positive way.

    You are right that for whatever negative things Catholicism has been associated with; it has also provided great help, comfort and service to people in need. I worked for a brief time with Catholic Social Services and witnessed this .

    Patricia Reply:

    I learned a great deal from reading this book and it did not change my opinions in the least, but it was good to learn more of the background and scope. I have been reading the other book reviews in this tour also and most are by Catholics who think this fellow put to much of his own ideas and beliefs into the text – it is not “rah-rah” tradition enough and an historic author should not put his own words into a text about what a Pope might have been thinking…
    I think I would have stopped reading if the author had not emphasized the humanity found in the research.

    I am so tired of such religious squabbles and angels on the head of pins government and churches…There always needs scholarship but not at the expense of the human.

    Even the Bible scholars these days seem to be into life for the money – another opportunity for a TV station or theme park.

    Thank you for you good words about my review. It took me a dozen tries to get it to what I wanted to say.

  2. susan Says:

    Hi Patricia,
    Your question at the end of this excellent review has got me confessing (a very Catholic trait, hmmm) that I have the last 28 essay questions to finish up my last test for my Master Herbalist certificate and wow, been struggling to just sit down and DO IT! So much school for so many years – and I had such fun just playing at the lake house this summer – UGH hard to come back!
    susan recently posted..You Are 1/4 Sulfur – Learn More!My Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    I loved your post on Sulfur and learning all that new stuff…
    Come on now…I am here to cheer lead you on wards and upwards to finish your course questions…The world needs someone like you with those credentials…


    susan Reply:

    If only that were true! There are laws on the books in almost all the states now, compliments of the ADA who re-named itself the “Nutrition and Diet Assn” to wipe out every and all nutritionist who are NOT members of their bogus assn. The laws in Illinois are up for repeal in 2013 but I doubt they will be – there is too much money influencing the outcome. In other words, YOU are being PROTECTED from natural nutritionists like me. The fine for me? $10,.000 and/or 6 months in prison. The end of health freedoms in sneaking in the back door and nobody seems aware of it.
    susan recently posted..You Are 1/4 Sulfur – Learn More!My Profile

  3. Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Patricia – Your review has certainly piqued my interest. And not being Catholic, that says a lot for the way you conveyed your thoughts and observations!

    Patricia Reply:

    I was glad to read this book and I tried to be very careful in writing this post.
    The most negative thing I would say is that if someone is a conservative practicing Catholic, as a woman I would not want to vote that person into office. So anti woman such traditional thinkers – uncreative…this fellow was an exception.

  4. Jennifer Smith Says:

    I need to read that book ASAP! I have nothing against the Catholic religion but I have so much about the popes and this book seems to have all that I need to know.

    Patricia Reply:

    This book is about a very humanitarian pope…I think you would like this book

  5. Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours Says:

    Thanks for sharing your unique perspective on this book Patricia. I very much enjoyed reading your review.

    Patricia Reply:

    Heather J
    It was a good read and I was so pleased that you came by and checked out what I had to say.

    Always good to find you here!

  6. Sam Juliano Says:

    I’m not the most fervent of Catholics, but I have stayed the course, helping to raise my five kids, who have received or are receiving the sacraments. I have long had an interest in the papacy, and was a big fan of Morris West’s “The Shoes of the Fisherman” and the fine film made from it. Yep, John was a humanitarian pope, and Tobin’ book as you so splendidly assess it is worth a read for sure. I hope they write a book on Benedict.

    Great work here Patricia!

    Patricia Reply:

    Hi Sam,
    I too liked the Shoes of The Fisherman it was a good read
    This too is a good read and your comment just make it in time. I am happy you are interested in reading this book and learning more about the papacy.
    You just won a copy of this book….it will come at the end of the whole book tour – Whoo Hoo!

    Thank you for your good words about my review and for the shout out at Wonders in the Dark
    Patricia recently posted..Postcard Alive!My Profile