Greg Tobin has vivid memories of speaking Latin as an altar boy and attending Masses where the priest faced away from the congregation. He also has vivid memories of the era when these things disappeared. The use of English in the Mass and the decision to have the priest face the people were only two of many changes within the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council, commonly known as Vatican II.
“Even then I could pick up on the notion that the congregation was called on to participate actively in the mass,” Tobin says. “To me that was a very real, personal experience.” He was not alone--Vatican II affected millions of Catholics around the world. “Vatican II was a major event in the life of the church, because it really was a global event. It was a truly revolutionary idea in the world at the time,” Tobin says. In his newest book, The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church (HarperOne Sept.), Tobin delved into the life of the man who became the catalyst for these changes: Pope John XXIII.
The book’s publication coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, and also anticipates the 50th anniversary, next June, of Pope John’s death. It will be a time when “the attention of the world would be naturally drawn to this historical figure,” Tobin says, as it is expected that Pope John will be canonized.
Tobin found a wealth of resources on his subject in the library and in the priests at Seton Hall University, where he serves as associate vice president for publications and marketing. Tobin also has worked as editor in chief for Book-of-the-Month Club, Inc., and as editor in chief of Ballantine Books.
“I remember images, which are now grainy film images, of this engaging figure,” Tobin says of Pope John XXIII. “When writing the book, I wanted to explore who this person was, and I came away a bit surprised at what I found.” Tobin says he quickly formed a picture of a man with “a very deep personal sanctity or holiness and a wide-ranging intelligence.” Tobin also gained admiration for Pope John’s ability to work behind the scenes. “He allowed the council fathers to take the debates where they wanted to take them,” Tobin says.
Pope John’s adventurous nature and engaging personality endeared him to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Tobin says. “He was a genuine, humble human being who was thrust into events. He went along with it and served because he was obedient to his superiors and had a grasp of history.”
Tobin says Pope John’s unique character and prominence had even other celebrities, like John F. Kennedy and Charles de Gaulle, vying for time with him. “He was universally admired, on a political and personal level,” Tobin says. “From the moment of his election Pope John displayed charm and humility that attracted people.”