St. John XXIII's aide, oldest member College of Cardinals, dies at 100

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

CITY (CNS) — The former secretary to a saint and the oldest member of the
College of Cardinals died May 26 at the age of 100.

Cardinal Loris Capovilla, who served St. John XXIII before and after he became
pope, died in Bergamo, near Milan.

Capovilla was born in Pontelongo, Italy, on Oct. 14, 1915, and ordained to the priesthood in 1940.

journalist before starting to work for the future saint, he was an energetic
and eloquent storyteller, drawing on his remarkable and vividly detailed memory.

the freshly named patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, chose
37-year-old Father Capovilla as his private secretary in 1953, a
skeptical adviser told the cardinal — who would become Pope John XXIII — that
the priest looked too sickly to bear the strain of his new job.

the cardinal outlived his employer by half a century and was a dedicated custodian
of his legacy, running a small museum dedicated to the saint’s memory in the
late pope’s native town of Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, near Milan.

friend and confidant, he was by the pope’s side during a pivotal point in the
church and the world’s history: for the launch of the Second Vatican Council
and the escalation of political and military tensions of the Cold War.

turned many of his stories into numerous writings, including a memoir published
in English as “The Heart and Mind of John XXIII.”

papal secretary also served Pope Paul VI for a time after his election,
following St. John’s death in 1963. He was made archbishop of Chieti-Vasto in
1967 and appointed prelate of Loreto in 1971, retiring in 1988.

Francis made him the world’s oldest living cardinal when he elevated him to the
College of Cardinals in 2014 at the age of 98.

observers saw the honor as an indirect tribute to Pope John, whom Pope Francis canonized
just one month later.

the then-cardinal-designate told Catholic News Service at the time, in a
telephone conversation, that his elevation was a “sign of attention to all
those thousands of priests around the world who have spent their lives in
silence, in poverty, in obedience, happy to serve God and our humble people,
who need, as Pope Francis continually says, tenderness, friendship, respect and

Cardinal Capovilla’s
death leaves the College of Cardinals with 213 members, 114 of whom are under
the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave.

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