30 years ago today, on August 26th, 1978, Albino Luciani, Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, was elected Pope.

[display_podcast] This podcast made available from Vatican Radio


The first Pope to bear two names, John Paul I died 34 days after his election, making his the shortest pontificate since Leo XI’s in the April of 1605. He had succeeded Pope Paul VI, who had reigned for 15 tumultuous years during and after the 2nd Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII

Albino Luciani came from a poor family and, having first completed his military service, he was ordained on July 7th, 1935. He studied at Rome’s Gregorian University before a brief period as curate in his childhood parish, after which he was appointed to a deputy position at Belluno seminary in 1937. Years of teaching followed, during which time Luciani became vicar-general to the Bishop at Belluno; he also worked at a doctrinal conference.

Towards the end of 1958 Pope John XXIII appointed Luciani as bishop of Vittorio Veneto, and after a slow start at the Vatican Council of 1962 – 65 he soon became an active voice in doctrinal matters. The largely pastoral and personal nature of Luciani’s office led to local demands for his promotion, and the future Pope became archbishop of Venice in 1969, and a cardinal in 1973; his presence on a range of councils and commissions followed.

After Luciani’s election, the mood appears to have been one of widespread optimism and John Paul established himself by taking the names of his two predecessors – John XXIII and Paul VI – to represent a combination of their qualities: one progressive, the other traditional. Eschewing the normally lavish coronation, John Paul quickly captured the media’s support with an unplanned press conference, but this hopeful mood ended with his sudden death, of a heart attack, a few weeks later; there had been no time to implement any policies. He was succeeded by John Paul II.