Freedom from Fear
In general, novices in the late 1950s knew nothing that was going on in the “outside world,” outside the gates of the country novitiate, until the novice master at the morning conference dropped headlines on them from papers they were not allowed to read and radio reports they were not allowed to hear. But 1958 was a “hot news” year by any standard.
On October 9 they learned that Pius XII had died. Those who had been reading the secular press before they came in may have known two things: this pope had been most unsympathetic to the movement of the worker priests, where, in Europe, priests took off their collars and took on factory jobs as a way of reestablishing contact with the working masses alienated from the church. He had also, in 1955, in an exhortation to the Society, said: “Among the superfluous things that a Jesuit could very well do without is the habit of smoking tobacco.” Clearly, this was something which Jesuits who had his ear had asked him to include in his talk, to give teeth to the injunctions Fathers Ledochowski and Maher had proclaimed to deaf ears. Novices who had read Time magazine before entering knew that two Vatican stars named Tardini and Montini, Montini the more “liberal” of the two, were in the wings as a future pope.
On October 28, 1958, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, 77 years old, of whom no one had heard, was chosen. At first, hearts sank. How could this old man give vigorous leadership? Then the letters from home snuck in old photos of Roncalli the diplomat at a reception in Turkey with a cocktail in one hand and a cigarette in the other. There was hope.
On July 25, 1959, Roncalli, now John XXIII, announced that he was calling an Ecumenical Council, Vatican II, the first since Vatican I, in 1870, which, against resistance from some of the American hierarchy,