A biography of Pope Francis that describes how this revolutionary thinker will use the power of his position to challenge and redirect one of the world's most formidable religions
Austen Ivereigh speaks with Pope Francis.
(Photo: Fotografia Felici)
An expansive and deeply contextual work, at its heart The Great Reformer is about the intersection of faith and politics—the tension between the pope’s innovative vision for the Church and the obstacles he faces in an institution still strongly defined by its conservative past. Based on extensive interviews in Argentina and years of study of the Catholic Church, Ivereigh tells the story not only of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the remarkable man whose background and total commitment to the discernment of God’s will transformed him into Pope Francis—but the story of why the Catholic Church chose him as their leader.
With the Francis Revolution just beginning, this biography will provide never-before-explained context on how one man’s ambitious program began—and how it will likely end—through an investigation of Francis’s youth growing up in Buenos Aires and the dramatic events during the Perón era that shaped his beliefs; his ongoing conflicts and disillusionment with the ensuing doctrines of an authoritarian and militaristic government in the 1970s; how his Jesuit training in Argentina and Chile gave him a unique understanding and advocacy for a "Church of the Poor"; and his rise from Cardinal to the papacy.
“Easily the best treatment of Pope Francis’ Argentine background in English, written by someone who knows Catholicism inside and out. Masterful, indispensible, and gripping.”
—John L. Allen Jr.
Associate Editor, Crux and The Boston Globe
“Ivereigh has written the best available chronicle of the formative events in the life and thinking of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and demonstrates how his call for a ‘Church in permanent mission’ extends and deepens the ‘New Evangelization’ proclaimed by St. John Paul II.”
author of Evangelical Catholicism
“Well written, full of information; this is the best biography of Pope Francis to date.”
Senior Analyst, National Catholic Reporter and author of Inside the Vatican
“Austen Ivereigh paints the story of the momentous papal transition of 2013 with accurate, vivid, graphic, strokes and places the reader in awe before the brilliant canvas of contemporary Church history. The Great Reformer helped me to realize anew the sheer magnitude, power and influence of Benedict's humble and courageous decision and Francis' bold and daring revolution of tenderness inaugurated on March 13, 2013. If you wish to understand Pope Francis, read this book.”
—Father Thomas Rosica
CSB; CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
“Probing, comprehensive, eminently readable and absorbing... In a growing list of books on the first Latin American pope, Ivereigh’s is uniquely well informed and persuasive.”
—Charles J. Chaput
O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia
“Austen Ivereigh has produced about the best one-volume biography of Pope Francis that you'll find. The Great Reformer explores the fascinating story of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's life in Argentina, with its highlights and shadows. And in explaining where Francis came from, Ivereigh is able to give us a realistic and insightful account of what Bergoglio is up to as pope, and where he is taking the Catholic Church.”
national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Rule of Benedict
“'You have to be normal,” Pope Francis told the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, setting the tone for their long interview last summer. 'Life is normal.' This is what's especially remarkable about Austen Ivereigh's biography of Francis: Ivereigh depicts Jorge Mario Bergoglio as an extraordinary figure by showing him in the settings of his 'normal’ life, from the Jesuit Colegio Maximo to the bus shelters of Buenos Aires bus to the Casa Santa Marta in Rome. No recent pope has gotten a biography as sensible, as culturally adept, and as attuned to the ongoing moment as this one.”
author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own and Reinventing Bach
“An in-depth picture of Jorge Bergoglio... already being spoken of as the definitive biography of this Pope... Ivereigh [is] uniquely fitted for the task by an Oxford University doctorate that was an investigation into the Church and politics in Argentina between 1930 and 1960. A fluent Spanish speaker, this expertise gained him unrivalled access to the Jesuits in Argentina during his research and enabled him to read everything Pope Francis has ever written. When he went on to attend and report on last month's synod, he had possibly the greatest understanding of any lay person there of what was actually going on, why, and what it would mean.”
“Consider this book the cornerstone of any collection on Pope Francis and twenty-first-century Christianity.”
Booklist (STARRED REVIEW)
“Readers... will revel in the intricate parallels between the personal life of the pope and the socio-political environment he was raised in and inhabits now... A meticulous and lovingly written biography that will please both knowledgeable and amateur readers.”
“An admiring defense of the new pope... A quick, efficient job of fairly sketching this extraordinary life.”
“Ivereigh... is the ideal papal biographer... a detailed and well-written examination of Pope Francis... With its wealth of biographical information that offers an in-depth look at formative influences, this is the best examination of the current pope to date.”
This book came out of a minute's meeting with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square in June 2013. My colleague and I had been given sought-after front-row tickets at the Wednesday audience, when there is the chance to speak to the pope as he moves along the row chatting briefly to delegates and guests. He took over two hours to reach us, because after his address—the usual mix of homespun humor and startling metaphors—he disappeared for what seemed like an eternity among the ones he calls God's holy faithful people. They, the anawim, the poor of God, not we, the front-row ticket holders, were his priority.
It was a sun-struck day and the exertion had taken its toll: by the time he got to us, Francis, at that point seventy-six years old, was sweating, hot, and breathless. But what most struck me was the energy he gave off: a biblical blend of serenity and playful joy. The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, put it well after he met Francis some days later. The Argentine pope, he said, is "an extraordinary humanity, on fire with Christ." If joy were a flame, you'd need to be made of asbestos not to get burned.
December 17: Jorge Mario, the first of five children of Mario and Regina Bergoglio, is born, and baptized a week later.
September 21: Six weeks before his 17th birthday, Jorge receives his calling in the Basilica of Flores.
March: Jorge enters diocesan seminary, to train as a priest.
August: Jorge develops life-threatening pleurisy; part of lung removed.
March 11: Jorge accepted into Society of Jesus, begins 13-year formation as a novice in Córdoba.
March 12: Jorge takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and begins a year's humanities studies at the Casa Loyola outside the Chilean capital, Santiago.
September 24: Jorge's father Mario dies. Jorge begins philosophy studies at the Colegio Máximo, outside the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.
Jorge assigned to two-year post teaching literature and psychology at the Jesuits' Colegio La Immaculada secondary school in Santa Fe, Argentina.
Jorge begins three years' theology studies at the Colegio Máximo in San Miguel, outside Buenos Aires.
Jorge publishes his first article, "The Theological Meaning of Election", in the Colegio Máximo's spirituality journal, Boletín de Espiritualidad.
December 13: Jorge ordained a priest.
April: Father Jorge takes final vows; becomes novice-master for the Argentine province.
Father Jorge named consultor to Jesuit provincial.
April 22: Bergoglio takes vow of obedience to the Pope, the Jesuits' fourth and final vow.
February: In Bergoglio's first speech to the province he urges unity and loyalty to the Church.
March. After returning from Rome, Bergoglio hands over Salvador University to Iron Guard leaders.
December: Bergoglio stands down as provincial, named rector of Colegio Máximo (1980-86). Andrés Swinnen named as new provincial.
March. Bergoglio elected to represent the Argentine Jesuit province in Rome later that year. His election was a protest at attempts to sideline him.
March: Jorge elected procurator.
May. John Paul II signs papers nominating Bergoglio an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires.
June 27: Jorge consecrated bishop.
January. Bergoglio backs his slum priests' 14-day hunger strike over the destruction of parts of a Buenos Aires shanty town. Bergoglio negotiates a settlement.
June 3: Jorge appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires with right of succession, meaning that he will succeed Cardinal Quarracino.
February 28: Bergoglio named Metropolitan Archbishop of Buenos Aires following death of Cardinal Quarracino.
February: Bergoglio made a cardinal by John Paul II in Rome, together with a large number of other Latin-American archbishops.
December 30: a nightclub fire killed 194 people and left 1,500 injured. Bergoglio's constant presence in the hospital and the morgue won the admiration of the city.
September: an anonymous cardinal's conclave diary shows Bergoglio was the cardinals' second choice for pope.
November: Cardinal Bergoglio elected president of the Argentine Bishops' Conference.
May. Meeting of the Council of Latin-American Bishops' Conferences (CELAM) at Aparecida, Brazil. Bergoglio, elected to take charge of the drafting of the final document, emerges a leader of the Latin-American Church.
September. Bergoglio's term ends as president of the bishops' conference.
March 13: Bergoglio elected Pope Francis.
Austen Ivereigh Interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered
Austen Ivereigh Interviewed on PBS Newshour
Austen Ivereigh Interviewed on Democracy Now!
Austen Ivereigh Interviewed on Fox News
Austen Ivereigh Interviewed by Christianity Today
Austen Ivereigh's Interview with The Irish Catholic
Credit: Linda Ivereigh
Austen Ivereigh is a British writer, journalist, and commentator on religious and political affairs who holds a PhD from Oxford University. His work appears regularly in the Jesuit magazine America and in many other periodicals. He is well known on British media, especially on the BBC, Sky, ITV and Al-Jazeera, as a Catholic commentator.