Austen Ivereigh, author and founder of Catholic Voices, has written an in-depth biography of Pope Francis. "The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope" offers 391 pages of insights that show what shaped the current pontiff.
The book introduces Jorge Bergoglio as the son of immigrants who fled Italy to escape Mussolini, growing up in a lower middle class family in Buenos Aires. Politics and the Catholic environment play important roles in Ivereigh's storytelling.
Bergoglio is shown as a regular teen who loved soccer and danced the tango with girls. After meeting a priest just before turning 17, he knew that he wanted to be a priest. The realization of his vocation is described as St. Ignatius' first way of knowing, Just Knowing. That Jesuit philosophy or way of life seems instilled in Bergoglio from the start, not as something he learned or tried to abide by. This paints him as a person destined to become Pope Francis.
The stories that already made headlines, such as Francis' disregard for standard protocol, interacting with people during World Youth Day in Rio, and his comments on homosexuals in an interview that followed, are examined and delivered with little angle. Ivereigh does not try to sway the reader with opinion, rather he offers details that may have been forgotten or glossed over.
He also tells stories of Francis' Jesuit training that few may have heard. Francis worked in hospitals emptying bedpans and spent time with people suffering and in severe pain. He went on a pilgrimage with very little money and had to depend on the kindness of strangers, all of which display the sincerity the pope has when he speaks of the poor.
The book also tells of Francis' role as teacher. Often the book focuses too much on politics and internal problems with the Jesuit order, but the details show the full scope of how a middle class Argentine became pope. For fans of Pope Francis, this is a gem of a book.
"The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope" by Austen Ivereigh is published by Henry Holt and can be purchased for $30.