Pope St. Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church, Pray For Us!

Gregory is the patron of musicians, singers, students and teachers

Francisco de Goya, “St. Gregory the Great,” 1796/1799
Francisco de Goya, “St. Gregory the Great,” 1796/1799 (photo: Public Domain)

Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604) was born into a wealthy family in Rome. His father, Gordianus, was a senator and prefect who owned property in Rome and Sicily. During his youth, many people in and around Rome died due to disease and war.

Gregory studied law, and, like his father, became prefect of Rome. He was devout, and converted the family villa in Rome to a monastery upon his father’s death. He became a Benedictine monk, and was noted for both his piety and intellect. His first three years when he lived the simple life of a monk he referred to as the happiest of his life. The great austerity he practiced, however, may have led to his suffering from poor health later in life.

Against his wishes, he was ordained one of the seven deacons of Rome. The Lombard conquerors of the Italian peninsula were active during Gregory’s lifetime, so Pope Pelagius II made him ambassador to Constantinople to seek protection from Emperor Tiberius in the East. He stayed there for six years before returning to Rome and becoming an abbot. It was during this time that Rome suffered from severe flooding and disease.

Over his objections, as he preferred to remain an ordinary monk, Gregory was elected pope in 590. He referred to himself as a “servant of God,” and made it his habit to dine with poor people at each meal. After his election, he wrote a book on the office of the bishop, whom he described as a physician of souls. He is credited with bringing Gregorian chant into the Church, authorizing the “Gregorian mission” to convert the Anglo-Saxons of England, making revisions to the Mass, being an able administrator and combatting the Donatist heresy of North Africa. Although the Church owned extensive property at the time which produced a substantial income, he was said to have emptied the treasury serving the poor. He also wrote extensively and is a Doctor of the Church. 

Gregory suffered much during his 14 years in the papacy, and wrote that his “sole consolation was the hope that death would come quickly.” It did on March 12, 604, and he was immediately proclaimed a saint by popular acclamation. His relics are in St. Peter’s Basilica. His mother Silvia and aunt Pateria are also saints. 

His feast day is Sept. 3. He is the patron of musicians, singers, students and teachers.