On Friday, 3 September we celebrate the feast of Saint Gregory the Great. The title ‘the Great’ is given to very few people and only usually to two Popes – Leo I and Gregory I. It normally indicates that they have had great influence in their own time and well beyond it.
Gregory came from a noble Roman family and was the son of a senator. He was a state official as a young man, but in 573 he sold off his properties and founded monasteries in Sicily and Rome. The following year he entered the monastery of St Andrew in Rome which was the monastery he had founded in the city.
Successively he became one the deacons of Rome – a role more important than that of priest at the time – and then the pope’s ambassador to the court of the Emperor in Constantinople. In 590 he became Pope.
His writings – On Pastoral Care and The Dialogues – became classics right up into the Middle Ages. Although he hankered for the contemplative life, all his energies were required for his care of the Roman people in turbulent times. His time as Pope required him to deal with floods in Rome, a famine, a plague and an invasion by the Lombard barbarians.
It was Gregory who sent monk missionaries to Anglo-Saxon England to seek to evangelize that country. The leader of the group was Augustine (not the one from Hippo), whom we now know as Augustine of Canterbury, that city being the place given him by the local king to establish himself. He is considered the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
Pope Gregory the Great died in 604 and was about 65 to 70 years old at his death. He was quickly acclaimed a saint.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin