The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope by Austen Ivereigh

The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope
by Austen Ivereigh
Henry Holt and Co.
464 pages - ISBN 9781627791571
October 2014

Barnes and Noble

Pope Francis is coming! Pope Francis is coming! 

To the United States that is. The supreme pontiff is gracing us with his presence later this month and while I’d love to see him in person, I will have to live vicariously through all the digital media that will hit the internet as a result of his visit.

I’m fascinated with Pope Francis and I’m not even Catholic. I was raised a Protestant in a denomination which denounced everything Catholicism stood for. No rituals, no crosses, no rosaries, no artwork or statues, no big churches, no religious hierarchy, no priests, no Pope. Because my upbringing was so anti-Catholic, now as a non-religious adult I’m very intrigued by what was withheld from me and I’m particularly fascinated with the role of the Pope. He’s not just the leader of the Catholic church; his influence stretches beyond the boundaries of his religion. The Pope has a platform unlike any other world leader. The election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, a Jesuit Priest turned Cardinal from Argentina, was a monumental decision that would forever change the history of the church.

Not knowing very much about Pope Francis, how he became Pope or the Catholic church in general, The Great Reformer by Austen Ivereigh became a primer for me. It’s not the ideal book for someone with little knowledge of Catholicism. Reading up on the religion beforehand would have helped me out a bit. However, the book’s focus is solely on the evolution of Jorge Bergoglio into Pope Francis. Because he hasn’t been Pope for long the book is mostly about his life as Bergoglio. The chapters follow his life in chronological order yet each of them start in the present (2013-2014) then dip back into the past.

Bergoglio/Pope Francis led an oftentimes tumultuous life. We learn about Argentina’s difficult political history, Bergoglio’s upbringing, Jesuit priesthood, his work with the poor and the many relationships, both bad and good, that he’s had over the years with key figures in religion and politics as well as family and friends. As a big fan of another Jorge, Argentine author and poet Jorge Luis Borges, I was particularly enamored by the fact that Borges and Bergoglio met when Bergoglio invited the author to speak to his class as a Jesuit college. Jorge meets Jorge; two Argentine greats who continue to influence the world in death (Borges) and in life (Bergoglio/Pope Francis).

Jorge Bergoglio meets Jorge Luis Borges

I listened to this book on audio. I had been having a lot of luck listening to non-fiction books about religion so I gave this one a try. The author narrated the book and did a fine job but in the end I did have some difficulty following a long with his narration. This book is a bit biased in favor of Pope Francis. Whenever we learn something negative about Bergoglio/Pope Francis it’s quickly followed up by a statement by the author that redeems him. Bergoglio/Pope Francis is a very admirable man and has led a good life with a focus on simplicity and generosity and that comes across in the book.

Even though this book was published early in his career as Pope, this book won’t become outdated any time soon because the author wisely focus on Pope Francis’ journey to the Vatican instead of his short time at the Vatican. The title is true to the purpose of the book. The reader learns a lot about how Pope Francis could reform the church and how along the way he became such a radical voice. I recommend The Great Reformer to anyone who has a basic understanding of Catholicism and a particular interest in the life of Pope Francis.
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