Published in English “Red Pope” a biography of Cardinal van Rossum C.Ss.R. (1854–1932)


Published in English “Red Pope” biography of Cardinal van Rossum C.Ss.R.: Poels, V. 2023. Red Pope: A Biography of Cardinal Willem van Rossum C.Ss.R. (1854–1932). Nijmegen: Radboud University.

From the point of view of the history of the Church, and in particular, of the missions, the establishment of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, better known as ‘Propaganda Fide’ or simply as ‘Propaganda’ was a historical event of great importance. The central office of the Roman Curia since 1622, the Congregation was entrusted with the responsibility of directing missionary activities throughout the world.
The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer recalls with great joy one of the sons of Saint Alphonsus at the direction of this mission department: Cardinal Willem Marinus van Rossum CSsR (1854-1932) who was Prefect of Propaganda Fide from 12 March 1918 to 30 August 1932.

At the beginning of April 2021, Dr. Vefie Poels of the Radboud University in Nijmegen published her biography of Cardinal Willem van Rossum C.Ss.R. (1854-1932). Sadly Vefie Poels died of cancer on 2 October 2022. Van Rossum’s exceptional life history – from orphan from Zwolle to high curie status in Rome – sheds a fascinating light on the history of the church and the Roman Curia from the end of the nineteenth century until well into the interwar period. He was the great strategist behind the worldwide mission of the Roman Catholic Church.

“Arriving in Rome from the Netherlands in 1895, the Catholic priest and Redemptorist Willem van Rossum (1854–1932) rose quickly through the ranks of the curia. In many ways an outsider, he made a resounding success of his career. His zeal in the fight against the ‘virus of modernism’ earned him a cardinal’s hat in 1911, and he was appointed prefect of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide in 1918. As ‘red pope’ or head of the Vatican’s mission department, Van Rossum led a hard-fought and ultimately successful campaign to separate missionary policy, fundraising and staffing from Western nationalism, and concentrate control over the worldwide missionary project at supranational level in Rome. He was the driving force behind two programmatic documents on the missions by Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI, which promoted the building up of indigenous churches and the educating of native clergy, thus helping to create a favourable position for the Catholic church during the subsequent wave of decolonisation. In the meantime, Van Rossum continued to decry Italian dominance in the church as well as the curia’s inefficiencies, for instance in a vituperative pamphlet that he wrote shortly before his death. This scholarly biography of Willem van Rossum rescues this great strategist behind the ‘popes of the missions’ from oblivion, and throws fascinating light on the history of the Catholic church and the Roman curia from the late nineteenth century until far into the twentieth.”

(from the presentation of the book, you can download the complete publication in this link)

This book is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution + Noncommercial + NoDerivatives 4.0 license. Copyright is retained by the author(s)

Vefie Poels (1958–2022), was affiliated for more than 35 years with the Catholic Documentation Centre (KDC) at
the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, where she was researcher and deputy director. Her research focused mainly on the history of Dutch religious, particularly missionaries. This biography of Cardinal Willem van Rossum was her magnum opus; the Dutch edition was published in 2021.
The translator, Brian Heffernan, has translated several books and is the author of monographs on the history of Catholicism. He is a research associate at KU Leuven and an associate editor of DHGE – Louvain Dictionary of
Church History.

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