The eldest of five children, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was born to Italian immigrants who, in 1927, had fled Italy and the rule of Mussolini. The boy’s father, Mario, was an accountant for the railroad and his mother, Regina Sivori, had the full-time job of being a stay at home mom.
For his part, Jorge had a normal childhood – his interests included football (soccer), music and girls. He graduated from a secondary school as a chemical technician, after which he worked in the food section of a laboratory for two years. He also had stints as a floor sweeper and a bouncer at a bar. One day on his way to see his girlfriend, he stopped at a church to go to confession.
However, something strange happened in that confessional. Jorge was overcome with an awareness that he was being called to the service of God. He began training at the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto. In March of 1958, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus. In 1960 he officially became a Jesuit, taking the order’s perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – vows that would guide him throughout his life.
Jorge was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1969. Of interest is the fact that his mother, a very devout Catholic, did not support his journey to priesthood. Once he was ordained, she had found acceptance of his calling and even asked his blessing at the end of his ordination ceremony.
Through the years Jorge’s assignments included teaching literature and psychology at the Immaculate Conception College in Santa Fé, a novice master, consultor to the Province of the Society of Jesus and also Rector of the Colegio Máximo, spiritual director, and confessor – as well as serving as parish priest. His education saw him study humanities in Chile, earn degrees in philosophy and theology in Argentina, eventually completing his doctorate in theology in Germany.
He was very humble and that, in addition to his sober and austere lifestyle – made him immensely popular. As a priest, Jorge lived in a simple flat and he would visit the poor and the downtrodden. He would embrace the sick and embrace criminals. Father Jorge was vocal about governments who didn’t pay attention to the poor and others marginalized in society. His sermons resonated with the people of Argentina, in large part because he preached social inclusion.
In 1992 he was named Bishop of Auca. In 1998 he was named Archbishop of Buenos Aires and in 2001, Pope John Paul II named him a Cardinal. John Paul II died in 2005 and was succeeded by Pope Benedict XVI, a staunch conservative voice of the church. In a surprise move, he resigned in 2013, an action that no Pope had taken in over 700 years.
In a surprise vote, Cardinal Bergoglio was named the new Pope. Cardinal Bergoglio took the name Pope Francis in appreciation of the Saint Francis of Assisi, as a reminder to never forget the poor. He was the first Pope to take the name Francis. He was the first Jesuit to become Pope. He was the first Pope from the Americas.
All of these firsts occurred for a reason. That reason was that Cardinal Bergoglio – Pope Francis – was authentic, knew his purpose, utilized his talents and resonated with the people of Argentina as well as the hierarchy of the Church. While he almost certainly has never thought of himself this way, Pope Francis is a fearless brand and has successfully integrated his personal brand into the brand of the Catholic Church.
Fearless Brands integrate their personal brand into their organization
Cardinal Bergoglio was relatively unknown outside of the Church when he was elected Pope. However, the traits that make him unique, the attributes that define him as a man – as a brand – quickly became apparent.
Pope Francis’ humility was quickly and widely recognized. After the vote declaring him Pope, he rode the bus with the other Cardinals. It was widely publicized that he personally went to pay for his lodging, refusing to send someone to pay his debt. He has eschewed many of the traditional trappings of a Pope – wearing plain shoes, more simple garments and riding in his own car, a 1984 Renault.
Much more significant is his continued attention to the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the needy. He is accessible and approachable. He’s been known to have the car he’s driven in stop in order for him to go speak with and bless a child who is clearly physically challenged.
Pope Francis continues to challenge governments, businesses, the wealthy and society in general to combat poverty. In his words, “All of us, each day, are presented with the option of being Good Samaritans or indifferent passersby.”
Pope Francis has taken some bold, and to many welcomed, actions. On his first trip to the Holy Land he traveled with a Rabbi and a Muslim leader from Argentina. He has excommunicated the mafioso. He has also excommunicated or demoted priests who have broken their vow of poverty. Pope Francis has initiated sweeping reforms to the Church finances and their transparency. He opted to have lunch with the homeless in Washington D.C. rather than dine with the U.S. Congress. He has called on all parties and countries involved to make peace in Syria – to end the suffering, the persecution, the deaths.
Again, I’m positive that Pope Francis has never thought of himself as a personal brand – much less a fearless brand….but he is.
Live with integrity – Young Jorge Bergoglio had no strong sense of what he would do in life. Once he entered that confessional and had what must be called an epiphany, he never looked back. He found his calling. The vows of a Jesuit priest matched his values exactly – and he’s never wavered from his commitment. Know your purpose. Be committed. Live with integrity.
Be humble – but be bold – One of the invaluable results of building a fearless brand is knowing exactly what our strengths are – what our weaknesses are – without exaggerating either. He is totally aware of his gifts and his flaws. That is true humility. That is what allows Pope Francis to be bold in his actions, words and deeds. That breeds humility. That allows boldness.
Be kind – In all honesty, being kind is not a requirement to be a fearless brand – but think how much better a world it would be if more people focused on being kind. Pope Francis is kind. Kindness is contagious. Kindness may be the answer to the troubles of our world – at least in a small way. Be kind.
You needn’t become the head of 1.2 billion Catholics to be a fearless brand…which is good, because that’s just not going to happen. However, what a wonderful example of how to build a brand – what a great example of how to live your life. Peace.