Cardinal Albino Luciani was elected pope and took the name Pope John Paul I on this day in history, Aug. 28, 1978.
John Paul I would have a very brief time as the head of the Catholic Church — dying of a heart attack just 33 days after his election.
Born on Oct. 17, 1912 in Belluno, a town in northern Italy, the future pope was the son of Giovanni Luciani and Bortola Tancon, said the Vatican’s official biography.
He was baptized on the day of his birth, as there was fear he was not going to survive, the site added.
In 1923, Luciani entered minor seminary. Five years later, he entered the Gregorian Seminary in Belluno. He was ordained to the priesthood on July 7, 1935, at the age of 22.
Pope John Paul XXIII named Luciani the bishop of Vittorio Veneto on Dec. 15, 1958. Vittorio Veneto is located not far from Belluno.
Eleven years to the day after he was named a bishop, Luciani was named the “Patriarch of Venice” by Pope Paul VI.
He was then named a cardinal and elevated to the College of Cardinals on March 5, 1973.
On Aug. 6, 1973, Pope Paul VI died at the age of 80, meaning that Luciani and the other voting members of the College of Cardinals would have to come to the Vatican to elect his successor.
This process, called the papal conclave, sees the cardinals vote in secret ballot in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.
After each vote, the ballots are burned.
If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the smoke that comes out of the chimney is black.
Luciani was elected on the fourth ballot — a relatively speedy election.
If a winner has been declared, a chemical is added that makes the smoke turn white.
The August 1978 conclave began on August 25 and ended on August 26. Luciani was elected on the fourth ballot — a relatively speedy election. Official vote totals are not released, although occasional leaks do emerge.
The smoke from the Sistine Chapel was white only for a few seconds before turning gray, then turning white again, leading to confusion among the crowd assembled, as The Washington Post reported.
“Evidently, the chemical sticks burned to ensure an unambiguous signal were less than a triumph for Italian industry,” wrote reporter Bernard D. Nossiter.
Luciani appeared on the balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica and was announced as the new Pope John Paul.
He selected the name to honor the two preceding popes, Paul VI and John XXIII.
John Paul I’s short papacy was perhaps best encapsulated by his episcopal motto: Humilitas (Humility). He eschewed the traditional papal tiara and coronation, and instead insisted upon an inauguration ceremony.
He was known throughout Italy as the “smiling pope” for his photogenic smile.
Just 33 days after his election, Pope John Paul I was found dead in his bed on Sept. 29, 1978, at the age of just 65.
Doctors believed he died around 11 p.m. the previous night, reported the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
“This morning, 29 September 1978, about 5.30, the private Secretary of the Pope, contrary to custom not having found the Holy Father in the chapel of his private apartment, looked for him in his room and found him dead in bed with the light on, like one who was intent on reading,” said L’Osservatore Romano.
“The physician, Dr. Renato Buzzonnetti, who hastened at once, verified the death as having presumably taken place around eleven o’clock yesterday evening through an acute coronary thrombosis.”
Despite this declaration, conspiracy theories have swirled; there were rumors that perhaps John Paul I’s death was actually a homicide.
The Vatican maintains that his death was of natural causes.
No autopsy was performed, as is custom when a pope passes away.
His 33-day papacy was the shortest in the modern era, although the title of shortest papacy goes to Pope Urban VII, who reigned for 13 days before dying on Sept. 27, 1590, notes the Vatican’s website.
Pope John Paul I’s funeral took place on Oct. 4, 1978, and he was buried at St. Peter’s Basilica.
His successor, Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, took the name Pope John Paul II in his honor.
On Nov. 23, 2003, his cause for canonization was opened, according to the website for the John Paul I Vatican Foundation.
He was declared “venerable” on Nov. 8, 2017, and was beatified by Pope Francis on Sept. 4, 2022.
In the Catholic Church, “beatification” is the step below canonization.
Pope John Paul I is now known as “Blessed.”