For a quick recap on the previous Masters of the Order, please click here.
Blessed Pope Benedict XI was born Nicola Boccasini in 1240 in Treviso, Italy, in the Holy Roman Empire. He would live 64 years until his death on July 7, 1304.
At a young age, his father died and left his mother, Bernarda, a widow. It was at that time a Dominican friar left a sum of money in his will to Bernarda and the children. And part of the will stipulated that if Nicola were to enter the Dominican Order, he would receive half of the legacy. Bernarda worked as a laundress for the Dominican Friars in Treviso so the family was well familiar with the Order.
Even at a young age, the future Pope Benedict XI was preparing for a life of a monk. His teacher was his uncle who was a priest of St. Andrea. And in 1254, at the age of 14, Nicola entered the Order of Preachers. For the next seven years, Nicola pursued his basic education in Venice. In 1262, Nicola was transferred to Milan where he spent the next six years of his life. At that time, he became a professed member of the Dominican Order. He served as lector for fourteen years, from 1268 to 1282.
The next greatest change took place in 1286 when Fr. Nicola was elected the Provincial Prior of Lombary. Instead of being firmly attached to a single convent for years, he would instead become peripatetic, moving from one convent to another on visits of inspection, encouragement and correction. In Lombardy at the time there were some fifty-one convents. After his tiring three year term was completed in 1289, he was released from the office of Provincial of Lombardy. However, he was elected Provincial Prior of Lombardy again at the Provincial Chapter held at Brescia in 1293.
In 1296, Nicola was elected as the Master of the Order of Preachers, a role he would serve in until 1303. During this same time, on December 4, 1298, he was made a Cardinal by Pope Boniface VIII. He also served as Papal Legate to France.
When Pope Boniface VIII was seized at Anagni in September, 1303, Nicola was one of only two cardinals to defend the Pope in the Episcopal Palace itself. He would be imprisoned for three days before being liberated.
On October 22, 1303, Nicola was elected to succeed Boniface VIII as the Supreme Pontiff. He took the name Benedict XI and reigned not one year until his death on July 7, 1304. Historians speculate he may have been poisoned. It was after his death that the Papacy moved to Avignon from Rome and thus began the long and trying time known as the Avignon Papacy.
Pope Benedict XI, the first Dominican Pope, was widely regarded for his holiness. And in response to his life and the miracles attributed to pilgrims who journeyed to his tomb, Pope Clement XII beatified him on April 24, 1736, and assigned his feastday to July 7th.
Blessed Pope Benedict XI, 9th Dominican Master, pray for us!
Pater Noster. Ave Maria.