Christ's Faithful People
1590 - 1591 AD
The election of Gregory XIV marked a high point in Spanish interference in papal elections. With Henry of Navarre rapidly gaining ground in France, Philip was determined to have a Pope who would be stern with Navarre. His ambassador, the haughty Olivares, bluntly told the cardinals that of their number, only seven were acceptable to Spain's monarch. Resentment at such barefaced dictation flared and for two months the conclave was deadlocked. But the Spanish forces prevailed, and finally on December 5, 1590, the cardinals elected Niccolo Sfondrati, one of Philip's seven. He took the name Gregory XIV.
Niccolo Sfondrati was born near Milan on February 11, 1535. His father, a Milanese senator, became a cardinal after his wife's death and was considered a possible choice for the papacy in the conclave of 1550. Niccolo studied law at Perugia and Padua, then entered the service of St. Charles Borromeo. Pius IV made him bishop of Cremona in 1560. The following year he went to Trent, where he did some good work at the last sessions of the Great Council. He ruled his diocese wisely, and though Gregory XIII made him a cardinal in 1583, he remained a working bishop and only went to Rome when necessity demanded.
Gregory XIV was a man of deep piety. The friend of St. Charles Borromeo and St. Philip Neri, he had been a true reform bishop. But now his health was poor and he had little experience in political and diplomatic affairs. Unfortunately he chose as his secretary of state Paolo Emilio Sfondrati, a young nephew, pious, but even less experienced than the Pope.
Gregory quickly abandoned the cautious policy of Sixtus V with regard to the complex French situation. Sincerely convinced that the Spaniards and the League (formed to fight for Catholic interests in France) were right in mistrusting Henry of Navarre, he hurled spiritual thunderbolts at Navarre's numerous ecclesiastical supporters. More, he sent money and even a papal expeditionary force to aid the embattled Leaguers and their Spanish allies.
Plague and famine ravaged Rome during Gregory's pontificate. The kind Pope did what he could for his people. Ecclesiastics from the cardinals down to simple religious worked to help the stricken. Prominent was St. Camillus de Lellis, the founder of the Fathers of the Good Death. At this time also that remarkable young man Aloysius Gonzaga died caring for the plague- stricken.
Gregory XIV, ill at ease in political affairs, interested himself in all reform projects. He approved the Order of the Fathers of the Good Death and encouraged reformers everywhere. He had not time to accomplish much, for his health, always bad, soon failed completely, and on October 16, 1591, Gregory XIV died.