The Real Reason Pope Francis Became A Priest

Like many people, Pope Francis had had a circuitous career path. Decades before he took his papal name, which was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi's devotion to the poor, he was Jorge Mario Bergoglio — a young man who had been a janitor, a lab technician, a nightclub bouncer, and a literature and psychology teacher. So what led Pope Francis to become a priest? "When I was young I would occasionally think about becoming a priest, but that was like how as children, you think about being an engineer, a doctor, a musician — you see someone doing that profession, and you consider it," then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said in a 2012 interview (via Worldcrunch).

Later, however, as a chemistry student, Bergoglio described a spiritual experience that would move him toward seriously considering a life in the priesthood. He was with friends on a walk when they passed the Basilica of San José de Flores, the childhood church of Bergoglio and a center of cultural life in Buenos Aires. He said he felt that he "had to enter." He added: "I felt like somebody grabbed me from inside and took me to the confessional. I'm not sure what happened there, clearly I must have confessed, but I don't know what happened. ... While I was there I felt that I had to become a priest, and I didn't doubt it," Bergoglio said in the interview.

Pope Francis had an illness that inspired him to join the priesthood

The final push to joining the priesthood came at a time of near tragedy. As a 21-year-old, Bergoglio was suffering from extreme fevers for days, and was near death, according to his biographers, Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti. Doctors diagnosed Bergoglio with a severe lung infection, and they found three cysts. Once Bergoglio's condition was stabilized, he had to undergo surgery to remove a part of his right lung. "Since then, he's dealt with a pulmonary deficiency that, while it doesn't limit him seriously, it marks a human limit. Surely, that episode strengthened his understanding of what's really important in life," Rubin and Ambrogetti wrote in Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio (via The Seattle Times).

Indeed, after his recovery, Bergoglio joined the Society of Jesus — better known as the Jesuits — in 1958. A little more than a decade later, he was ordained a Catholic priest. From 1973 to 1979, he was Argentina's provincial superior of the Society of Jesus, before becoming the archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. In 2001, he was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II (pictured above). On March 12, 2013, Bergoglio became the first non-European in 1,300 years and the first Jesuit to become pope, according to Reuters.