1939 papal conclave

Papal conclave
March 1939
Sede vacante.svg
Coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See
Dates and location
1–2 March 1939
Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace,
Vatican City
Key officials
DeanGennaro Granito Pignatelli di Belmonte
Sub-DeanDonato Sbarretti
CamerlengoEugenio Pacelli
ProtopriestWilliam Henry O'Connell
ProtodeaconCamillo Caccia-Dominioni
SecretaryVincenzo Santoro
Elected Pope
Eugenio Pacelli
Name taken: Pius XII
His Holiness Pope Pius XII.png

Following the death of Pope Pius XI on 10 February 1939, all 62 cardinals of the Catholic Church met in the papal conclave of 1939 on 1 March. The next day, on the third ballot, they elected Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, who was Camerlengo and Secretary of State, as pope. He accepted and took the name Pius XII. It was his 63rd birthday.

The conclave of 1939 was the shortest of the 20th century.[1]

Pacelli was the first member of the Roman Curia to become pope since Gregory XVI (1831)[2] and the first Roman since Innocent XIII (1731).[3]


Time magazine announced that likely contenders for the papacy included August Hlond of Gniezno-Poznań, Karl Joseph Schulte of Cologne, the Curia veteran Eugène-Gabriel-Gervais-Laurent Tisserant, Ildefonso Schuster of Milan, Adeodato Giovanni Piazza of Venice, Maurilio Fossati of Turin, and Eugenio Pacelli, a longtime diplomat in the service of the Holy See. The prospect of a non-Italian pope for the first time since Pope Adrian VI in 1522 was considered more likely than in previous conclaves.[4][5] On 13 February, The New York Times dismissed the idea of a non-Italian given the current state of international hostilities, though it thought Jean-Marie-Rodrigue Villeneuve of Quebec the least objectionable to the contending powers. It discounted Pacelli since there was no precedent for the election of the Secretary of State, and precedent argued against the election of any member of the Curia as well as three key Italians who were members of religious orders. The five Italians remaining were Alessio Ascalesi of Naples, Giovanni Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano of Bologna, Luigi Lavitrano of Palermo, Maurilio Fossati of Turin, and Elia dalla Costa of Florence.[6] By 20 February the paper found greater interest in the curial cardinals, Francesco Marmaggi, Massimo Massimi, and Luigi Maglione.[7]

Pacelli was heavily favored among the cardinals to win. Pius XI had hinted that he favored Pacelli as his successor.[8] On 15 December 1937, during his last consistory, Pius XI strongly hinted to the cardinals that he expected Pacelli to be his successor, saying "He is in your midst."[9][10] He had previously been quoted as saying: "When today the Pope dies, you'll get another one tomorrow, because the Church continues. It would be a much bigger tragedy, if Cardinal Pacelli dies, because there is only one. I pray every day, God may send another one into one of our seminaries, but as of today, there is only one in this world."[10]

Like Pius X, Pius XI had been a blunt-spoken, no-nonsense pontiff. Assembling in 1939 as the outbreak of hostilities that became World War II was widely anticipated, the cardinals turned to a soft-spoken diplomat.