While growing up an American Catholic, I learned to tune out the Vatican, which had the air of Old World irrelevancy. The pope, I thought, was just the Catholic Church’s version of Queen Elizabeth, some doddering old monarch with no real power. The uncharismatic Pope Paul VI was a case in point, a kind of Millard Fillmore of the papacy. But instead of some dude with a bad 19th century haircut embroiled in states’ rights debates, this was an old Italian guy in a white dress. Same difference. But what did it have to do with my world?
Well, plenty as it turned out, for my boyhood coincided with the implementation of Pope John XXIII’s Vatican II reforms, which did in fact alter my world—in important ways. For a 9-year-old those important changes included permission to wear sneakers and T-shirts into church, the folk mass, no Latin classes — and an interesting lesson in architecture as the new circular churches that began to appear were more like theater in the round vs.