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How the Toronto Star covered the 1903 papal conclave


Journalists covering papal conclaves have come to expect longshot victories.

They are as much a part of the tradition of the conclave as that familiar white smoke.

Pope Pius X's election in 1903 was the first covered by the Toronto Star, 11 years after the newspaper's creation. The front-page headline on Aug. 4, 1903 stated: "Sarto of Venice was elected pope."

While the Star's editors noted Venitian Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto's election "was a complete surprise," the paper, which had earlier published stories reporting fellow Italian Cardinal Mariano Rampolla was a favourite to win the papacy, also remarked that the new pope "is very learned, but is modest and retiring and well liked by all."

Not surprising, perhaps, considering Canada at the time was country of 5 million made up mostly of Christians.

Sarto himself offered a front-page quote when he was asked in Rome whether he had expected to win the papacy. "Ah, no, I purchased a return ticket when I left Venice."

In a story the following day, the paper noted that the new pope had awoken the day after his victory at 5:30 a.m., performed mass, and had his usual breakfast of a coffee, milk, and a roll.

Pope Pius X's coronation was held Sunday, Aug. 9, but the news didn't merit front-page treatment.

The Star ran a story on page 5.


What bumped it off A1? Reports on a race between the Canadian yacht Strathcona and its U.S. challenger Irondequoit. A steamship called The Niagara sent minute-by-minute wireless race bulletins to the Star from Lake Ontario, reporting the Canadian ship's victory by a margin of 10 minutes.

MORE: Follow our live blog of the papal conclave and the election of a new pope

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead


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Always appreciate these image flashbacks to how the Star personnel handledsuch events, not just a description through modern eyes.
Hurrah for Pages of the Past !

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