Of all the things you don't know about Pope Benedict XVI, the only secret you'll find out without storming the Vatican Archives may be this: He's a goddamn helicopter pilot! According to Catholic lore, the ex-Holy Father got his license after accidentally praying to St. Gyroscope during a wine bender with Igor Sikorsky at his summer place at Castel Gandolfo. True.
Actually, the 85-year-old PBXVI is a fully-licensed pilot who's been known to buzz St. Peter's Basilica in small aircraft, scaring the nuns (not really), though doesn't have a driver's license.
No doubt Captain Pope's flights are among the safest in existence. Still, Catholic saints have been quite active in aviation, with a few such patrons charged with keeping jurisdiction over the skies, according to Eric Chandler, of General Aviation News:
It turns out there are actually three patron saints of aviation: St. Thérèse, St. Joseph of Cupertino and Our Lady of Loreto. The latter two were a lot easier to figure out.
[Saint Thérèse] was a French woman from Lisieux who became a Carmelite nun at the age of 15 and died young from tuberculosis. She was known as the “Little Flower” and canonized very soon after her death.
She describes herself as a “little bird” in her autobiography and she’s also the patron saint of the missions. In the early 20th century, flying would’ve been one of the ways missionaries traveled to the far-flung outposts of the church. Maybe that’s the reason.
St. Joseph was an Italian Franciscan priest who lived in the 17th century. He levitated. Poking him with pins and burning embers wouldn’t stop his soaring. “The Flying Friar” would only land when his superiors ordered him down. Like a lot of pilots, he was very dedicated to flight. Okay, St. Joseph, I understand why Pope Clement XIII gave you the nod in 1767.
Our Lady of Loreto also makes a good aviation saint. There is a humble house in the Italian city of Loreto that’s enclosed inside a cathedral. This house is supposed to be where the Annunciation occurred when the angel Gabriel told Mary she would bear the son of God. Angels reputedly carried this house from the Holy Lands through the air to Italy in 1294. All of these events, combined with some good lobbying by the Italian Air Force, made her a shoo-in to be the patron saint of air travelers by order of Pope Benedict XV in 1920.
Next time you're in crazy turbulence over the South China Sea, give those three a shout.