28 September 1362 – 19 December 1370
From the earliest years of the century, the popes had lived at Avignon, staying away from the feuding Romans. Guillaume (William) de Grimoard, son of the Lord of Bellegarde, grew up not knowing a pope in Rome. A native of Languedoc, in southern France, he was born around 1310.
Around age seventeen, William became a Benedictine monk at the Priory of Chirac, near his home. He was then sent to the larger Abbey of St. Victor, in Marseille, where he spent his novitiate. Around age 24, William professed his vows and was ordained a priest at Chirac. Then he went to Montpelier to study literature and law.
In 1342, William was granted a Doctor of Law degree at the University of Toulouse. He was then appointed Prior of Notre Dame du Pre in Auxerre.
In early 1352, now a seasoned veteran of abbeys, William was appointed Prior of Saint-Germaine-en- Auxerre. He began disciplinary and financial reforms. Some members of the clergy were not happy and Fr. Grimoard was abused for his standards.
He became the Procurator general for the Order of St. Benedict at the next papal curia. In addition to his role as prior, he became a noted canonist, teaching at Paris, Montpelier and Avignon. Pope Clement VI asked his help. The Visconti family of Milan had conquered the Papal city of Bologna, invading Florentine borders. A sharp man, Clement decided to make Archbishop Visconti the papal vicar of Bologna, absolving the Visconti family of all their transgressions. Fr. Grimoard and his assistant, Msgr Azzo, went as apostolic nuncios to close the deal and threaten the Viscontis with ecclesiastic censures on anyone who did not adhere. The agreement was signed in the fall. Then, in 1354, Fr. Grimoard went to Rome for the first time, on business for the Apostolic Camera (finance office). The city was in bad condition, including St. Peter’s Basilica.
Within the next year, Fr. Grimoard was appointed vicar general of Clermont by Bishop Pierre de Agrefeuille. A few years later, Bishop Pierre was transferred to the Diocese of Uzes. And Grimoard accompanied him.
While he was still assigned to St. Germain-en-Auxerre, the English army attacked the town and did much damage. The Hundred Years War was not over.
In 1360, Fr. Grimoard again went to Italy to handle Archbishop Visconti’s successor, Bernato, and his allies. This time, he was obligated to leave due to the hostility. Shortly after, the Visconti army was soundly defeated at Bologna.
The next year, the plague broke out again. This time many cardinals died within a year. Within that year, too, Fr. Grimoard was elected abbot of his old abbey of St. Victor. He also continued to teach for another year.
In early 1362, King Louis I of Naples died. A power struggle with Queen Joanna I began. Fr. Grimoard went to Naples to provide advice and guidance as to the desires of the feudal overlord of Naples, the pope. Then he went to Monte Cassino, the most famous abbey. It was a wreck, both physically and organizationally.
Several months later, Pope Innocent VI died. The Conclave opened on 22 September in Avignon. Fr. Grimoard was not yet back in Avignon. The cardinals voted him in, then summoned him, telling him they needed a consultation. When he got to Avignon, he was consecrated.
Taking the name Urban V, the new pope maintained his monastic habit and discipline. He became a reformer and patron of education. His goal was to return to ideal values and principles through discipline, codifying and enforcing established decisions. He worked against absenteeism, pluralism and simony.
Among his achievements were assisting to establish the university at Krakow, founding a university in Hungary and the College of St. Benedict, and improving the university of Toulouse.
Urban supported the Jewish population in Western Europe to the extent of excommunicating those who molested Jews or pushed forced conversions.
Pope Urban wanted a crusade against the Turks. He tried to organize one but did not get far. There were battles in Alexandria and Gallipoli but that was it.
The pope felt that Rome should be the center of Catholicism. In 1367, he went to Rome to find his vicar dead. He stayed for two and a half years. Insurrections in Rome and the Papal States made him return to Avignon. St. Brigid of Sweden warned him that he would die if he went back. Within days of his return, he got sick. He moved to his brother’s castle and died on 19 December 1370.
Miracles happened at the tomb. Very shortly, the cause for his beatification began. But he wasn’t beatified until 1870.