Hildebrand was born at Soana, in Italy. His uncle was a monk in Rome so Hildebrand studied in the monastery. When he grew up, Hildebrand became a Benedictine monk in France. Soon, however, he was called back to Rome. There he was given very important positions under five popes until he himself was made pope.
For twenty-five years, he refused to become pope. But when Pope Alexander II died, the cardinals made up their minds to elect Hildebrand pope. With one voice they cried out: "Hildebrand is the elect of St. Peter!"
The saint wrote afterwards, "They carried me to the throne, and my protests did no good. Fear filled my heart and darkness was all around me." Hildebrand chose the name Gregory VII.
These were truly difficult times for the Catholic Church. Kings and emperors were meddling in Church matters. They named the men they wanted to be bishops, cardinals and even popes. Many of those chosen were bad examples to the people.
The first thing Pope St. Gregory did was to spend many days in prayer. He also asked others to pray for him. He knew that without prayer nothing can be done well for God.
Afterward, he began to act to make the clergy better. He removed all the bad and dishonest men in important positions who were destroying the faith of the Church. He also did what he could to keep the rulers out of the affairs of the Church. This was very difficult because the rulers were all against the change.
One ruler, Emperor Henry IV of Germany, caused Pope Gregory great sufferings. This young man was sinful and greedy for gold. He would not stop trying to run the affairs of the Church. He even sent his men to capture the pope. But the people of Rome rescued the saint from prison.
Then Henry IV chose his own pope. Of course, the man he chose was not the real pope. But Henry tried to make people think he was. Then, once again, the emperor sent his armies to capture Pope Gregory and the pope was forced to leave Rome.
He was taken safely to Salerno where he died in 1085. His last words were, "I have loved justice and hated evil. That is why I am dying in exile. Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) is known for his fantastic courage. He stood up for the cause of Jesus and his Church.