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Vatican II: 40 years later

The Second Vatican Council: A Timeline


Council events

Jan. 25: Pope John XXIII announces his intention of calling an ecumenical council

World events

  • Fidel Castro becomes premier of Cuba
  • Hawaii becomes the 50th state
  • Karl Barth publishes Dogmatics in Outline
  • Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, publishes The Phenomena of Man
  • Joan Miró does the murals for the UNESCO Building in Paris
  • Films include “Ben Hur” and “La Dolce Vita”
  • Died: Frank Lloyd Wright



June 5: Preparatory commissions and secretariats for the council set up by motu proprio, meaning under the pope’s personal authority


  • U.S. U-2 spy plane shot down over Russia
  • Belgian Congo granted full independence
  • John F. Kennedy elected president of the United States
  • Brasilia replaces Rio de Janeiro as capital of Brazil
  • Robert Bolt writes “A Man for All Seasons”
  • Three women admitted to the ministry of the Swedish Lutheran church
  • Picasso exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London
  • Films include “Psycho” and “The Apartment”
  • U.S. scientists develop laser device
  • U.S. submarine completes first underwater circumnavigation of the globe
  • American Heart Association issues a report attributing higher death rates among middle-aged men to heavy smoking of cigarettes
  • First weather satellite launched
  • Died: Albert Camus, Clark Gable, Emily Post



Dec. 25: The council is formally summoned by the apostolic constitution Humanae Salutis


  • President John F. Kennedy inaugurates the Peace Corps
  • U.N. General Assembly condemns apartheid
  • Unsuccessful invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs
  • Berlin Wall constructed
  • Dag Hammarskjöld killed in air crash
  • Adolf Eichmann found guilty
  • Graham Greene publishes A Burnt-out Case
  • Irving Stone publishes The Agony and the Ecstasy
  • Joseph Heller publishes Catch-22
  • Michael Ramsey appointed archbishop of Canterbury
  • Meeting of the World Council of Churches in Delhi
  • Films include “Jules et Jim” and “West Side Story”
  • Yuri Gagarin (U.S.S.R.) orbits the earth
  • Alan Shepard makes the first U.S. space flight
  • Freedom Riders are attacked and beaten in Anniston and Birmingham, Ala.
  • Died: Ernest Hemingway, Carl Jung



Sept. 5: Norms and procedures of the council settled by the apostolic constitution Appropinquante Concilio

Oct. 11-Dec. 8: First session of the council meets


  • Cuban missile crisis
  • Uganda and Tanganyika become independent
  • John Steinbeck publishes Travels with Charley and wins Nobel Prize for Literature
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn publishes A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • James Baldwin publishes Another Country
  • Films include “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Cleopatra”
  • Drs. F.H.C. Crick, M.H.F. Wilkins and J.D. Watson win Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for determining the molecular structure of DNA
  • Died: Marilyn Monroe



June 3: Pope John XXIII dies

June 21: Pope Paul VI elected; announces to continue the council

Sept. 29-Dec. 4: Second session of the council meets

Issued on Dec. 4: Sacrosanctum concilium, “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”; Inter Mirifica, “Decree On the Means of Social Communication”


  • Civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala., culminate in the arrest of Martin Luther King Jr. and the calling out of 3,000 troops by President Kennedy
  • 200,000 Freedom Marchers descend on Washington to protest discrimination
  • Nuclear test ban treaty signed by the United States, Soviet Union and Great Britain
  • Nov. 22: President John F. Kennedy assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas
  • Lyndon B. Johnson sworn in as president
  • Kenya becomes independent republic
  • Morris L. West publishes The Shoes of the Fisherman; Hannah Arendt publishes Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” exhibited in New York and Washington D.C.
  • Films include “The Cardinal,” “The Birds” and “Dr. Strangelove”
  • Russian Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first female astronaut
  • A hurricane and resulting tsunamis leave about 22,000 dead in East Pakistan
  • T.A. Mathews and A.R. Sandage discover quasars
  • Dr. Michael De Bakey first uses an artificial heart to take over the circulation of a patient’s heart during surgery
  • Died: Robert Frost



Jan. 4-6: Pope Paul VI meets Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in the Holy Land

May 17: Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions established

Sept. 14-Nov. 21: Third session of the council meets

Issued on Nov. 21: Lumen Gentium, “Dogmatic Constitution On the Church”; Orientalium Ecclesiarum, “Decree On the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite”; Unitatis Redintegratio, “Decree on Ecumenism”


  • 24th amendment to the Constitution ratified abolishing poll tax
  • Lyndon B. Johnson elected president of the United States
  • U.S. destroyer attacked off coast of North Vietnam; U.S. aircraft attack North Vietnam bases
  • Race riots break out in cities across the United States as reaction against enforcement of civil rights laws
  • U.N. Peace Force takes over in Cyprus
  • Martin Luther King Jr. wins the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Yasser Arafat takes over leadership of Al-Fatah movement
  • Martin Luther King Jr. publishes Why We Can’t Wait
  • Films include “Lord of the Flies,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Zorba the Greek” and “My Fair Lady”
  • “Fiddler on the Roof” plays in New York
  • James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters’ Union, found guilty of jury tampering, fraud and conspiracy
  • Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the longest suspension bridge, opens in New York
  • Died: Cole Porter



Sept. 14- Dec. 8: Fourth session of the council meets

Sept. 15: Pope Paul VI issues an apostolic constitution, Apostolica Sollicitudo, which formulates norms for a new episcopal synod established to assist the pope in governing the church

Issued Oct. 28: Christus Dominus, “Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church”; Perfectae Caritatis, “Decree On Renewal of Religious Life”; Optatam Totius, “Decree On Priestly Training”; Gravissimum Educationis, “Declaration On Christian Education”; Nostra Aetate, “Declaration On the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”

Issued Nov. 18: Dei Verbum, “Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation”; Apostolicam Actuositatem, “Decree On the Apostolate of the Laity”

Dec. 4: Prayer Service for Promoting Christian Unity held at St. Paul Outside the Walls

Dec. 7: Dignitatis Humanae, “Declaration On Religious Freedom”; Ad Gentes, “Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church”; Presbyterorum Ordinis, “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests”; Gaudium et Spes, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church In the Modern World”

Dec. 8: The Second Vatican Council is solemnly ended; extraordinary Jubilee Year proclaimed to familiarize the faithful with the teachings of the council


  • Pope Paul VI addresses U.N. assembly in New York
  • Malcolm X shot in New York
  • Outbreaks of racial violence in Selma, Ala.; Martin Luther King Jr. leads march of 4,000 people from Selma to Montgomery
  • Race riots in Watts district of Los Angeles, 35 dead, 4,000 arrests
  • Students demonstrate in Washington against U.S. bombing of North Vietnam
  • Medicare Bill becomes law
  • New U.S. immigration law classifies applicants by family condition, refugee status and skills, replacing 1921 law based on nationality
  • Ralph Nader publishes Unsafe at Any Speed
  • Herbet Marcuse publishes Culture and Society
  • Films include “Help,” “Dr. Zhivago” and “The Sound of Music”
  • Cyclones ravage East Pakistan, 12,00-20,000 die
  • Power blackout in eastern United States and parts of Canada
  • Died: Winston Churchill, T.S. Eliot, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich

Timeline compiled by Gary Macy, theology professor at the University of San Diego.

National Catholic Reporter, October 4, 2002