Gregory was probably the most influential Pope of his era, a humble man with a love for Jesus and a desire to bring out the best in others. He was a real encourager. He was born in Rome, the son of a Roman senator, and as a young man he entered the service of the state. It seemed that Gregory's career was mapped out before him, but in 573 he decided to enter full time Christian service. Selling all his possessions, Gregory was able to found six monasteries on Sicily and one in Rome, as well as make numerous donations to the poor. The following year he entered his community of Saint Andrew in Rome, not as Abbot but as a monk. Here he lived a very simple life.
It was Pope Benedict I who summoned him out of the monastery to become one of the seven deacons of Rome, a high honour indeed. Some time later Pelagius II made him an ambassador in Byzantium, modern day Istanbul, where he acted as a key link in keeping the Eastern and Western Churches together. Gregory served with distinction for six years before returning to Saint Andrews to become its Abbot. He was convinced that the future mission of the Christian Church lay in the monastic movement, and not in politics. One of his key aims as a monk was to lead a mission to the Angles for, according to legend, he once saw some Angle slaves in a market in Rome, whereupon he said: "these are not Angles but Angels".
Gregory's dream was never realised as he was elected Pope shortly afterwards. It was a time of great hardship in the Roman Empire: famine, flood, disease and the threat of invasion all needed urgent attention. He was certainly God's man for the task as he personally negotiated a peace with the looming invaders and set up local governors to manage the Church's estates throughout Italy and so maintained order, guiding the people through a difficult time. In spite of all this, he did not forget the Angles.
In 596 he personally chose Augustine to lead a group of thirty monks as missionaries to England, the land of the Angles. On the way the group became discouraged at the size of the task ahead of them and it was only a personal letter from Gregory that enabled them to continue. They landed at Ebbsfleet in Kent in 597. Augustine was not the most imaginative of men and often, what were minor problems, soon became huge stumbling blocks to him. Gregory wrote letter after letter to keep Augustine going: he even wrote to the King of Kent urging him to become a Christian because he thought Augustine may not be able to see him through. He even sent a second group of monks in 601 to help the initial mission party.
Although he never set foot in Britain himself, Gregory is rightly remembered as the "Apostle to the English", an encourager of others.