Mardis Gras, Fat Tuesday, Martedi Grasso—whatever you call it, the eve of the Catholic Lenten season is a final hurrah before a 40-day period of prayer and fasting. Pope Francis now spends the day in solemn preparation for Ash Wednesday services, but it wasn’t always this way for the hip pontiff.
A lot of famous people had surprising jobs before they reached the big time. Whoopi Goldberg was a morgue beautician; Kanye West was a Gap store clerk; John Hamm was a set designer in the porn industry. So it should come as no surprise that Pope Francis wasn’t always involved in holy work. Back when he was known as Jose Maria Bergoglio, he worked as a nightclub bouncer in Flores, Argentina, to earn money as a student.
“I was the world’s worst bouncer,” Francis told the congregation of San Cirillo Alessandrino in a Roman suburb shortly after his election in 2013. He cut a less-than-intimidating figure, according to several biographies written about him. The most intimate, Francesco: Life and Revolution, was written by Argentinian journalist Elisabetta Pique, who has known Bergoglio since he was elevated to cardinal in 2001, and who he called personally shortly after his election. Pique describes the man before he became pope as “el Flaco” or the thin one and later, “Carucha” or “baby face,” as his friends called him.