Illustrated Catholic Family Annual – Our Holy Father, Leo XIII

Our Holy Father, Leo XIIIArticle

In the heart of Italy, surrounded by reminders of ancient glory, Carpineto, perched on the Volscian Mountains, has been the dwelling-place of the family of our Holy Father since before the time of Home itself. In this pretty town Gioacchino Pecci was born on 2d March 1810; Pius VII being then in captivity. His childhood was spent in a home not less pious and happy than noble and refined. Sweetness of temper, readiness to oblige, and withal a quiet and serious behavior, marked his early as his later life. When old enough he was sent to the Roman College conducted by the Jesuits, who had recently been brought back to Rome and the world, to the joy of all sincere Catholics. He made his final studies in the Academy of Nobles, where those of high birth are prepared for the ecclesiastical state. The Church in bestowing its dignities recognizes no aristocracy but that of virtue and ability, yet she is too just not to make provision for the rich and the noble as well as for the poor and the obscure; while she has been glorified by thousands who have risen to her highest honors from abject poverty, she has ever welcomed the genius inherited from a long line of distinguished ancestors when it has come accompanied by worth and good intentions. The young nobleman from the first had given proofs of his piety and talents. His taste and aptitude for learning, in spite of his modesty, made him known to Gregory XVI, always ready to detect genuine merit. As soon as he was ordained he was appointed a domestic prelate. It was not long before a task was given Monsignor Pecci that had been too much for older and more experienced men. Bencvento, though in the midst of the kingdom of Naples, had for centuries been an appanage of the Holy See. Independent of Naples, to which it naturally belonged, and far from Rome, to which it was nominally subject, its people, noble and common, had been used to laugh at the authority of the delegates set over them by the mild and easy Roman government. For years it had been given over to smuggling and brigandage, and on these many of its proudest families subsisted. The learned and courtly young Monsignor Pecci was kindly received by these brigand nobles, who brought him an honored guest to their castles. They were really glad of his coming, for they had been used to see in their delegate men who, while helpless in the presence of flagrant crime, yet rendered themselves hateful by a parade of empty severity. Here was a civil and pleasant faced scholar who would bury hhnself in his books and let every one attend to his own welfare. Suddenly, without the customary warning from their Roman friends, the brigands were attacked in all their fastnesses on the same day. This was without precedent, and expostulations arose even in the Vatican; but in vain. The Pope stood by his delegate, and brigandage and smuggling were stamped out in Benevento. Rome and Naples together thanked Mousignor Pecci for his achievement. From mountainous Benevento he was sent as delegate to Perugia in lovely Umbria. In this country of blue skies, yellow hills, anil dark-leaved olive-trees he spent some time pleasantly enough. But he was needed elsewhere, and, having been made Archbishop of Damietta in part., he went as nuncio to the court of Brussels. Here his skill, as well as his agreeable manners, endeared him to King Leopold, who parted from him with regret, and, it is said, recommended him for the cardinal’s hat. In 1841) Archbishop Pecci was appointed to the See of Perugia, and he was warmly hailed by its citizens, who had not forgotten him. Though strongly sympathizing with the yearnings of his countrymen, he did not countenance the radical desires of the atheists; these sought to pervert a lawful fondness for the beautiful land into a blind passion that would lead it to ruin. As Filicaja had said of Italy long before:

“O would thou wert less comely or at least more strong,
That they might fear thee more or love thee less
Who seem to perish, happy, in thy beauty’s rays,
And yet bring death upon thee!”

By his firm and dignified attitude in the face of all the troubles that came to Umbria during his residence there Archbishop Pecci showed that religion is the best promoter of patriotism, and that in becoming a priest lie did not cease to take pride in the glory of his country. He was made a cardinal December lit, 1853. When the Italian gov ernment took possession of Umbria he counselled his flock to peace, and kept on in the work of his diocese undisturbed by the political troubles around him. At the death of Cardinal De Augelis, in July. 1877, Cardinal Pecci was made Camarlingo, or Chamberlain. Appointment to this office has generally been thought to work as a practical exclusion of a cardinal from all chance of succeeding to the Papacy, and history furnishes grounds for this belief. But when Pius IX died, amid universal mourning, Providence evidently designed him for Pope. Mr. O’Byrne, in his Lives of the Cardinals, says of His Holiness: “Possessing unmistakable literary talent, lie never became a litterateur. The turmoil of his time left him little opportunity for lite rary pursuits. An elegant Latin poet, his imaginative power found expression in Latin hymns – models of purity and elo quence and of exalted feeling. His classic compositions in Latin and Italian will by and by find a place in the literary history of the conflict between faith and unbelief – between Church and State in Italy. No more cogent piece of reason ing will bo found in modern Catholic literature than his reply to Kenan’s daring impeachment of the divinity of the Saviour, and our time has not seen an abler statement of the mission of the Church in the world than his now famous pastoral on the ‘Church and Civilization.'” He was elected 20 February 1878, and crowned Pope on 3 March. In making himself the thirteenth Leo, Cardinal Pecci chose a name suggestive of piety, learning, and statesmanship.

MLA Citation

  • “Our Holy Father, Leo XIII”. Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 January 2017. Web. 16 June 2021. <>