Feast Day : February 7
Also known as: Pio Nono
Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti was born at Sinigaglia on May 13, 1792, the ninth child of a minor count. He received a classical education and went to Rome to study philosophy and theology, but political unrest caused him to leave in 1810. He returned to Rome four years later and applied for admission to the pope’s Noble Guard, but was refused because he had epilepsy. Instead, he entered the Roman Seminary to study theology. By 1819 he was no longer having fits and was ordained a priest on the condition that another priest always be present when he said Mass. Father Mastai-Ferretti was appointed spiritual director of the Roman orphanage popularly known as “Tata Giovanni” by Pope Pius VII (r. 1800–23). The same pope sent him as auditor of the Apostolic Delegation to Chile in 1823. Upon his return, Pope Leo XII (r. 1823–29) made him canon of the Church of Santa Maria in Via Lata and director of the large hospital of San Michele. In 1827, Leo XII appointed him archbishop of Spoleto. In that role in 1831 he put his diplomatic skills to work in negotiations between Italian revolutionaries and the Austrian army, bringing a peaceful end to the conflict. The following year he was transferred to the more important diocese of Imola, and in 1840 created a cardinal priest with the titular Church of Santi Pietro e Marcellino. Meanwhile, his continued friendship with some of the revolutionaries earned him the reputation of being a political liberal, liberals being those who favored some relaxation of rule in the Italian Papal States. When Pope Gregory XVI (r. 1831–46) died at the end of May 1846, the cardinals who met to decide on a successor were divided into liberal and conservative factions. Mastai-Ferretti, the liberal candidate, won on the fourth ballot on June 16, 1846, Cardinal Archbishop Gaysruck of Milan arriving too late to make use of the right of exclusion against Mastai-Ferretti’s election, given him by the Austrian government. The new pope took the name Pius IX, in memory of Pope Pius VII, his former benefactor. His coronation was held at St. Peter’s Basilica on June 21. Pius IX at once started to live up to his liberal reputation. He issued an amnesty for political prisoners and made numerous reforms in the Papal States. However, the more concessions he made, the more that were demanded. On February 8, 1848, a street riot in Rome forced him to concede to a lay ministry in the Papal States and in March he reluctantly granted a constitution— the first step to a unified and independent Italy. However, when he refused to join in war against Catholic Austria, he quickly lost popularity. The riots continued; his prime minister, Rossi, was stabbed to death; and in November, Pius himself had to flee Rome in disguise. He appealed for help from France, Austria, Spain and still-independent Naples, and in April 1850, French troops made it possible for him to return to Rome. However, his troubles were not over. Papal forces lost control of most of the Papal States in 1860, and in 1870, when the French pulled out of Rome, that too fell. Pius found himself confined to the Vatican, his temporal empire lost. He refused to accept the situation, and relations between the Vatican and the new Italian state were to remain strained until 1929. Pius’s experience with political liberalism turned him into a thoroughgoing conservative, in both the temporal and spiritual spheres. He had long held a personal devotion to the Virgin Mary, and in December 1854, he declared it a dogma of the Church that Mary was conceived without original sin—the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In 1864, he issued an encyclical and a syllabus of 80 errors, which took the strongest possible stand against modernism. The Syllabus of Errors opposed not only pantheism, naturalism, rationalism, socialism, communism, freemasonry and various kinds of religious liberalism, it also pronounced against the separation of church and state and freedom of speech. Its final point rejected the idea that the pope “can and should reconcile himself with progress, liberalism, and recent civilization.” Perhaps the greatest event of his reign, however, was the First Vatican Council, convened in June 1869. The council was forced to adjourn the following summer due to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, but not before it had proclaimed the dogma of papal infallibility—the idea that the pope when speaking ex cathedra can make no mistake in matters of faith and morals. This proclamation prompted many dissenters to leave the Church and brought about a schism that lasted until the liberalizing decisions of the Second Vatican Council almost a century later. Pius’s conservatism showed up also in his kidnapping of a six-year-old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, in 1858. The Mortara family lived in Bologna, in the Papal States, which at the time were still under the Vatican’s jurisdiction. Word came that a 15-yearold Catholic housemaid had baptized Edgardo when he was seriously ill and seemed near death. Under Church law, baptism converted one to Christianity, and a Christian child should be raised in a Christian home. Thus, Vatican police stormed the house and grabbed the boy from his father’s arms. Although the action was not unprecedented, it met with international outrage. The New York Times ran 20 articles on it in one month. However, Pius formally adopted Edgardo, who grew up in the Vatican and eventually became a priest, lecturing on the miracle of conversion to Christianity. The kidnapping became a major issue in 2000, as the Vatican prepared to beatify Pius. Pius died on February 7, 1878, at the age of 86, after a reign of 33 years. Italian liberals tried to throw his body into the Tiber River, but it was saved and interred instead in the Church of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, now named after him. When his tomb was opened in 2000 to verify his remains in the Rite of Recognition, an important step in the process of beatification, his body was found to be almost perfectly preserved. Pius’s cultus today is largely confined to the Vatican and certain conservative bishops there. Nevertheless, he was put forward as an 11th-hour substitute for his even more controversial successor, Pope Pius XII (r. 1939–58)—who came under fire for not having done enough to oppose the Holocaust—and was beatified along with the much-beloved liberal, Pope John XXIII (r. 1958–63).