Leo was born of noble parents Count Louis Pecci and Anna Prosperi Pecci on March 2, 1810 in the family palace at Carpineto, Italy which was then in the Diocese of Anagni in the Papal States. Baptized Vincent Joachim Pecci, he was the youngest of four brothers and older than his two sisters. The Pecci family was one of the most respectable, well-known and oldest of the Siena nobility, tracing its origins for centuries.
When he was old enough, young Vincent entered the Jesuit-run Roman College which had just been rejuvenated with the long-persecuted Society of Jesus being restored to full accreditation. In December 1837 he was ordained to the priesthood and shortly thereafter, at the age of 27, was asked by Pope Gregory XVI to be his household prelate within the Vatican as well as Referendary of the Signatura. This was unprecedented at such a young age but the Holy Father saw in this future Pope a true priestly spirit with tremendous study talents. In fact, it was these abilities that helped Father Pecci play a pivotal role in preparing documents for the First Vatican Council held from 1869 to 1870 and still not officially closed.
Pecci was appointed Archbishop of Perugia in July 1846 by his predecessor Pope Pius IX who enjoyed one of the longest pontificates in the long history of the Popes. In Pius IX's Consistory of September 21, 1877 he received his red-hat and appointed cardinal camerlingo, taking up residence near Pius IX. He was so close to the Pontiff that Pius appointed Cardinal Pecci to handle his funeral arrangements when that time came. It came sooner than Pecci expected and, though he was one of the newer cardinals, he was so well respected that his fellow College of Cardinals chose him on the third and final ballot by more than two-thirds of the vote to lead Holy Mother Church. When the dean of the Sacred Conclave asked Cardinal Pecci if he would accept, the next Pope replied, "I am unworthy, but the conclave has spoken. I depend totally on God's help and submit entirely to His Will. Let it be so." He had no doubts as to what name he would take; he would be known henceforth as Pope Leo XIII in memory of Pope Leo XII who planted the seeds of a vocation in him back in the twenties. He also had a deep veneration for today's saint Pope Saint Leo the Great. White smoke billowed upward from the Vatican and the reign of another great Pope had begun.
The studious nature of this Pope would manifest itself throughout his reign as he issued more encyclicals and papal bulls than had been released over the previous two centuries. As we mentioned above, his most famous encyclical Rerum novarum, dealing with the working classes in respect to the communist manifesto, would become a landmark statement on the Church's universal stand against this evil peril. It was the same kind of vision and application another Pontiff who was elected exactly 100 years later - Pope John Paul II continued. The similiarities between John Paul II and Leo XIII are amazing. Both were elected in the year 78; both Popes exceptional scholars with the title "Teacher of the Nations;" both well-versed in many languages; both possessed a deep love and veneration for the Blessed Virgin Mary and were convinced of her intercession; both visionaries ahead of their time; and both came to office after a Vatican Council. Both took a sincere, heart-felt interest in America and both recognized and did something about the festering boil that would burst into full-blown atheistic communism. Leo XIII identified this growing malignancy before it took full form; one hundred years later John Paul II crushed it...especially in his beloved homeland of Poland where he grew up under a communistic regime. Both suffered through terrible conflicts - Leo with the war of the Papal States and John Paul with various wars thorughout the world on every continent with the worst being the war of abortion. Both had trouble with the French and German regimes in establishing the clergy without interference. Both emphasized the needs of the poor. In fact, Leo's words sound exactly like John Paul II's. Both issued a plethora of key encyclicals that have had an effect on society as a whole. Leo's were a forerunner for all the modern Popes which have been elevated to a higher level by John Paul's attention to all God's children in emphasizing human dignity and the Sanctity of Life.
Leo identified the Church's role in the world by stating that the Church is not only collectively, but individually identified with the masses. He emphasized the Scriptural message that all men are created equal, made in the image and likeness of God and destined for immortality. Yet there are differences and inequalities of condition, arising from mental, physical, material and psychological causes. He emphasized that no one should exploit or take advantage of those less fortunate and that social justice defines Christian principles in economic life as well. Sound familiar to what John Paul II has been promoting? Leo outlined the rights and duties of employer and employee while still emphasizing the dangers of socialism and communism. He introduced the concept of co-ops and the fruits of labor unions that were fair and loyal, providing benefits to maintain the Christian family life while still being equitable with the employer. Leo defined the role of the individual, the employer, employee, and the state. He even advocated that strikes were justifiable when God-given rights were violated or ignored, when lawful contracts were abused and when other abuses of a serious nature were invoked without a reasonable solution. The Solidarity movement in Poland was born out of this and promoted strongly by our present Vicar of Christ. While Leo XIII would come to be known as the "friend of the workingman," he was also fair to the employer and governments.
With Europe expanding to many foreign countries and often forcing their culture and economic standards on the natives, Leo became the champion of the people in turning to the missions to uphold the rights of the people being manipulated. He made the missions a priority, always taking a strong stand against slavery and sending missionaries to preach love and peace and educate the pagans on the principles of Jesus Christ. Through his inspiration, he was able to reorganize the Church in the Philippines with his encyclical Quae Mari Sinico in 1902. Under his guidance, the zeal for mission work spread throughout the world and fostered countless vocations. More religious orders were founded, preparing the priests and nuns for the massive job ahead of them in propagating the Faith to every nation.
Leo had inherited the problems of Pius IX who had ruled longer than any Pontiff in Church history save for Saint Peter himself. The once-proud Papal States had been reduced to a mere patrimony; persecution had intensified in Germany, Switzerland and Italy including the expulsion of many religious orders and the loyal German bishops; and, to make matters worse, there was a smear campaign against the Catholic press in Europe. Yet Leo mollified so many enemies of the Church just as John Paul II has done today. Leo was a peacemaker as well as a pioneer, reaching out to all nations. No Pope until Leo had given as much attention and concern to America as he did and, in turn, no Pope was more loved and respected by Americans and their bishops. It was Leo who convoked the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore with an emphasis on education with Cardinal James Gibbons presiding as Papal Legate. One of the mandates passed was that every parish would have a Catholic school. In addition, they drew up and promulgated the well-known and concise Baltimore Catechism which became the benchmark for Catholic teaching until it was shelved after the "spirit of Vatican II" succeeded in de-emphasizing it. Leo further opened communication with American Catholics by officially appointing an Apostolic Delegate to the United States for the first time ever.
Like John Paul II, Leo was blessed with interior visions and messages and was given a prophetic vision which has become so evident a century later. It has been related that one day late in his life, while in prayer in his papal chapel, Leo beheld a vision which made him shudder. He saw the devil and God, with satan lobbying for control. He asked God only for 100 years to do his nefarious task and God, in His infinite wisdom as we will only understand when we reach Heaven, allowed it. So shaken was the Holy Father that he was inspired by God to pen the powerful Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, mandating that it be said at the end of each Mass to protect us against the snares of the devil. Sadly, in these days when the evil one roams the earth in desperation as his days dwindle, the prayer has been abandoned by many...when we need it most!
Unlike his predecessor Pius IX who became virtually a recluse after the fall of the Papal States, Leo reached out through his encyclicals and papal bulls instilling a thirst for knowledge so teachers could help in seeking solutions for the problems of the day both in the Church and the world. He also promulgated documents and decrees on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, consecrating mankind to the Sacred Heart in 1899. He spread the importance of the Holy Rosary, conversion, and family togetherness in urging parents to dedicate their families to the Holy Family. He had a deep love and respect for Our Lady and illustrated this in all his writings in the same manner as our Polish Pontiff, who has dedicated his papacy to Mary, does today.
Leo XIII was able to see the dawn of the new century but he knew within his heart that he would not live to see any of the events he realized were inevitable. Leo died on July 20, 1903 in the midst of celebrating 25 years as Head of Holy Mother Church. A glorious era of Church renewal and respect had passed on with the passing of this beloved Pontiff and friend during his papal jubilee. But a new era would begin with the celebrated reign of his saintly successor Pope Saint Pius X.
Leo's regime was one of wisdom and love for all God's children. Volumes have been written on this wonderful, influential Supreme Pontiff but space does not permit us to include everything this holy Vicar of Christ accomplished and again we express regrets more voters didn't realize this for he truly deserves a much, much higher ranking. Suffice it to say, he prepared Holy Mother Church well for what lie ahead as satan set out on a 100-year quest to wrest souls from the loving embrace of Jesus and His Immaculate Mother Mary. Thanks to Leo XIII, the evil one's triumphs have not been as great as lucifer had assumed.
On July 30, 657 he was succeeded by Pope Saint Vitalian for the next 15 years. St. Vitalian sent Apostolic Nuncios to England, Spain and Gaul and was the first pontiff to regulate the liturgical use of the organ during religious ceremonies. It was through his missionary efforts that the Lombards converted to Christianity in 671. It was also during his reign that the antichrist first manifested himself in the person of the prophet Mohammed who was born in Mecca about 570 and over the next 60 plus years was able to stir up the throngs issuing in the rise of Islamism. This, as the Mother of God imparted to Father Don Stefano Gobbi on June 17, 1989 directly denies the mystery of the divine Trinity and the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. With its military might the terror of Islam slithered across land after land in the known world, devouring all the ancient Christian populations, threatening Europe as it seeped up through Spain and southern Italy. The Muslim calendar began in 622. This was the first warning of the Antichrist and the woe that would befall Christianity through theages including the Crusades when the bloodstained Islam flag would fly over the land where Jesus once walked. Because the Church was so wrapped up with other heresies and pagan conversions, little notice was paid to the intrusion of Islam until, a few centuries later, it was too late. The Christian Church was soon to be surrounded by heathens. To the North the Normans and Vikings, to the West the Saxons, to the South the Muslims, and to the East the Turks and Saracens. It was left to saintly men and women to convert as many as they could under the guidance of the Popes. St. Vitalian died on January 37, 672.
Pope Deusdedit II or Adeotatus followed him on April 11, 672. He continued the use of missionaries, especially with the conversion of the Maronites, a determined people of Armenian-Syrian origin. He was the first to use in his letters the salutation "Health and Apostolic Benediction." He died on June 17, 676.
Pope Donus succeed him on September 2, 676. He ended the schism in Ravenna and encouraged his bishops to support the new schools in Germanic Gaul and at Cambridge in Britain. He passed away two years later on April 2, 678.
The Sacred Conclave elected Pope Saint Agatho of Palermo on June 27, 678 who continued the strong relationship with the English Bishops. He also encouraged Ireland as a center of culture. Because of the many miracles he effected, he was known as the "Healing Pope." He organized the Sixth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 680 in which the Council censured Honorius and condemned Monothelitism. St. Agatho expired on January 10, 681.
The 80th successor of Peter was Pope Saint Leo II, elected on August 17, 682. He chose the name "Leo" in honor of the saint the Church celebrates today in the liturgy for November 10th - Pope Saint Leo the Great who ruled two centuries before Leo II. This Sicilian introduced the sprinkling of Holy Water on the people during liturgical functions. Also, in order to make the faithful more aware of the majesty of God, he celebrated the sacred functions with great pomp and circumstance. Unfortunately his pontificate lasted only a year for he died on August 3, 683.
He was succeeded by another saint Pope Saint Benedict II, a Roman who was elected on June 26, 684 after a year's vacancy due to the interference of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Fortunately Benedict was able to liberate the Church from this. He also restored the privilege of Sanctuary, which had been disrespected and neglected by the different fighting factions who had forced their way into churches in search of their enemies. St. Benedict II breathed his last breath on May 8, 685.
Pope John V was selected to succeed him on July 23, 685 but, like his predecessors, lived only a year passing away on August 2, 686. His election was due to interference by the Byzantine Court, yet he did restore order to the dioceses of Sardinia and Corsica. These were important for the Pope established the right to nominate bishops to these islands.
Another one-year Pope followed John in the person of Pope Conon from Thrase who was elected on October 21, 686 and died on September 21, 687. His brief papacy was troubled by anarchy within the Church and he is believed to have been poisoned by Byzantine sympathizers who had stolen into the Holy See as spies.
The final Sovereign Pontiff of the seventh century was Pope Saint Sergius I who was born in Antioch. He was chosen on December 15, 687 and strove to eliminate two antipopes and suppress the schism which had arisen in Rome. He also was successful in terminating Aquileia. It was St. Sergius who first introduced into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the Agnus Dei. He guided the Church into the eighth century, passing on to his Heavenly reward on September 8, 701 after a successful 14-year pontificate that desperately needed stability.
Death of Pope Celestine IV, 179th successor of Peter who had been elected on October 28, 1241. The cardinals had been unable to reach an agreement on his election so the Roman Senate closed them under lock and key in the ancient palace of the Settizonio on the Coelian Hill. From this episode the Church derives the term "conclave."
Death of King Pedro III, monarch of Aragon who had wrongly been excommunicated by French sympathizing Pope Martin V.
Death of Pope Paul III, 220th successor of Peter whose pontificate lasted just a week over 15 years. A great patron of culture and the arts, he nominated Michelangelo as architect for life of St. Peter's Basilica. In the climate created by the "Counter Reformation" he gave official approval to Saint Ignatius Loyola for the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and called the 19th Ecumenical Council - the landmark Council of Trent.
Death of Saint Andrew Avellino, 87-year old mystic and reformer who faced fierce harassment by those opposing reform within religious orders. He was a close friend of Saint Charles Borromeo and died in Naples on this date.