Pope Leo XIII – Biography & Facts

Pope Leo XIII

Leo XIII was the 256th man to serve as the leader of the Catholic Church and the 13th to assume the papal name of Leo. He was also the oldest living Pope aged 91.

This article intends to highlight his complete history in order to make it easier to recall and study.

Here you will find summaries of various points in his life, lasting and notable elements of his time with the church and as the Pope, some statistics and a handful of interesting facts.

Pope Leo XIII was one of the more famous popes in modern history. He is remembered for his efforts to reconcile Catholic Church teaching with modern ideas as well as for his intellectualism.

In a famous 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum document, the pope outlined ideas for workers’ rights that included safe working conditions, fair wages, and trade union formation all the while reaffirming the rights that included free enterprise economics and property rights. He walked the middle ground by being opposed to both unbridled free market capitalism and socialism.

Pope Leo XIII also heavily promoted the use of the rosary and scapular.

Early Life and Schooling.

Vincenzo Pecci was born the sixth of Count Ludovico Pecci and Anna Buzzi’s seven sons. Vincenzo stayed with his family until 1818 when both he and Giuseppe, his brother, went to be educated in the Jesuit College of Viterbo. Vincenzo stayed at the institution for six years, gaining enough appreciation for the Latin language that he would write poetry.

1824 saw Vincenzo and Giuseppe recalled to Rome to visit their dying mother. Count Pecci wished for his sons to be close to him as he mourned, leaving Vincenzo and Giuseppe to continue their education at the Jesuit Collegium Romanum.

Once Vincenzo reached the age of 18, he decided to pursue secular clergy, diverging from his brother’s path as a Jesuit monk. Vincenzo enrolled into the Academia dei Nobili in order to focus on diplomacy and law. Six years later, he gave a presentation on papal judgments, with several cardinals in attendance. This presentation earned him several awards and the notice of the Vatican.

As Rome was dealing with an outbreak of cholera, Vincenzo helped Cardinal Sala manage the city’s many hospitals. Vincenzo would receive his doctorates in theology, civil law and Canon Law in 1836.

Career with the Church.

Pope Gregory XVI made Vincenzo his personal prelate on Valentine’s Day, 1837; he would not become an ordained priest until the end of that year. His first mass was celebrated alongside Giuseppe. Some time later, the pope appointed Vincenzo Legate of Benevento, a papal province comprising some 20,000 people.

During his tenure as legate, Vincenzo saw to the arrests of corrupt aristocrats to restore order. He also reformed local taxes to bolster trade with Benevento’s neighboring provinces and revitalize its decrepit economy. As reward for his efforts, Vincenzo was relocated to larger provinces like Spoleto and Perugia.

This was the official photograph of Pope Leo XIII in 1898.

In 1843, Vincenzo was appointed Belgium’s Apostolic Nuncio. April 27th of that year would see the pope promote him to Archbishop. A year later, a Belgian College was opened within Rome; Vincenzo would spend some time mediating in the emerging debate between Catholics and Liberals.

Vincenzo wished for the Catholics to succeed but also wanted to win opinion of King Leopold I and queen Louise, both nobles with staunchly Liberal viewpoints. In time, Vincenzo united Catholics and Leopold I gave him the title of Grand Cordon within the Order of Leopold.

During his time as archbishop, Vincenzo did his best to improve the quality of life within his dioceses.

  • He created homeless shelters for children and the elderly.
  • Established branches of the Monte di Pietà bank.
  • Created Capuchin-run soup kitchens.

December 19th, 1853 would see him rise to the ran of Cardinal. Due to rampant earthquakes and flooding, “Archbishop Pecci” donated all of the festivities from his ceremony to the victims.

This also served as the moment that public interest between the Papal States and Italian nationalism spiked, seeking to demolish the Papal States in favor of a united Italy. Pecci was loyal to the church and reasonably protested against the Italians. When the Italian state overtook Catholic schools, Pecci responded by added secular topics to the curriculum and opening seminaries to non-theologians.

Highlights of Pope Leo XIII Papacy

When Pecci was elected to be pope by the College of Cardinals, he took the name of Pope Leo XIII. His papacy was most notable for the tireless efforts Leo made to bridge the gap between the thinking of the modern world and the Catholic Church. This included his reassertion that religion and science could exist in harmony.

An illustration of Leo XIII’s papal coronation. c. 1900

Pope Leo XIII insisted on churchmen studying Thomas Aquinas and also decided to make the Vatican’s Secret Archives available to qualified researchers. Leo also re-founded the Vatican’s Observatory as part of his devoted efforts to bring Catholic Church thinking into the 20th century.

Among his other notable achievements, Pope Leo XIII maintained foreign relations with countries including Russia, Germany, France, Italy, the United States, Great Britain, and Brazil and positively engaged the long-estranged Eastern Orthodox Churches in a number of their core countries. Perhaps most importantly, Pope Leo XIII restored stability to a church that had been rocked by the chaotic years under his predecessor Pope Pius IX.

Papal Legacy.

  • He re-founded the Vatican Observatory.

  • He improved relations between the Church and the major powers of Europe.

  • Saw to the revival of Thomist theology within the church.

  • He pushed for the acceptance of Marian devotion, a belief that the Virgin Mary serves as a mediator and co-redeemer for Jesus Christ.

  • Seeing how the Papal States were demolished, he brought the Church in touch with the average person.

List of Events In The Life of Pope Leo XIII (Vincenzo Pecci)

DateAgeEventTitle
2 Mar 1810Born
31 Dec 183727.8Ordained PriestPriest
27 Jan 184332.9AppointedTitular Archbishop of Tamiathis
28 Jan 184332.9AppointedApostolic Nuncio to Belgium
19 Feb 184332.9Ordained BishopTitular Archbishop of Tamiathis
19 Jan 184635.8AppointedArchbishop (Personal Title) of Perugia, Italy
27 Jul 184636.4InstalledBishop of Perugia, Italy
19 Dec 185343.7Elevated to Cardinal
22 Dec 185343.8AppointedCardinal-Priest of San Crisogono
21 Sep 187767.5AppointedChamberlain (Camerlengo) of the Apostolic Chamber
20 Feb 187867.9ElectedPope (Roma, Italy)
3 Mar 187868.0InstalledPope (Roma, Italy)
27 Feb 188069.9ResignedBishop of Perugia, Italy
20 Jul 190393.3DiedPope (Roma, Italy)

Pope Leo XIII Coat of Arms

Quick Facts About Pope Leo XIII.

  • He was born on March 2nd, 1810.

  • His full personal name used prior to becoming pope was Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci.

  • He died, at the age of 90, on July 20th, 1903. Like several other popes, he died within Rome’s Apostolic Palace. Pope Leo XIII died while in the Apostolic Palace of Rome (in the Kingdom of Italy) of extreme old age at 93. The priest from the Archdiocese of Boston, Charles Finn, conducted the funeral. Pope Leo XIII was only briefly laid to rest in St. Peter’s Basilica as they moved him in 1924 to the cathedral church he had served in while Bishop of Rome— the ancient Basilica of Saint John Lateran that he had loved.

  • Considering he lived to the age of 91, making him the longest-living pope in recorded history, it is believed that he naturally lost his life from the complications of old age.

  • His papacy started on February 20, 1878.

  • His papacy concluded with his death on July 20th, 1903.

  • The papacy of Leo XIII was succeeded by Pope Pius X.

Six Interesting Facts About Pope Leo XIII.

  1. Pope Leo XIII’s papacy was the last to start in the 19th Century. Amusingly, the previous Pope Leo’s papacy was the first of the 19th Century.

  2. While many popes were Italian, it could be argued that Leo XIII was French. Napoleon I’s French Empire controlled several parts of Italy, including Leo XIII’s hometown of Carpineto Romano.

  3. As a consequence of French imperialism, he was the first pope to have never governed the Papal States.

  4. He was the first pope to have his appearance filmed and his voice recorded. He even blessed the camera as it recorded his likeness.

  5. He earned the nickname of “Rosary Pope” for adding 11 papal encyclicals to the rosary.

  6. He was fond of Vin Tonique Mariani, a wine made from Bourdeaux wine and coca leaves, and even appeared in an advertisement for it. Coca leaves are what cocaine comes from.

  7. Leo XIII attributed his long life to eating less meat and more eggs, milk and vegetables.

  8. His motto was Lumen in coelo (Light in Heaven).

See the full list of Popes