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The Fall of Napoleon and Its Aftermath

In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor of France. Although he invited Pope Pius VII to crown him in Paris, he was discourteous to the Pope. During the coronation, he took the crown from the pope’s hand after it was blessed and placed it on his head, signifying that he did not need God but only the will of the people to sanction his emperorship.

The ambitious Napoleon invaded Rome a few years later and incorporated the Papal States of Ancona, Macerata, Fermo, and Urbino into the Kingdom of Italy and annexed the rest of the Papal States into the French Empire. In 1809, when the pope excommunicated him on account of this, Napoleon brought the pope to France, where he stayed five years in prison. Recalling how Mary brought victory for the Christians at the Battle of Lepanto, the pope sent out a message to the bishops of the world to pray to Mary, Help of Christians, for assistance. At this time, the French army was very powerful and had already succeeded in defeating Austria, Prussia, and Portugal. But the Virgin Mary did send help! Although Napoleon also defeated Spain, the French army was severely weakened during its fight against the Spaniards and suffered even greater losses against Russia on the snowy Russian battlefields. The nations of Europe allied against France and defeated the French troops in 1814. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba but managed to escape and reorganize his troops in France. However, his power and ambition came to an end in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium. There he was captured and later sent to St. Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died.


Battle of Waterloo

A painting by William Sadler (1782-1839)

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When Pope Pius VII returned to Rome in 1814, he proclaimed the feast of Mary, Help of Christians, in thanksgiving for Mary’s intercession in bringing about the downfall of Napoleon. Louis XVIII (1814–1824) was subsequently restored to the throne of France, and the Papal States were given back to the pope.

For several decades, there was a friendly relationship between the Kingdom of Italy and the Popes. But in 1870, the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel, and his general laid siege to Rome. To avoid further bloodshed, Pope Bl. Pius IX surrendered the city. Victor Emmanuel took possession of all the Papal States, leaving the pope nothing but St. Peter’s Basilica and his residence, the Vatican Palace. Since then, the pope and his successors have become “prisoners” in the Vatican. It was only in 1929 that a peace treaty called the Lateran Treaty was signed between the Italian government and Pope Pius XI. The treaty recognized Vatican City as an independent state under the sovereignty of the Holy See.

Progress of the Church in Europe

In France: Following the fall of Napoleon, during the reign of King Louis XVIII, Catholicism became the state religion. But it was largely through the preaching of the Dominican priest, Fr. Henri-Dominique Lacordaire (1802–1861), that Catholic fervor was restored in France after the revolution. During this time, Fr. John Vianney (1786–1859), also known as the Curé d’Ars, labored as a parish priest in the undesirable village of Ars. Although he was not canonized until 1925, his sanctity and dedication to his ministry were felt during his lifetime and for the rest of the nineteenth century and beyond. He is now honored as the patron saint of parish priests.  On December 8, 1854, Pope Bl. Pius IX (1792–1878) defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, a solemn teaching that God confirmed through the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to a French peasant girl, St. Bernadette Soubirous (1844–1879), in 1858. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, France was also graced with the extraordinary life of a virtually unknown Carmelite young nun, St. Therese of Lisieux (1873–1897), now venerated both as a saint and Doctor of the Church. It was also during this time that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared and requested St. Catherine Labouré (1806–1876) to make the Miraculous Medal of Our Lady of Graces, now worn by millions worldwide.

In Italy: While the world witnessed the flowering of saints in nineteenth-century France, Italy could also boast of the outstanding work of St. John Bosco (1815–1888), founder of the Salesians and patron of Catholic youth. But from the standpoint of Church history, the most significant event of the nineteenth century was the calling of the First Vatican Council (1869–1870) by Pope Bl. Pius IX. Besides clarifying the relationship between reason, faith, and revelation, this council also defined the infallibility of the pope and the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff and his successors. Besides calling Vatican I and defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Bl. Pius IX also issued a Syllabus of Errors, which condemned 80 propositions inimical to the Faith. The publication of the syllabus checked the advance of modernism, which was threatening the Faith in the modern world. Another important event in the nineteenth century, but of a more political nature, was—as stated above—the ending of the Papal States and the confinement of the pope to the Vatican Palace in 1870.


Pope Bl. Pius IX

A painting by George Peter Alexander Healy (1813-1894)

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Pope Bl. Pius IX was succeeded by the learned Pope Leo XIII, the last Pope of the nineteenth century and one of the greatest Popes of the Catholic Church! When the Industrial Revolution began, he wrote the encyclical Rerum novarum to address the changing needs of workers and the social problems engendered by industrialization. He also called on the clergy to return to the study of St. Thomas Aquinas (Aeterni patris), and to encourage the scientific study of Holy Scriptures (Providentissimus Deus). He wrote encyclicals to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Annum Sacrum), and to encourage the recitation of the Holy Rosary (See his 12 Encyclicals on the Rosary).

In Germany: The Catholic revival against Josephinism began through the work of the Redemptorist priest, St. Clement Mary Hofbauer (1751–1820), who is now honored as the Apostle of Vienna. He was followed in this cause by Prof. Joseph von Gorres (1776–1848), who wrote a book called Athanasius against the government. Bishop Wilhelm Emanuel von Ketteler (1811–1877), a great preacher and writer, successfully defended von Gorres’ views and became the leader of Christian social reform in Germany. But when Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) became the Chancellor of Prussia in 1871, he again regarded the church merely as a branch of the State. He began a persecution of the Church, known in history as Kulturkampf (or struggle for culture), by passing laws directed against Catholic bishops and priests. These anti-Catholic laws, known as the “May Laws,” put all seminaries under the supervision of the State and prohibited anyone from becoming a priest who did not study in a German school. The May Laws caused conflicts and divisions among the German people and served only to weaken Bismarck’s power. Thus, by 1886, most of the May Laws had been repealed.

In Spain: Although the freemasons and the liberals during the nineteenth century were actively combating the Church in the fields of education, marriage, etc., their efforts were effectively halted in Spain when King Alphonsus XII (1875–1885), also known as the Peacemaker, declared Catholicism as the state religion.

In Portugal: Although Catholicism was the predominant religion, anti-clericalism became very strong in the country. Religious orders were banned, education was secularized, and the Church was persecuted for most of the nineteenth century.

In Belgium: After the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Congress of Vienna assigned Belgium, a predominantly Catholic country, to the Netherlands, which was overwhelmingly Protestant. This did not sit well with the Catholics in Belgium. In a revolution that broke out in 1830, Belgium gained its independence from the Netherlands, and, in 1839, the great powers of the world recognized Belgium as a neutral state. This means that they agreed never to attack or make war with Belgium. However, the liberals and freemasons who took control of the new Belgian government persecuted the Church by imposing taxes on parents who wanted their children to have religious education. In 1884, more conservative Catholics gained ascendancy in the government, which then revised the Constitution to be more favorable to the Church. In 1893, Belgium adopted universal manhood suffrage, which gave voting rights to all adult males regardless of income, religion, race, etc.

In the Netherlands: Protestants comprised much of the population of the Netherlands, especially in the north. Thus, anti-Catholic discrimination and persecution of the church continued during the first half of the nineteenth century. However, the Constitutional Reform of 1848 gave Catholics more favorable treatment, which allowed Pope Bl. Pius IX to reorganize the Catholic Hierarchy in the Netherlands in 1853. Since then, Catholics have enjoyed more freedom and full civil and religious rights in the country.

In the United Kingdom: Although Ireland was united to England in 1801, an Irish Catholic could only become a member of the Parliament by taking an oath denying the Eucharist, veneration of the saints, etc. This changed when Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847), a great statesman and orator, fought for equal rights for Catholics in Ireland and England. Fearing that a revolution would break out in Ireland if Catholics continued to be forced to sign the anti-Catholic oath, King George IV of the U.K. signed the Act of Catholic Emancipation, which allowed Catholics to sit in Parliament without taking the anti-Catholic oath. Catholics were also now allowed to worship publicly in England, a practice that had been banned in England since the time of King Henry VIII. In 1850, Pope Bl. Pius IX re-established the Catholic Hierarchy in England and made Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman (1802–1865) the first Archbishop of Westminster. When the famine broke out in Ireland in 1846, many Irish residents moved to England for relief. Edified by the piety of the Irish Catholics, many English members of the Anglican Church converted back to Catholicism. One such convert was St. John Henry Newman (1801–1890), whom Pope Leo XIII elevated to the rank of a cardinal in 1879. Cardinal St. Newman was an excellent writer. He will be remembered for his thoughts on The Idea of a University and his autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua. Notwithstanding the progress that the Church was making in nineteenth-century England, another pernicious error was brewing at the heart of England, occasioned by the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the exploitation of labor by capitalists and the ruling elite. In 1847, the German philosopher Karl Marx (1818–1883), together with Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), published their Communist Manifesto in London, which called for the abolition of private property and the overthrow of the ruling elite by the proletariat or the working class. Although the revolutions encouraged by the Communist Manifesto did not occur until the twentieth century, it was also to counter the rise of socialism and communism that Pope Leo XIII wrote his encyclical, Rerum novarum, in 1891.

Progress of the Church in America

In the United States: Catholic life flourished as a result of the new religious freedom gained after the Great American Revolution. The number of Catholics increased owing to the influx of Catholic immigrants from various countries, especially Ireland. In 1809, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774–1821) founded the Sisters of Charity at Emmitsburg, Maryland. The Holy See made Baltimore, Maryland, an archdiocese. In subsequent Provincial Councils held in Baltimore, new dioceses were erected. Several religious orders and communities helped to establish a considerable number of schools. In 1846, the Fathers of the Sixth Provincial Council declared “the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived without sin” to be the Patroness of the Catholic Church in the United States. Note that the declaration of the U.S. bishops antedated the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception made in 1854.


St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Painter Unknown

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St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Painter Unknown

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The rapid increase in the number of Catholics in the United States caused the jealousy of Protestants and non-believers. However, this did not stop the growth of Catholicism in the country. More bishoprics were established, and, in 1875, Pope Bl. Pius IX made Archbishop McCloskey of New York the first American cardinal. Various religious orders engaged themselves not only in the work of education but also in the work of charity. In 1884, Pope Leo XIII also made another cardinal, the Rev. James Gibbons of Baltimore, who presided over the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore. This council called for harmonious cooperation between Church and State and the erection of parochial schools. With the encouragement of Pope Leo XIII, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850–1917) immigrated to the United States from Italy to establish many schools, hospitals, and orphanages. She became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized.

In Canada: The first French settlers remained faithful to their religion. But in the nineteenth century, British immigrants also brought with them Anglican and other Protestant religions to the country.

In Mexico: Catholicism flourished from the time the first Franciscan missionaries brought the Faith to the Aztecs in the country. In 1824, Mexico became a republic, but Freemasons controlled the government and persecuted the Church. They passed laws that allowed the State to confiscate church properties and close Catholic schools. Following a series of revolutions and civil wars, a constitution was enacted in 1857 declaring a more peaceful separation of Church and State, but some anticlerical articles remained in the constitution.

In Central and South America: In the nineteenth century, most of the population in the various states of Central and South America was Catholic, thanks to the work of Spanish and Portuguese missionaries. But, like Mexico, the various countries on this big continent began making wars of independence against their colonizers: Spain and Portugal. Unfortunately, the leaders of the revolution were men who were also greatly opposed to the Church. Thus, after winning their independence, persecution of the Church followed. Except Brazil. When Brazil became an independent republic in 1889, freedom of religion was guaranteed with the separation of Church and State.

The Progress of the Church in Australia

Although Australia was known to the world even at the time of Ptolemy, it remained unexplored by European explorers until the 17th century. It became a British penal colony in the late eighteenth century when the British government started transporting convicts (men and women) to the land. The first Catholics on the continent were, therefore, Irish prisoners and convicts brought by a British fleet in 1788. In the nineteenth century, other immigrants also came to the new colony, and with them were priests and missionaries who served the spiritual needs of the growing Christian population. The first Catholic church was the Chapel of St. Mary’s in Sydney, Australia. It was founded in 1821 by a pioneer Irish priest, Fr. John Joseph Therry (1790–1864). Other priests who followed became bishops and archbishops in the country, and, in 1835, the church of St. Mary’s became a cathedral. In 1838, a British priest and descendant of St. Thomas More—William Bernard Ullathorne (1806–1889)—published a book, Horrors of Transportation Briefly Unfolded to the People, which influenced the cessation in 1857 of the British system of transporting convicts to Australia. However, Catholicism in the country continued to flourish with the establishment of more schools. In 1885, the Irish Archbishop Patrick Francis Moran (1830–1911) was appointed cardinal and was the first cardinal from Australia.

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