After St. Peter, Apostle, Bl. PIUS IX (1792-1878) was the longest-reigning pope in the history of the Church: June 16, 1846 until his death & feast day Feb 7, 1878. A period of nearly 32 years. Reverence toward this longevity is given by countless individuals each day without their knowledge. In St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City) stands an ancient statue of St. Peter which pilgrims venerate by kissing the foot out of respect for Peter’s Office. About 15 feet above is the monument and effigy of Pius IX, lengthiest office-holder.
While theologians make rhythmic reference to the pontiff in the Italian “Pio Nono”, he was born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, of 9 children in Senigallia, Italy, a city on the east shore of the boot, directly east of Florence. While conscientious to grow in learning and piety, he contracted epilepsy when he was young. This deterred later his acceptance to join the Papal Noble Guard, his soldier’s aspiration. With caution from superiors he studied theology at the Roman seminary, and during this period his epilepsy disappeared. The aspiring trooper was ordained in Rome on April 10, 1819.
Eight years later Pio Nono became a bishop and was raised to the pontificate in 1846. In 1854 the pope defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, meaning that Mary was conceived without Original Sin. He convened the First Vatican Council in 1869, which decreed papal infallibility. He was also the last pope to rule as sovereign of the Papal States, which fell completely to Italian nationalist armies by 1870 under ruler Victor Emmanuel. All church lands, with the exception of those in Rome and the local vicinity, were incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. The loss of the Papal States, the solemn defining of Papal Infallibility, and his Syllabus of Errors were some divisive issues of the pontificate.
The reign of Pio Nono was filled with enmities against the Church, particularly through the menacing strategies of several political and military leaders. Among the ongoing injustices initiated in great measure after the Concordat of Piedmont in 1841: education was secularized, monasteries were suppressed, congregations expelled, and church properties confiscated. Waves of anti-Catholic persecution included acts of violence and slaughter of priests and religious.
In the Revolution of 1848, Giuseppe Manzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi and others warring against the papacy attacked the Quirinal palace where Pius IX was residing. One of the pope’s secretaries Monsignor Palma was shot dead, yet the pontiff made his escape miraculously in disguise. On the eve of September 19, 1870, as Italian troops began their invasion into Rome, the pontiff ascends the Santa Scala on his knees to solemnize his passion. Within the Church of the Santa Scala are the “Holy Stairs” brought to Rome by St. Helen—the same stairs from Pilate’s praetorium which Jesus ascended at least twice.
At midnight July 12(13) 1881 the mortal remains of Pius IX were transferred quietly in a simply hearse flanked by coaches of clergy and guards to the basilica of St. Lawrence outside the Walls. Rome’s prefect recommended the late funeral to prevent any disorder on the part of papal enemies. When reaching Ponte San Angelo the caravan was attacked by 300-400 Freemasons, Garibaldians, and other ruffians who avowed to seize the pontiff’s body and cast it into the Tiber. The assailants were overcome yet the incident caused several wounded.
Many visitors to Rome have seen/touched the large statue of Pius IX in the confessional area beneath the main altar at the Church of Mary Major. The pope intended to be buried there, but after the invasion of Rome in 1870 decided to be interred among the poor of the Eternal City. While St. Peter served a likely 37 years; Pius IX 32 years; the next candidate for papal longevity after Pius IX was the pontiff who beatified him: St. John Paul II on September 3, 2000.
This recent Great pope attested: “He was much loved, but also hated and slandered.”