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Throwback Thursday: Historic papal election, itty bitty headline

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The front page of the July 30, 1846 edition of The Catholic Telegraph reported the election of Pope Pius IX. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Cincinnati Chancery Archives)
The front page of the July 30, 1846 edition of The Catholic Telegraph reported the election of Pope Pius IX. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Cincinnati Chancery Archives)

For this #ThrowbackThursday, we bring you the first announcement of a new pope in The Catholic Telegraph’s history. Pope Gregory XVI was elected in February of 1831, eight months before this newspaper’s first edition, making the conclave of 1846 the first to be covered in these pages.

On this date, June 16, 170 years ago, Cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai-Feretti was elected the 255th pope of the Catholic Church, taking the name Pius IX. The election of a new pontiff is always big news for the Catholic press, but owing to newspaper standards at the time, the July 30, 1846 edition of The Catholic Telegraph made no special design changes.

Several images from the July 30, 1846 edition are included with this post, including (above) a wide view of the front page. The reader can see, upon looking closely, the name of the new pope in the top left corner.

Pope Pius IX. (Public Domain, Library of Congress)
Pope Pius IX. (Public Domain, Library of Congress)

The text begins:

“‘Le Roi set mort! Vive le Roi! The King is dead! Long live the King!’ This phrase which is used to give expression to the instantaneous nature of the royal succession in hereditary monarchies, may almost be applied to the recent papal election. “The Pope is dead! Long live the Pope!” We have hardly begun to pray for the soul of the deceased Pontiff before another telegraph conveys the unlooked-for intelligence of the election of his successor. Suddenly, and by a kind of inspiration, the Conclave, putting aside all the formality of ambassadorial addresses, ballots, scrutinies, accesses, intrigues, vetoes, inclusives and exclusives has proclaimed a new Pope rather than elected one.”

It isn’t clear if the writer is referring symbolically to the speed of the conclaves (2 days) or if they were misinformed about the conclave, which was most certainly an election. Pope Pius IX was elected on the fourth ballot on the second day.

Pope Piux IX went on to become the longest-reigning elected pope in church history, with only St. Peter surpassing the length of his reign. Pope Pius IX reigned for 31 years, seven months and 23 days. Pope St. John Paul II was the next longest, serving more than 26 years.

The death of Pope Pius IX is announced in the Feb, 14, 1878 edition of The Catholic Telegraph. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Cincinnati Chancery Archives)
The death of Pope Pius IX is announced in the Feb, 14, 1878 edition of The Catholic Telegraph. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Cincinnati Chancery Archives)

By the time of his death in 1878, newspaper design had become a bit more dynamic. His death (Feb, 7, 1878) was reported in the Feb. 14 edition of The Catholic Telegraph with what, for the time, was a huge headline. (See image at right)

By comparison, click HERE to see the front page announcing Pope Francis’ election in 2013.

Pius IX reigned over some of the most crucial events in church history.

He convened the First Vatican Council, which acknowledged the doctrine of papal infallibility. Further he defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was also the last pope to rule as sovereign of the papal states.

Pope Pius IX was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 2000.

Welcome to The Catholic Telegraph’s edition of Throwback Thursday. Throwback Thursday is a weekly online feature wherein users of social media share an old photo or anecdote about times gone by. We use Throwback Thursday to highlight the history of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and our publication.

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