Xavier de Mérode
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The son of Count Félix de Mérode-Westerloo who held successively the portfolios of foreign affairs, war, and finances under Leopold I of Belgium, and of Rosalie de Grammont, he was allied through the House of Mérode to the aristocracy of France. Losing his mother at the age of three, Xavier was brought up at Villersexel, in Franche-Comté, by his aunt Philippine de Grammont, second wife of his father.
He attended for a time the Jesuit High School of Namur, then entered the Collège de Juilly presided over by de Salinis, whence he passed (1839) to the Military Academy of Brussels. Graduating with the rank of second lieutenant, after a short service at the armoury of Liège, he joined (1844) as foreign attaché the staff of Maréchal Bugeaud in Algeria, winning the cross of the Légion d'honneur.
In 1847, he abruptly resigned the military career and went to study for the priesthood at the Gregorian University, in Rome, where he was ordained (1849). There he became friend with Count de Woelmont. Assigned, after his ordination, as chaplain to the French garrison of Viterbo, he was being pressed by his family to return to Belgium when Pope Pius IX, with a view to attach him permanently to his court, made him cameriere segreto (1850), an office which entailed the direction of the Roman prisons. The work done by Mérode for the penitentiary system in Rome is described by Lefebvre and Maguire; de Rayneval, the French envoy at Rome, praised it in an official report to his government; Gioacchino Pecci, Archbishop of Perugia, wanted the young cameriere to inaugurate similar work in his metropolis.
In 1860 Mérode, much against the views of the Roman Prelature, headed by Cardinal Antonelli, persuaded Pius IX to form corps of Catholic volunteers that would later become the Papal Zouaves. He succeeded in enlisting the services of Lamoricière as commander-in-chief and was himself appointed minister of war. The task assumed by Mérode and Lamoricière was well-nigh impossible.
The ensuing years of comparative quiet Mérode spent in public works; the building at his own expense of the 'Campo pretoriano' outside the Porta Pia, the clearing of the approaches of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the opening of streets in the new section of Rome, the sanitation of the old quarters by the Tiber, etc. His temperament and progressive views made him enemies among the old traditional Roman element just as the vehemence with which he branded the French Emperor's duplicity turned against him the heads of the French army of occupation. Lamoricière's death (19 September 1865) became the signal of open hostility. Pius IX was forced to discharge his minister.
Reduced to a simple cameriere,Mérode, on Hohenlohe's promotion to the cardinalate, was given the vacant place of papal almoner and (22 June 1866) consecrated titular Archbishop of Melitene. His new duties were to distribute the papal alms and to confirm children in danger of death. At the First Vatican Council, he showed the influence exercised over him by his brother-in-law, de Montalembert, and sided with the minority that deemed the definition of papal infallibility inopportune and even dangerous, but submitted the day the dogma was defined.
After the capture of Rome by the Piedmontese (20 September 1870) he followed his master into the retirement of the Vatican, leaving it only to fight the Piedmontese government's pretensions on the campo pretoriano or to share de Rossi's work in the excavations of Tor Marancino which resulted in the discovery of the Basilica of St. Petronilla.
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Frédéric-François-Xavier Ghislain de Mérode". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
- Des établissements charitables de Rome, p. 245.
- Rome, Its Ruler and Institutions, p. 238.
- See "Daily News ", 18 March 1848.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Frédéric-François-Xavier Ghislain de Mérode". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. This entry cites:
- Lamy, Monseigneur de Mérode (Louvain, 1874);
- Besson, F. F. X. de Mérode, sa vie et ses œuvres (Paris, 1886);
- Le Poitevin, Mgr. de Mérode in Les Contemporains (Paris, s. d.);
- Veuillot, Célébrités Catholiques Contemporains;
- Flornoy, Lamoricière (Paris, 1904).
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