While on a trip to Paris at the end of January of 1859, Bishop de Mazenod made a detour through Bourges to visit his old friend, Cardinal Dupont. He found him seriously ill. He died on May 26.
Suddenly, Bishop de Mazenod became the most qualified bishop to replace the deceased cardinal. He was, in fact, the only bishop with the French cardinals in the senate. Bishop Guibert hastened to recommend Senator de Mazenod to the minister of public worship. Canon Jeancard, for his part, wrote to Mr. Troplong, the president of the senate and friend of the Founder, in praise of the bishop of Marseilles. Mr. Troplong communicated this letter to the minister of public worship with a short covering letter: “There is nothing I can tell you about the bishop of Marseilles, a prayerful prelate, very devoted, very renowned in Italy and England as well as in France because of his numerous foundations.” The affair followed its course. On August 15, Bishop de Mazenod received a letter from the minister of public worship telling him that the Emperor was presenting him to the Holy Father “for the cardinal’s hat, filling a vacancy in the number of candidates to be presented by France.” It was certainly only a pro forma request that the ambassador of France passed on to Cardinal Antonelli, the secretary of state on August 26. In it, we read: “His majesty’s government would like to assume that the elevation to the cardinalate of such a prelate who is to be so highly recommended in every respect, will find no objections on the part of His Holiness.”
Pius IX raised no objection to the person presented, but problems of a general nature prevented him from responding to the Emperor’s wishes. An initial difficulty immediately reared its head. Custom dictated that the presenting of a candidate to the cardinalate by a head of state should remain secret until the appointment was officially promulgated by the Holy See as a way of demonstrating that the Pope was not caving in to undue pressure. As it happened, the Paris newspapers announced this designation already on September 1, hardly four days after the ambassador’s letter was sent to Cardinal Antonelli. A still more serious difficulty was to delay indefinitely the nomination: the Italian war for the unification of Italy. Victor Emmanuel, King of Piedmont and his prime minister, Cavour, while supporting the revolutionary movements of the various little Italian states, had begun the movement which was to lead to the unification of Italy in 1870.
In spite of the many promises to maintain the Papal States, Napoleon III initially gave military support to Victor Emmanuel in fighting the Austrians and he handed over Lombardy to Piedmont on the occasion of the Villafranca armistice on July 11, 1859. In the spring and in the summer of 1859, the duchies, provinces and legations one after the other chased out their governors and handed themselves over to Piedmont, who, little by little, annexed Tuscany, Massa and Carrara, Parma and Piacenza, Modena and Reggio, as well as all the northern part of the Papal States: Romagna, the Marches and Umbria. In addition to this, on several occasions, Napoleon had announced that he would withdraw his troops from Rome, and in consequence, indirectly he handed over the last tattered remains of the Papal States to Piedmont. Deeply worried about this situation, the Pope did not create any cardinals in the consistory of September 26, 1859, but, on this occasion, he gave a speech vigorously condemning the revolt of the legations and excommunicating all of those who had supported the revolution by their assistance and their counsel.
As a result of this speech, the majority of the bishops of France wrote pastoral letters defending the Papal States and often strenuously attacked the Emperor. Bishop de Mazenod was compelled to use a great deal of diplomacy to defend the Pope without offending the Emperor. Instead of a pastoral letter to the members of his diocese, he preferred to send a personal letter to Napoleon III to express his concern and that of Catholics and to urge the Emperor to put an end to the encroachments of Piedmont. He then wrote to Cardinal Barnabò to alert him to the initiative he had taken with regard to the Emperor and to assure him that he would always defend the Pope.
The Emperor thanked Bishop de Mazenod without giving him any assurances whatever. Cardinal Barnabò, in turn, thanked him, telling him at the same time that Rome was surprised at the official silence maintained by the Bishop of Marseilles. “Without losing a minute,” Bishop de Mazenod who was a master of the extemporaneous wrote a pastoral letter where he most skilfully succeeded in justifying his delay and of vigorously defending the Papal States and at the same time not ruffling the Emperor’s feathers, restating his confidence in him “whose attitudes in favour of the temporal sovereignty of the head of the Church has never seemed to us to have been in doubt.”
Bishop de Mazenod did, however, begin to seriously doubt the good intentions of the Emperor when a pamphlet entitled Le Pape et le congrès [The Pope and congress] appeared on December 22, 1859. This document that was said to have been at the instigation of Napoleon III took the position that the Sovereign Pontiff would find it advantageous to see his states reduced: The lesser the states, the greater the Pope. This pamphlet raised a general hue and a cry in Rome and among Catholics. At the insistence of Cardinal Morlot, on December 31, 1859, Bishop de Mazenod wrote the Emperor a second letter, courteous, but firm, to decry the pamphlet and to beg the Emperor to defend the integrity of the Papal States. His letter went unanswered. As a result, the year 1859 ended on a very sour note. Bishop de Mazenod had apparently managed to displease both the Pope and the Emperor and there was no more talk of a cardinal’s hat for him. In addition, Cardinal Antonelli would say that, in view of the grievous situation in which the Holy See found itself, it would not seem opportune for his Holiness to create any new cardinals because the creation of cardinals was a joyous event and the Church was in a state of mourning.
The year 1860 brought no changes to the general situation. In his new year’s wishes, Napoleon III advised Pius IX to “give up the states that had revolted.” In his January 19 encyclical letter, the Pope rejected this advice and vigorously demanded the return of Romagna. Obviously, Bishop de Mazenod could no longer count on the Emperor. From that point on, he stood behind the Pope solidly and without holding back. In spite of the government’s strictures to prevent this, he published the encyclical and commented on it himself. Where convention called for an expression of confidence in the Emperor, he spoke of Divine Providence, his only sure hope from now on. During the winter, he spent several months in Paris and went back there in June, but he did not ask for an audience with the Emperor.
In the meantime, Bishop de Mazenod had received a letter from the Pope which made him very happy and gave him much peace. On January 6, 1860, he had written to Pius IX to give him reassurance as to his principles and to tell him everything he had done in favor of the Papal States. On January 28, the Holy Father sent him a personal reply. He concluded his letter with these words: “We reaffirm to you our firm resolve, a resolve occasioned by our very special affection for you, that when the occasion proves more favourable, to recognize your merits by bestowing on you the greatest reward it is possible for us to give.” This reassurance of the Pope’s favourable dispositions in his regard was sufficient for him. If, for a few months in 1859, Bishop de Mazenod seemed worried about the false position that his designation as cardinal had placed him, a designation publicly known and not confirmed by the Pope, in 1860 we find him very serene and submissive to the will of God. Already on December 29, 1859, he had written to Bishop Guibert: “The hat will come when it will come or it won’t come at all; I am not concerned nor do I spend time on it. As of now, I have lived for 80 years without it, I will certainly get along without it during the little time that I still have to live.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, no. 1438, p. 173)
Bishop de Mazenod fell ill at the beginning of 1861 and died May 21 without receiving the highest reward that had been promised him by the Holy Father. The honor had, in fact, been for him a kind of humiliation and the cardinal’s hat a crown of thorns.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.