When Pius IX was compelled to leave Rome for Gaeta toward the end of 1848, Bishop de Mazenod hastened to invite him to take refuge in Marseilles. After the Pope’s return to Rome in 1849, several French bishops went to visit him and, stopping off in Marseilles on their return journey, told the bishop that the Pope wanted to see him. In January-April, 1851, Bishop de Mazenod made the journey to Rome with the objective of obtaining approbation of the modifications to the Rules made by the 1850 Chapter.
It was on this occasion that he received the pallium, a privilege reserved to metropolitans who, after their appointment, are bound to ask the Pope to bestow it upon them. We have not found any letter from the Founder containing such a request of this nature. We do, however, have a February 10, 1851 letter, probably directed to Cardinal Antonelli, the secretary of state, in which he writes: “The Holy Father, desiring to show favour to a city which has demonstrated its devotion to his sacred person, could he not, until we are in a position to do something better, bestow the title of archbishop in partibus to the see of Marseilles?” In this way, the government would not have to be involved in the affair. The case seems to be that the cardinal suggested rather that the pallium be requested and Bishop de Mazenod worked through the intermediary of Bishop Barnabò, secretary for the Congregation of the Propaganda who assisted him in obtaining this favour .” (Letter of May 25, 1851)
On April 1, by apostolic letters, the Pope bestowed the pallium on the bishop of Marseilles. After giving a brief history of the diocese, he added: “Recently, again, when a terrible tempest sowed havoc throughout all of Italy and especially our city of Rome, the churchmen, chased out and forced to flee, were welcomed by the people of Marseilles with every expression of the kindest hospitality and we, ourselves, if Divine Providence whose designs are beyond human understanding, had not made alternative arrangements, we, ourselves, forcibly expelled from our see, we would have willingly sought refuge in the city of Marseilles.”
According to custom, the pallium is sometimes given to bishops as a reward of merit on the part of those bishops and in order to honour in a special way some episcopal sees. It was for this two-fold reason that on April 3, 1851, after celebrating Mass in his private chapel, Pius IX bestowed the pallium on Bishop de Mazenod.
Upon Bishop de Mazenod’s return to Marseilles, the chapter hastened to send an April 21 letter thanking the Pope “for this outstanding and rare favour which you have bestowed on our church by attaching to it in perpetuity the privilege of the sacred pallium […] We are not unaware,” they added, “that this gesture of confidence is the result of the confidence you have in our bishop.” Among his merits, they mention his religious family working in several mission countries.
On May 9, in a solemn ceremony at city hall, the bishop presented to the mayor a copy of the apostolic letters to be placed in the municipal archives. In his speech, he stressed the fact that “it is a gesture honouring the city” and stated that the Pope would grant “the title, the rank and the rights of a metropolitan see to the city of Marseilles on that day when the civil power would agree to accept it” because that fell within the purview of the State from the time of Napoleon’s concordat. The mayor responded to the bishop and, on May 12, the municipal council sent a letter of thanks to Pius IX. Then, on May 24, the bishop published a brief pastoral letter on this subject.
From 1857 to 1861, Bishop de Mazenod wrote ten letters to the civil authorities of Marseilles, to governmental ministers and to the emperor asking that the see be raised to the rank of an archdiocese. Marseilles became an archdiocese only in 1948.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.