Pope Leo XIII: The Pope of the Rosary

Pope Leo XIII is the longest lived pope in Church history, dying at 93. A brilliant writer, poet, and theologian, he established the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome in 1879 (now known as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, or the Angelicum). He was passionate about hunting and viniculture, and was known to trap birds and tend a small vineyard within the confines of the Vatican Gardens.

As a pastor of souls and a mystic, Pope Leo XIII was deeply concerned about the social and moral issues of his time, and gave the Church many spiritual weapons to combat these issues. While saying Mass one day, he had a vision of a fierce spiritual battle taking place and was inspired to write the famous Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. He greatly promoted devotion to St. Joseph, consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, promoted the First Friday devotions, and established June as the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart. He is also the pope before whom a young Thérèse of Lisieux knelt, begging to be allowed to enter Carmel at the age of 15. He was the first pope to appear on film and beatified St. Louis de Montfort in 1888.

Marian Devotion

Pope Leo XIII: The Pope of the Rosary

From his youth, Pope Leo XIII had a strong devotion to Mary. Through the discovery of the Marian writings of St. Louis de Montfort in 1846, and the subsequent investigations into these writings as part of de Montfort’s beatification cause, Pope Leo XIII was deeply influenced by de Montfort’s Marian thought. He was so enamored with True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin that he granted an indulgence to anyone who consecrated themselves to Mary using St. Louis de Montfort’s method. Another source of Marian inspiration for Pope Leo XIII was the work of Blessed Bartolo Longo in Pompeii.

Pope Leo XIII was very open to private revelation. He promoted the Brown Scapular, instituted the Feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, wrote an apostolic letter promoting pilgrimages to Marian shrines, especially Lourdes, and received the visionary of La Salette, Mélanie Calvat, in two separate private audiences. He so loved Lourdes that he commissioned the construction of a Lourdes Grotto in the Vatican Gardens. Following the thought of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, he taught that a Christian trying to live their faith without Mary is comparable to a bird trying to fly without wings. In his many Marian writings, he emphasized that it is Our Lady who is capable of bringing about obedience to the Vicar of Christ among all Christians. He was the first pope to have his voice recorded; on the recording, he’s singing the Hail Mary.

Champion of the Rosary

Pope Leo XIII is the greatest champion of the rosary to ever hold the office of the Vicar of Christ. During his pontificate, he wrote 11 encyclicals on the rosary, promulgated numerous apostolic letters on the rosary, and gave countless messages on the rosary to various dioceses and religious institutes. His rosary encyclicals contain a summary of all the statements previous popes had made about St. Dominic’s role as the father of the rosary and the founder of the Confraternity of the Rosary. In almost every rosary encyclical that he wrote, he affirmed that St. Dominic was the founder of the rosary. He expressly taught that Our Lady herself entrusted the rosary to St. Dominic, and compared St. Dominic’s Confraternity to an army of prayer and a spiritual battalion capable of winning souls for Christ.

A pontiff who sought to emphasize the importance of Catholic social teaching, he wrote the encyclical Rerum Novarum and also taught that the rosary was part of the solution to the social problems of his day. He tirelessly taught that the rosary was the most effective means of expanding the kingdom of Jesus Christ in the world and was of benefit to both individuals and society at large. He encouraged everyone to pray the rosary every day, and especially encouraged priests and missionaries to preach the rosary, since it has the power to expel evil and heal the sores of the human heart.

Pope Leo XIII dedicated the month of October to the rosary, granted many indulgences to the rosary, approved a comprehensive list of the indulgences attached to the rosary, supported the construction of the Basilica of the Rosary in Lourdes, inserted the title “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary” into the Litany of Loreto, wrote a charter for the Confraternity of the Rosary, encouraged the Dominicans to promote the rosary, and supported the rosary apostolate of Bl. Bartolo Longo at the Basilica of the Rosary in Pompeii. Even a shortened version of his famous Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel is now commonly prayed at the end of the rosary. The writings of Pope Leo XIII highlighted a special blessing: To pray the rosary is to pray with the holy angels, since it was the Archangel Gabriel who uttered the first Ave. Pope Leo XIII will forever be the pope of the rosary.

Rosary Gems

26 Champions of the RosaryIt is mainly to expand the kingdom of Christ that we look to the rosary for the most effective help.

~ Pope Leo XIII

Experience has shown that to inculcate love for the Mother of God deeply in souls there is nothing more efficacious than the practice of the rosary.

~ Pope Leo XIII

In Mary, God has given us the most zealous guardian of Christian unity. There are, of course, more ways than one to win her protection by prayer, but as for us, we think that the best and most effective way to her favor lies in the rosary.

~ Pope Leo XIII

The rosary is the most excellent form of prayer and the most efficacious means of attaining eternal life. It is the remedy for all our evils, the root of all our blessings. There is no more excellent way of praying.

~ Pope Leo XIII

For in the rosary all the part that Mary took as our co-Redemptress comes to us.

~ Pope Leo XIII

The rosary, if rightly considered, will be found to have in itself special virtues, whether for producing and continuing a state of recollection, or for touching the conscience for its healing, or for lifting up the soul.

~ Pope Leo XIII

The origin of this form of prayer [the rosary] is divine rather than human.

~ Pope Leo XIII

They [Confraternities of the Rosary] are, so to speak, the battalions who fight the battle of Christ, armed with his sacred mysteries, and under the banner and guidance of the heavenly Queen.

~ Pope Leo XIII

We may well believe that the Queen of Heaven herself has granted an especial efficacy to this mode of supplication [the rosary], for it was by her command and counsel that the devotion was begun and spread abroad by the holy Patriarch Dominic as a most potent weapon against the enemies of the faith at an epoch not, indeed, unlike our own, of great danger to our holy religion.

~ Pope Leo XIII

Let all the children of Saint Dominic rise up for the fight and let them, like mighty warriors, be prepared to use in the battle the weapons with which their blessed Father, with so much foresight, armed them. This is what they have to do: Let them plant everywhere the rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary; let them propagate and cultivate it with fervor; through their assiduous care may the nations be enrolled in these holy militias where the ensigns of the rosary shine; may the faithful learn to avail themselves of this weapon, to use it frequently; may they be instructed in the benefits, graces, and privileges of this devotion.

~ Pope Leo XIII

Editor’s note: This article is adapted by the author from Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon, which is available from the author’s website (fathercalloway.com). The lead image is of the tomb of Pope Leo XIII, taken by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC


Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, has been a priest for 15 years and currently serves as Vicar Provincial and Vocation Director for the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.  He is the author of eleven books, a popular speaker at conferences, and frequently leads pilgrimages to Marian shrines around the world. To find out more about his books, pilgrimages, and to order St. Joseph Gems: Daily Wisdom on our Spiritual Father, go to www.fathercalloway.com

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  • Albee

    What a beautiful article on Pope Leo XIII and the Holy Rosary.
    Please continue to write on the Rosary and its importance, especially
    in relevance to current events.

  • Bob Rees

    I’m wondering why he hasn’t been canonized. Is it because he’s not a modernist as was John XXIII, whom Francis canonized, probably because of his, John XXIII’s modernistic approach to Holy Mother Church?

  • Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC

    It baffles me as to why he is not even a Servant of God! Makes no sense. The guy wrote 11 encyclicals on the rosary! He had to have been a virtuous man.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    I’m often perplexed why Leo XIII isn’t canonized. Perhaps the devotion to him and his work is lacking in our modern day. I know he’s had a great impact on my life, but I also wonder why more don’t know about him. But folks like you, Father, are helping in that regard! If it’s God’s will, let more folks pick up the work of the great Leo XIII!

  • Judith Kern

    Hi, Father Don!!!!
    Raymond and I often say “Why isn’t Pope Leo XIII canonized?”
    He was so wise and spiritual during his pontificate. We just LOVE the man!!!!!!!