Bishop Xavier de Merode (°1820 – †1874)
Bishop Xavier de Merode, son of Félix de Merode, was initially attracted to a career in arms. After graduating from the Royal Military School of Belgium, he took part in the Algerian campaign under the orders of General de Lamoricière and received the Legion of Honour.
In 1847, he resigned and enrolled in the Roman College to become a priest. When the revolutionaries entered Rome forcing Pope Pius IX to flee, he stayed in Rome and worked to help the wounded. Caught by the Garibaldians, he was briefly taken prisoner.
On his return from exile, the Pope appointed him in 1850 as “secret cameraman” and director of the papal prisons. Xavier placed himself at the service of the Pope and actively contributed to the reorganisation and modernisation of the Papal States after the French troops had re-established public order in the city. However, he was convinced that the Pope should be able to defend himself without always being dependent on France.
Appointed Minister of the Pontifical Armies, Xavier created in 1860, with the help of General de Lamoricière, the army of the Pontifical Zouaves to defend the Holy See against the Piedmontese troops. The operation failed and the Pontifical Army was disbanded after the defeat of Castelfidardo.
Appointed Archbishop of Melitene on 22 June 1866, he attended the first Vatican Council.
His cultural influence and his work in urban planning were important: he actively participated in the urban renewal of the Eternal City, he prevented the destruction of the Colosseum, restored the Castel Sant’Angelo, and organised the excavations that led to the discovery of the catacombs of St Callixtus and St Domitilla.
But it was above all his social work that was immense: he built schools, hospitals, and prisons that were more humane, supervised by religious from Belgium. His charity was proverbial and he devoted himself tirelessly to the most destitute. He is buried not in Rixensart but in the Vatican in the famous Cemetery of the Teutons and the Flemings, located next to St. Peter’s Basilica.