Pope Pius IX standing in front of his papal tiara.

The papal encyclical, Praedecessores Nostros, was written by Pope Pius IX to address the crisis of the Great Irish Famine that occurred approximately between 1845 and 1850.[1] This event is known by many as the 19th century’s greatest natural disaster.[2] Pope Pius IX was born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti on May 13, 1792 in Senigallia, Italy.[3] He studied at the College of Volterra in Tuscany and was ordained as a priest in 1819.[3] Throughout the span of his life, Pope Pius IX served as the director of the Roman hospice of San Michele, Bishop of Imola, and Archbishop of Spoleto.[3] He was made a Cardinal (Catholicism) in 1840 and elected Pope in 1846. Several important events that occurred during the papacy of Pope Pius IX are the unification of Italy, the First Vatican Council, the defining of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and 38 papal encyclicals.[3] Praedecessores Nostros is one of the more significant papal decrees of the time because it addresses one of the most well known events in history. The Great Irish Famine was caused by the mysterious fungus, Phytophthora infestans.[2] The fact that the potato was the main food of over half the population of Ireland caused approximately one million people to die as a consequence.[1]

Encyclical Summary

Praedecessores Nostros discussed several major points that involve the various factors that address the Great Irish Famine. The first point made by Pope Pius IX in the encyclical is the importance of recognizing the legacies of papal predecessors and their assistance of Christian nations in the past.[4] He then reflected on an earlier appeal to the Roman people and clergy for prayerful consideration of the plight of the Irish. He also reflected on the request he made for money to be collected in Rome to be sent to the Archbishops of Ireland so that it may be distributed amongst the poor and needy.[4] Pope Pius IX now continued by saying that the crisis was not yet over and that the Vatican was still receiving letters daily telling that the famine has worsened and more aid is necessary.[4] This lead to the main reason for the encyclical, a request from the clergy for greater assistance. Pope Pius IX asked every diocese and district to proclaim three days of public prayer in churches and other holy sites.[4] The specific purpose of this prayer was to request that God end the Great Irish Famine and prevent it from happening elsewhere in Europe.[4] To encourage these prayers, an indulgence of seven years was to be granted to anyone present during the proceedings.[4] Also, a plenary indulgence was to be bestowed on anyone who attended the entire three days of prayer and received the sacraments (Catholic Church) of penance and Holy Eucharist within a week of doing so.[4] Pope Pius IX encouraged the people of the church to give alms because it was more important to look after Christ’s goods than those of man.[4] In addition to the recommended public prayers for Ireland, he requested that the clergy ask their congregations to beseech God for the whole church against the evils that plague its existence.[4] Pope Pius IX delivered his address of Praedecessores Nostros in Rome at St. Mary Major Basilica on March 25, 1847.[4]

Implications of Praedecessores Nostros

The implications of Praedecessores Nostros are minimal relative to the massive amount of attention that was given to the Great Irish Famine during the time. It is notable that relief was given in the form of money, but this did little to solve the various problems in Ireland and the United Kingdom in general. Prayer was of course given in an attempt to stymie the famine, though it continued to plague the Irish for another three years after Praedecessores Nostros was delivered and failed to quickly heal the devastation of such an event. The most important implications of this papal encyclical are the knowledge it provided the world and the greater connection it created between the Irish and the Catholic Church.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Cormac O Grada, The Great Irish Famine (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 3. ISBN 0521552664
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cormac O Grada, Ireland's Great Famine (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2006), 1, 7. ISBN 1904558585
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Frank J. Coppa, Pope Pius IX: Crusader In A Secular Age (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979), 11, 12. ISBN 080577727X
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Pope Pius IX, Praedecessores Nostros.

Further reading

  • Anne Fremantle, The Papal Encyclicals: In Their Historical Context (New York: Mentor-Omega Books, 1963)
  • Michael J. Schuck, That They Be One: The Social Teaching of the Papal Encyclicals 1740-1989 (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1991) ISBN 0878404880
  • James S. Donnelly, Jr., The Great Irish Potato Famine (United Kingdom: Sutton Publishing, 2001) ISBN 0750926325
  • Eileen Moore Quinn, "Entextualizing Famine, Reconstituting Self: Testimonial Narratives From Ireland," Anthropological Quarterly 74, no. 2 (2001):72-88,

External links

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