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LEO XIII., the present head of the Roman Catholic Church, was elected to the pontifical chair, 20th Feb. 1878. Descended from an old patrician family, Gioacchino Pecci was born 2d March 1810, at Carpineto, a village in Central Italy. He studied at the Collegio Romano, graduated in law and theology, and becoming a favourite with Pope Gregory XVI., was named by him a prelate of the household. As delegate successively at Benevento, Spoleto, and Perugia, he displayed great energy in the government of these provinces, and was especially vigorous and successful in the work of suppressing brigandage. Though but 33 years of age, he was in 1843 made Archbishop of Dalmatia, and sent to Brussels as papal nuncio. In 1816 Gregory selected Pecci for the dignity of cardinal, but his friendly views in favour of the young archbishop were frustrated by death, and it was not till 1853 that Gregory's successor, Pius IX., saw fit to confer the cardinal's hat. Cardinal Pecci was no favourite of the all-powerful Cardinal Antonelli, and was accordingly not prominent in papal councils. But in 1877 he was made Camerlengo (papal Finance Minister), and was chosen to be the successor of Pius IX. in the pontificate in 1878.
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