Rorate Caeli

Merry del Val - Part 1

OF Cardinal. R. Merry del Val

Secretary of State of St. Pius X

Part 1
Beside the exceptional and amiable figure of St. Pius X, we have, in marvellous splendor, the figure no less exceptional and extraordinary, of his Secretary of State, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val. Of noble birth, but still more of noble aspirations, as from the first years of his life he had one unique and most noble goal: to be a Priest of God.


Born on the 10th October 1865 in London, to the Spanish Marquis of Irish descent, Rafael Merry del Val, and to the Countess Josephine de Zulueta, English but of Spanish descent, the future Secretary of State received Baptism the following day, and was named Rafael. The prestigious Del Val family, illustrious due to the nobility of their blood no less than for their virtues, could boast that amongst their ancestors there was a martyr of the Church: Little St. Domingo del Val ... .  The future Cardinal nourished a very special devotion to him.

Rafael Merry del Val was, therefore, an aristocrat , but far from being fascinated by noble society, he demonstrated even from his infancy the signs of a divine calling.  At only eight years of age, when asked by an elderly Jesuit what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied: “I want to be a priest.” And when he was saying goodnight to his parents that evening, he drew out of his sleeve a biscuit and raising it on high, said: “I will do this with the host when I become a priest.” He would also, from time to time during meals, take a glass of water and a biscuit, and raising it a little would exclaim: “This is what I will do when I celebrate the Mass.” Having learned at an early age to serve the Holy Mass, he took delight in preparing little altars and imitating the sacred ceremonies, as well as speaking of these things with various priests who, with admiration, perceived in the young Rafael the divine calling.

One day, whilst out walking with his governess, a funeral cortege was passing by. The little Rafael took off, mingling with the crowd which was following the coffin. When the governess after an anxious search finally found him and asked him why he had done such a thing, he answered candidly: “Mother told me that those who die go to Paradise: and I also want to go to paradise with that deceased person.” The Mother of the future Cardinal recounted also that on another occasion, whist she was explaining to him the meaning of papal infallibility, she decided to test him. Taking a book bound in black in her hand, she asked him: “Rafael, if the Pope said that this book is bound in white, what would you say about that?” The little boy, after a moment’s reflection replied: “Mother, the Pope would not be able to say such nonsense,” showing – by his reply – the acuteness of his most refined intelligence.

Having been confirmed and received his First Holy Communion, he started classical studies first at Namur and then at Brussels, distinguishing himself not only for his quick intelligence, but also, and above all, for his angelic piety, recognized and admired by all and which merited him the honour of being chosen to serve the Mass on the occasion of the first Holy Communion of Prince Baldwin and Princess Henrietta, Duchess of Vendòme.

In study and prayer, under the watchful care of his parents and tutors, the young Rafael cultivated his aspiration to become a priest in the secret of his soul. He took pleasure in sports in which he excelled, whilst he felt an instinctive repugnance for high society.

One day, in order to test the firmness of his proposition, his father asked him: “How will you become a priest Rafael, since you love sport, games and horse-riding so much?” “For God one can and must sacrifice everything,” was the irrevocable reply of the youth.

Rafael had by now decided to follow the voice of the divine Master, Who had been calling him for some time to become a priest. The ideal which had accompanied the divine calling from the beginning, was the conversion of the Anglicans. Born in England, the young Rafael perceived immediately the necessity of dedicating himself to the conversion of the land of his birth, which was sadly disunited from the Catholic Church. This would be the supreme aspiration of the future Cardinal which would never be overshadowed, not even when he was entrusted with the most distinguished duties which would bring him to the summit of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. It would be the supreme aspiration of his life which he wanted engraved on his tomb: “Da mihi animas, coetera tolle.”

Thus, at the age of eighteen, heedless of the voice of blood and noble descent, he entered the prestigious seminary of Ushaw to begin his priestly studies.      

To be continued
“Never act with a view to pleasing the world. Let us have the strength to bear criticisms and the disapproval of the world. Let us have no human respect. Provided that God is pleased, what does the rest matter?” Card. R. Merry del Val

In the arcosolium next to the Tomb of Pius XI, is the sarcophagus of Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, the titular of the church of St Praxedes, former Secretary of State of St Pius X and the Archpriest of the Vatican basilica. The titles justify his burial in the Vatican grottoes.

From De vita Contemplativa, The Franciscans Sister of the Immaculate, Italy
(Contribution and translation: Francesca Romana)