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Catholic Church. Congregatio de Propaganda Fide Records

Identifier: PRF

Scope and Content

Records pertaining to the United States and territories that became part of it; consisting of decisions and decrees of the Congregation, correspondence with interested parties (often bishops and priests in the United States), and papers consulted or generated in monthly and weekly meetings, in audiences with the pope, or in meetings of commissions.

ms 67-889


  • Creation: 1622-1903.


Language of Materials

In Latin, Italian, French, and English.


The Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith had control over all Roman Catholic missionary activity from the time of its foundation by Gregory XV in 1622. It had authority over the Catholic Church in the United States until 1908.

It consisted of a Cardinal Prefect and other cardinals appointed by the pope. They held a regular monthly meeting and formed commissions to deal with particular problems. In weekly meetings the Cardinal Prefect and the Secretary of the Congregation dealt with routine matters. Every two months the pope met with members of the congregation to answer questions that required his authority.

Taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia , the following article, written by Msgr. Umberto Benigni circa 1910, provides an overview of the history, jurisdiction, organization, procedures, faculties, and incidental features of the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide .

Propaganda, Sacred Congregation of.

The Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide , whose official title is "sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando" is the department of the pontifical administration charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in non-Catholic conntries. The intrinsic importance of its duties and the extraordinary extent of its authority and of the territory under its jurisdiction have caused the cardinal prefect of Propaganda to be known as the "red pope".

I. History.

A. First Period.

Its establishment at Rome in the seventeenth century was owing partly to the necessity of communicating with new countries then recently discovered, and partly to the new system of government by congregations adopted during the Counter-Reformation. It is well known that, during this period, the defence and propagation of Catholicism suggested to the Holy See the establishment of a complete system of administrative departments, to each of which was assigned some special branch of Catholic interests. The propagation of the Faith was a matter of such vital importance as to demand for its work an entire congregation. The reconquest for the Church of the lands severed from it was not of greater importance than the evangelization of the vast regions then being explored by courageous adventures. America, Africa, the Far East, opened up new lands, new peoples, new conquests; the Church, conscious of her natural mission to evangelize the world, felt obliged to act and to act quickly, especially as Holland and England, while striving eagerly for commerce and colonial expansion, were also bent upon spreading everywhere the doctrines of Protestantism.

The origin of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda has been variously accounted for; in reality it is the result of slow evolution. It is certain that it passed through two distinct periods, one formative and the other constitutive. The first period is that of the cardinalitial commission de propaganda fide (before it had been constituted a definite pontifical department or ministry). This lasted from the time of Gregory XIII (1572-85) to 1622, when Gregory XV established the congregation properly so-called. Gregory XIII instituted a primary commission composed of the three cardinals, Caraffa, Medici, and Santorio, who were especially charged to promote the union with Rome of the Oriental Christians (Slavs, Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, and Abyssinians). Their meetings, held under the presidency of Cardinal Santorio, known as the Cardinal of Santa Severina, revealed certain urgent practical needs -- e. g. the foundation of foreign seminaries, the printing of catechisms and similar works in many languages. Its efforts were successful among the Ruthenians, the Armenians, Syrians, both Western (as those of the Lebanon) and Eastern (as those of Malabar). After the death of Gregory XIII the rapid succession of four popes in seven years arrested the progress of the commission's work. Clement VIII (1592-1605), a pontiff of large and bold aims, was deeply interested in the commission, and caused its first meeting after his election to be held in his presenee. He retained Santorio as its president: weekly meetings were held in that cardinal's palace, and every fifteen days the decisions and recommendations of the commission were referred to the pontiff. To this period belongs a very notable triumph, the union with Rome of the Ruthenian nation (the Little Russia of Poland) called the Union of Brest (1598).

B. Second Period.

The death of Clement VIII revealed an essential weakness of the institution. It was a personal commission, depending for its very existence on the energy of its few members. Eventually the meetings of the three cardinals ceased; at the same time an active propagation of the Catholic Faith was kept up among both Protestants and non-Christians. The practical demise of the commission made evident the necessity of providing for its permanence. The honour of accomplishing this belongs to Gregory XV (1621-23). On 6 Jan., 1622, the pope summoned thirteen cardinals and two prelates, to whom he announced his intention of constituting a permanent and well-organized congregation for the propagation of Catholicism, and his hearers were appointed members of the congregation. The preliminaries of organization were diligently carried on; on 22 June of the same year appeared the Bull " Inscrutabili Divinae ", by which the Sacred Congregation de propaganda fide was instituted, composed of thirteen cardinals and two prelates, to whom were added a secretary and a consultor. Its first presidents were Cardinal Sauli, dean of the Sacred College, and Cardinal Ludovisi, nephew of the pope and founder of the Irish College at Rome. On the same day provision was made for the support of the congregation by the Constitution "Romanum Decet". It assigned to Prop aganda the tassa dell' anello (ring-tax) assessed on each newly appointed cardinal (500 gold scudi, later 600 silver scudi). On 14 Dec. of the same year was published the Constitution "Cum Inter Multiplices", and on 13 June, 1623, another Constitution, "Cum Nuper", both of which conferred on the congregation ample privileges and immunities in order to facilitate and accelerate its labours. When the financial management increased in importanee, the pope ordered that each of the thirteen cardinals should direct it in turn; at a later date a single cardinal was placed at the head of the financial department. The death of Gregory XV (1624) prevented the founder of the congregation from completing its organization; happily, his successor, Urban VIII (1623-44), was Cardinal Barberini, one of the original thirteen members of the congregation.

After the death of Cardinals Sauli and Ludovisi, Urban VIII directed that there should be but one prefect general of the congregation, and nominated to the office his brother, Cardinal Antonio Barberini (29 Dec., 1632). At the same time he appointed his nephew, a second Cardinal Antonio Barberini, as the auxiliary of the preceding, and later made him his successor. These two open the series of prefects general of Propaganda. It was clear to Urban VIII that the impulse given to the establishment of ecclesiastical seminaries by the Council of Trent had already produced excellent results, even in the vast province of the Propaganda, through the agency of the numerous national colleges then founded, e. g. at Rome, the German, English, Greek, Maronite, Scots, and other colleges. But he also saw that it was necessary to establish a central seminary for the missions where young ecclesiastics could be educated, not only for countries which had no national college but also for such as were endowed with such institutions. It seemed very desirable to have, in every country, priests educated in an international college where they could acquire a larger personal acquaintance, and establish in youth relations that might be mutually helpful in after life. Thus arose the seminary of the Propaganda known as the Collegium Urbanum, from the name of its founder, Urban VIII. It was established by the Bull "Immortalis Dei", of 1 Aug., 1627, and placed under the immediate direction of the Congregation of Propaganda. The congregation itself developed so rapidly that it became eventually necessary to divide its immense domain into various secretariates and commissions. This continuous increase of its labours dates from its very earliest years. In the beginning the meetings of the congregation were held in the presence of the pope; soon, however, the pressure of business grew to be so great that the general prefect and the general secretary were authorized to transact all current business, with the obligation of placing before the pope, at stated intervals, the more important matters, which is still the custom. In extent of territory, in external and internal organization, and in junsdiction, the congregation has undergone modifications according to the needs of the times; but it may be said that its definite organization dates from about 1650.

II. Territorial Jurisdiction.

As a general principle, it was understood that the territory of Propaganda was (apart from the Catholics of all the Oriental rites) conterminous with those countries that were non-Catholic in government. Naturally there were, and are, exceptions: for example, Russia depends, ecclesiastically, upon the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, since it is necessary to treat all Russian affairs though governmental channels. The territorial jurisdiction of Propaganda was before the promulgation of the Constitution "Sapienti Consilio" as follows: in Europe, Great Britain and Gibraltar, Sweden and Norway, Denmark, Germany (Saxony, Anhalt, Mecklenburg, Schaumburg, Oldenburg, Lauenburg, Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein), Holland, Luxemburg, some places in Switzerland (Mesolcina and Calanca in the Grisons, St. Maurice in the Canton of Valais), the Balkan peninsula (Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Greece); in the New World, the United States, Canada, Lower California, the Lesser Antilles (British and Danish), Jamaica and Honduras, some missions in Peru, Patagonia; all Oceanica except the Philippines; all Asia except the Russian possessions; all Africa. As to the Catholics of the Oriental rites, they are subject personally (that is, wherever they may be) to Propaganda. Their division by rites generally corresponds to their nationality. These rites are: the Armenian, frequent (besides, of course, in Armenia) in Austria, Persia, and Egypt; the pure Coptic Rite (in Egypt); the Abyssinian Coptic Rite, to which belong a few faithful in Abyssinia and in the Italian colony of Eritrea; the pure Greek Rite, including some communities in Southern Italy and a very few in Turkey; the Rumanian Greek Rite, with adherents among the Rumanians of Hungary and Transylvania; the Ruthenian Greek Rite, or that of the Little Russians in Austria and Russia; the Bulgarian Greek Rite, in Bulgaria and in Macedonia; the Melchite Greek Rite (Graeco-Syrian), which includes the Catholics of Greece, also hellenized natives of Syria and Palestine; the unmixed Syrian Rite (Western Syrian), or that of the Syrians of the plain of Syria and Palestine; the Syro-Maronite Rite (Western Syrian) or the (Syrian) Maronites of Mount Lebanon; the Syro-Chaldean Rite (Eastern Syrian) i.e. Syria in the Persian Empire; the Malabar Rite (Eastern Syrian), i.e. the Catholics of Malabar in Southwestern India. Among most of these peoples there has set in a remarkable tide of emigration to the New World, especially to North America, whither the Ruthenians and Maronites emigrate in large numbers.

In the Constitution "Sapienti Consilio" of Pius X (29 June, 1908), the plan was followed of entrusting to Propaganda those countries of Europe and America where the ecclesiastical hierarchy is not established. Great Britain, Holland, Luxemburg, Canada, and the United States were therefore removed from its jurisdiction; on the other hand, all the vicariates and prefectures Apostolic of America and the Philippines, which were formeriy subject to the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, were placed under Propaganda. A departure from the general plan was in leaving Australia under the jurisdiction of the latter congregation, with the addition of St-Pierre, in Martinique, and Guadeloupe. Another restriction of the powers of Propaganda effected by the new legislation was, that all matters appertaining to faith, the sacraments (particulariy matrimony), rites, and religious congregations -- as such, even though they were exclusively devoted to the work of the missions -- were assigned to the care of the respective congregations: those of the Holy Office, the Sacraments, Rites, and Regulars.

III. External Organization.

The organization of Propaganda is developed externally by means of delegations, dioceses, vicariates, prefectures, simple missions, and colleges. The Apostolic delegations are established to maintain immediate representatives of the Holy See in places where they seem to be needed by reason of the growth of the Church in organization and in numbers. Their personnel is composed of an Apostolic delegate and an auditor, subject to Propaganda. They are as follows: in Europe, those of Constantinople and of Greece (Athens); in Asia, those of the East Indies (Kandy in Ceylon), of Mesopotamia, Kurdistan, and Armenia Minor (Mosul), of Persia (Urumiah), of Syria (Beirut); in Africa, that of Egypt and Arabia (Alexandria). The dioceses as a rule consist of a bishop, who holds the title to the see and administers the local governmnent with the aid of a cathedral chapter and a parochial clergy. A diocesan organization (Latin Rite) exists in the following Propaganda countries: in Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rumania, Bulgaria, Abyssinia, Greece; in America, Guadeloupe and St-Pierre, Martinique; in Oceania, Australia and New Zealand; in Asia, Smyrna, India, and Japan; in Africa, the Mauritius and the Seychelles. The Oriental Catholics (Uniats), except those of the Abyssinian-Coptic, the Unmixed Greek, and the Graeco-Bulgarian Rites, are also organized in dioceses. The vicariates Apostolic are missions at the head of each of which is placed a bishop who acts as representative of the pope in the local government. The prefectures Apostolic are missions of minor importance, each of which has at its head an ecclesiastic, not a bishop, with the title of prefect Apostolic. Those territories of Propaganda which are not organized as dioceses are either vicariates or prefectures; their number increases rapidly, since every year some vicariate Apostolic is divided, or some prefecture is raised to the dignity of a vicariate or some new prefecture is created. The simple missions are few and mostly in Africa. They represent an uncertain or transitory condition that may be readily strengthened by the establishment of an Apostolic prefecture.

The colleges are institutions for the education of the clergy, intended either to supply clergy for missions that have no native clergy or to give a better education to the native clergy for the apostolate in their own country. The central seminary of Propaganda is, as has been said, the Urban College, established in the palace of the congregation at Rome. The immediate superiors are two prelates, one the general seeretary of the congregation, and the other the rector. In this college may be found students from all the territories subject to Propaganda, but from nowhere else. The average number of its resident students is about one hundred and ten. It has its own schools, which are attended by many other students not subject to Propaganda -- e. g. the Bohemian College. Besides the preparatory training, these schools offer courses of philosophy and theology, and confer the academic degrees of Bachelor, Licentiate, and Doctor of Theology. The number of students in these schools exceeds five hundred. In Rome the College of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, for Italian missionaries (Lower California and China), and the College of St. Anthony, for Franciscan missionaries (especially in China), are subject to Propaganda, which also exercises jurisdiction over the following missionary colleges outside of Rome: St. Calocerus, at Milan, for Italian missionaries to China and India; St. Charles, at Parma (China); Brignole-Sale, at Genoa (without local designation of mission); Instituto per la Nigrizia (for negroes of the Sudan), at Verona; College for African Missions, at Lyons, especially for French missionaries to Africa; Seminary of Foreign Missions, at Paris (India, Indo-China, China, Japan); Mill Hill Seminary, near London, for the missionaries of the Society of St. Joseph (India, Central Africa, Malay Peninsula); House of St. Joseph, Rozendaal (for Dutch students of the Mill Hill Society); House of St. Joseph, Brixen in the Tyrol (for German students of the same society); four colleges of the Society of the Divine Word, at Steyl (Holland), at Heiligen-kreuz (Germany), and at St. Gabriel, near Vienna, for the students of the same society whose missionary fields are in the United States, South America, Oceania, China, and Africa; College of All Hallows, Dublin, for Irish missionaries; American College at Louvain, for missionaries to the United States. The national colleges at Rome subject to the Propaganda are: the Greek, Ruthenian, Armenian, and Maronite colleges. It also exercises jurisdiction over the Albanian College at Scutari, the College of Pulo-Penang (Prince of Wales Island) in Indo-China, belonging to the Society of Foreign Missions at Paris for the native Indo-Chinese clergy. Before the appearance of the Constitution "Sapienti Consilio", the American, Canadian, English, Irish, and Scots Colleges at Rome, the English College at Lisbon, the English and the Scots College at Valladolid, and the Irish College at Paris were all subject to Propaganda.

The auxiliaries of this vast organization are all religious orders and regular congregations of men and women to which foreign missions are confided. Their number is very great. The principal orders (Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite, Jesuit etc.) have charge of numerous missions. During the nineteenth century many regular societies of missionary priests and missionary sisters entered actively, and with great success, on missionary labours under the direction of the congregation. The principal colleges of these auxiliary bodies (not directly suhject to Propaganda) are: at Rome, the Colleges of St. Fidelis (Capuchin) and St. Isidore (Irish Franciscans), and the Irish Augustinian College; outside of Rome, the college at Schooten near Brussels (Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary), the seminary of the African Missions at Lyons (White Fathers) etc.

IV. Internal Organization.

The internal organization of Propaganda is the result of almost three centuries of experience. All its works are carried on by means of a general cardinalitial congregation, two cardinalitial prefectures, and several permanent commissions. The general congregation is composed of all the cardinals of Propaganda chosen by the Pope "Eminentissimi Patres Consilii Christiano nomini Propagando". The chief authority of Propaganda resides in this body. The creation and division of dioceses, vicariates, and prefectures, the selection of bishops and other ordinary superiors of missions, matrimonial causes, ecclesiastical appeals, and the like, all come under its jurisdiction. It holds a regular meeting twice a month and deals alternately with the affairs of the Latin and the Oriental rites. Only the cardinal-members of Propaganda are present, together with two prelates, the general secretary, and the secretary of the Oriental rites. To the general prefect of Propaganda, a cardinal, belongs the duty of despatching all current business and all matters pertaining to the General Congregation. He is the ordinary head of Propaganda. The General Prefecture has subject to it two secretariates: the General Secretariate and the Secretariate of Oriental rites. The general secretary (always a prelate, Monsignor) is the chief assistant of the cardinal prefect, and the immediate head of the General Secretariate. He countersigns all letters addressed by the cardinal prefect to persons outside of Rome, and signs all letters from the prefecture destined to points in Rome (except to cardinals and ambassadors, letters for whom are signed by the cardinal prefect alone). An under-secretary has been added by the Constitution "Sapienti Consilio". The Secretary of the Oriental rites is the head of his secretariate, and is charged with duties analogous to those of the general secretary, of whom he is independent.

Each of the secretariates has its mintitanti, scrittori, and protocollisti . There are also the General Archives, and a Despatch Office. The minutanti (so called because one of their duties is to prepare the minutes of decrees and letters which are afterwards re-copied by the scrittori ) are officials occupied with the subordinate affairs of certain regions. We may note here the simplicity and the industry of the Propaganda secrctariate: only six minutanti attend to the affairs of the countries of the Latin Rite subject to the congregation. Apropos of the authority of Propaganda we shail see what a vast deal of work is involved in thc ordinary despatch of this work. The minutanti , in addition to making minutes of the ordinary acts of the secretariate, prepare the ponenze , i.e. the printed copies of the propositions or cases destined to come before the general cardinalitial congregation. Every week each of the two secretariates holds a meeting ( congresso ) in the presence of the cardinal prefect, of its own secretary, and of the head of the other secretariate. At this meeting each minutante reports on all matters for the settlement of which reference to the pertinent set of documents may be necessary, he gives oral informations etc. After hearing the report of the minutante and the opinion of the Secretary concerned, sometimes of all others present, the cardinal prefect issues an order to reply, or to defer the case, or to send it up to the general congregation. The scrittori copy all documents that are to be despatched, while the protocollisti stamp, number, and register all papers received and sent out. Records of the earliest proceedings of the congregation, dating from its first establishment, are preserved in the General Archives, or Record Office. Finally, there is the Despatch Office ( ufficio di spedizione ), which keeps its own register of all documents issuing from Propaganda, and sees to their actual forwarding. The office of consultor is filled gratuitously by a number of prelates, to whom the secretariates send such of the ponenze as are of litigious nature -- matrimonial causes, diocesan difficulties, etc. These consultors are requested to express their opinions, which are then attached to the ponenze and presented therewith to the cardinals at the General Congregation. The Oriental Secretariate employs interpreters -- ecclesiastics who translate all current correspondence in Arabic, Armenian,etc., and who are sworn to perform their work faithfully.

The method of treatment applied by Propaganda to an ordinary case may be described as follows: A letter addressed to the congregation is opened by the cardinal prefect who annotates it with some terse official formula in Latin, embodying his first instructions (e. g. that a précis of the antecedent correspondence relating to this matter is to be made). Then the letter goes to the Protocollo , where it is stamped and registered, and its object noted on the outside. The chief minutante reports on its object and on the note made by the cardinal to the secretary concerned, and writes the corresponding order of the secretary. Supposing the order should be to write a letter, the folio is given to the minutante , who draws up his minute according to the instructions of the cardinal prefect and of the secretary, he then passes it on to the scrittore , who copies it, and verifies the copy. This copy, with all the correspondence in the case, is returned (supposing it to be matter to be sent away from Rome) to the cardinal prefect, who signs it and remits it to the secretary. The secretary countersigns it and passes it on to the Despatch Office, which, after returning to the protocolto (for preservation) the other correspondence of the case under consideration, registers it, encloses all matter to be forwarded in an envelope, writes thereon the postal weight, and sends it on to the Accounting Office. Here the postal weight is verified, the stamps affixed, and the letter forwarded to the Post Office. By this system everything is under control, from the subject-matter of the correspondence to tke cost of postage. The whole routine is completed with rapidity and regularity under the immediate responsibility of the several persons who have charge of the matter in its various stages.

Before the Constitution "Sapienti Consilio" the second cardinalitial Prefecture of Propaganda was that of the cardinal prefect of finance, to whom are entrusted the finances of Propaganda, the expenses, subsidies etc. Decisions regarding subsidies pertained either to the cardinal prefect or to the General Congregation, or to the Board of Finance ( congresso economico ), which met as an executive committee for the transaction of thc most important ordinary business with which the General Congregation was entrusted. This Prefecture of Finance was composed of the general prefect, the cardinal prefect of finance, and of some other cardinal of the General Congregation. Pius X, however, by the above mentioned Constitution, suppressed the Prefecture of Finance, and its functions are now discharged by the General Prefecture. With the Prefecture of Finance was joined the executive office of the Reverend Chamber of Chattels ( Azienda della Reverenda Camera degli Spogli ), i.e. the effective administration of the revenues collected from vacant benefices ( spogli ), one of the sources of revenue of Propaganda. The two permanent commissions of Propaganda are: one for the revision of Synodal Decrees (provincial or dioccsan) in countries subject to Propaganda and one for the revision of liturgical books of the, Oriental rites. Each of these Commissions is presided over by a cardinal, has for secretary a prelate, and is always in close communication with its own secretariate.

V. Faculties.

The faculties (authority) of the Congregation of Propaganda are very extensive. To the other pontifical congregations are assigned quite specific matters: the only restriction on Propaganda is that of territory, i.e. while one congregation is concerned with rites, a second with bishops and regulars, a third with marriage, a fourth with subsidies etc., Propaganda deals with all such matters, in a practical way, for all the countries subject to it. Thus, the nomination of a bishop, the settlement of a matrimonial case, the granting of an indulgence, are within the jurisdiction of Propaganda. The limits of its jurisdiction are practical rather than theoretical; in general, it may be said that Propaganda is authorized to deal with matters peculiar to the other congregations, when such matters are presented as practical cases, i.e. when they do not raise questions of a technical character, or of general bearing, or are not of a class specifically reserved to some other department of the pontifical administration. This is more particularly true of the Congregation of the Holy Office. Matrimonial cases are very frequently brought before Propaganda, especially those in which the marriage is alleged to be invalid, eitlier as null from the beginning or because it was never consummated. The procedure in such cases is as simple as it is practical: Propaganda having been appealed to by one party, directs the local episcopal court to hold a canonical trial and to report its results to the congregation, it being understood that both parties, defendant and plaintiff, may protect themselves by legal counsel at their own cxpense. When the congregation has received the record of tlie local court it transmits the same to a consultor with a request for his opinion on the objective status of the question at issue ( pro rei veritate ). If the opinion be in favour of the nullity or of the non-consummation of the marriage, then the record, together with the opinion of the consultor, is sent on to a second consultor ( pro vinculi defensione ), whose duty it is to set forth the grounds, more or less conclusive, that can be adduced in favour of the validity, or consummation, of the marriage, and therefore of its indissolubility. The local record and the opinions of thc consultors ( ponenza ) are then printed in as many copies as there are cardinal-judges in the congregation. This printed ponenza is sent to each of these cardinals (the printed document is held to be secret, being looked on as manuscript) that they may examine the matter. One of them ( cardinale ponente ) is selected to summarize the entire case, and to him are finally turned over the local record and the opinions of the consultors, with the obligation of reporting on the case at the next General Congregation. At this meeting, the cardinals, after mature discussion, pronounce judgment. Their decision is immediately submitted to the pope, who ratifies it, if he sees fit, and orders the proper decree to be issued.

It should be added that all these proceedings are absolutely without expense to the litigants ( gratis quocumque titulo ), i.e. no one is ever called on for any payment to the congregation because or on account of any favour or decision. Thus, the wealthiest Catholic in America, Great Britain, Holland, or Germany, who has brought a matrimornal case before Propaganda, pays literally nothing, whatever the judgment may be. There are no chancery expenses, and nothing is collected even for the printing of the diocesan records, consultors' opinions, etc. This fact shows how absurd are certain calumnies uttered against the Holy See, especially in connexion with matrimonial cases, as though the annulment of a marriage could be procured at Rome by the use of money. Were such the purpose of the Roman Curia, it would not exempt the richest countries of the world -- those precisely in which it is easiest for persons of opulence to institute legal proceedings -- from any expense, great or small, direct or indirect.

VI. Incidental Features.

Propaganda formerly possessed a valuable museum, the Museo Borgiano (situated in the palace), so called because it was given by Cardinal Stefano Borgia, who was general prefect early in the eighteenth century. It once contained precious Oriental codices, especially Sahidic (Coptic of the Thebaid) now preserved with other Coptic codices in the Vatican Library, for the greater convenience of students. It possesses at the present time an important cabinet of medals and many ethnological curiosities sent as gifts by missionaries in far distant lands, and scattered through the Palace of Propaganda are many valuable paintings of the old masters. Propaganda also conducted, until within recent years, the famous Polyglot printing press whence, for some centuries, issued liturgical and catechetical books, printed in a multitude of alphabets. Among its most noteworthy curios is a Japanese alphabet in wooden blocks, one of the first seen in Europe. The Propaganda Press issued, among other publications, an official statistical annual of the missions conducted by the congregation (Missiones Catholicae cura S. Congreg. de Propaganda Fide descriptae), as well as the "Collectanea", a serial record of pontifical acts relating to the business of the congregation. In 1884 the Italian Government liquidated the real estate of Propaganda, leaving it only its palace, the neighbouring Mignanelli palace for the use of its schools, its printing press, and two villas used as summer resorts for the students of the Urban College.

One of the customs of Propaganda, worthy of special mention, is the gift of a fan to all employees at the beginning of the summer. This custom appears to have arisen in the early days, when fans were sent from China by the missionaries. It is customary for the Urban College to hold, at Epiphany, a solemn "Accademia Polyglotta", to symbolize the world-wide unity of the Catholic Church. At this accademia the Propaganda students recite poems in their respective mother tongues. Invited guests always find it very interesting to listen to this medley of the strangest languages and dialects. Another custom of the Urban College is that every graduate student ( alumno ), wherever he may be in the pursuit of his ministry, is bound to write every year a letter to the cardinal prefect, to let him know how the writer's work is progressing and how he fares himself. The cardinal answers immediately, in a letter of paternal encouragement and counsel. By this means there is maintained a bond of affection and of mutual goodwill between the "great mother " -- as the "Propagandists", or the alumni of Propaganda, designate the congregation -- and her most distant sons.

The names of many distinguished persons appear in the records of Propaganda, notably in the catalogue of its cardinals, prelates, and officials. Among the cardinal prefects entitled to special mention are the following: Giuseppe Sagripanti (d. 1727), a meritorious reformer of Roman judicial procedure; the very learned Barnabite Sigismondo Gerdil (d. 1802); Stefano Borgia, patron of Oriental studies, protector of the savant Zoega (d. 1804); Ercole Consalvi (d. 1824), the great diplomatist, Secretary of State to Pius VII, at whose death he was made prefect general of Propaganda by Leo XII; Mauro Cappellari later Gregory XVI, who was prefect general from 1826 to his election as pope (1831). Among the General Secretaries (who usually become cardinals) the following are particularly worthy of special mention: Domenico Passionei, created cardinal in 1738; Nicolò Fortiguerra, a distinguished man of letters (d. 1739); the erudite Angelo Mai, secretary from 1833 to 183S. The list of missionaries sent forth by Propaganda has been long and glorious, containing the names of many martyrs. The protomartyr of Propaganda is St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a German Capuchin, missionary in Grisons, Switzerland. The Calvinists killed him in the village of Sercis, 24 April, 1622. He was canonized by Benedict XIV in 1746. Propaganda holds at all times a grateful memory of the Discalced Carmelites. It was they who vigorously urged the Holy See to found the congregation, foremost among them being Domenico di Gesu e Maria, general of the order. In the original act of its foundation he appears as a member. Tommaso da Gesu, another Carmelite, opportunely published in 1613, at Antwerp, a Latin work on the obligation of preaching the Gospel to all nations.

Many authors have treated of Propaganda very inaccurately, and have confused the ancient and recent systems of administration. The most reliable of the earlier writers are: DE LUCA, Il Cardinale Practico ; CORNELIUS, Informationi intorno al Cardinalato (Rome, 1653); BAYER AND MENZEL, Breve compendium hist. S. Congr. de Prop. Fide (Königsberg, 1721); POLLARD, Les ministres ecclésiastiques du S. Siège (Lyons, 1878); LEGA, Praelectiones in textum juris canonici (Rome 1898); ANON., La Propaganda e la conversione de' suoi beni immobili (Rome 1884); HUMPHREY, Urbs et Orbis (London, 1899), 380-386. Cf. also MYERS, Die Propaganda, ihre Provinzen und ihr Recht ; BANGEN, Die römische Curie (Münster, 1854); PEIPER in Römische Quartalschrift , I (1889), for the Archives. For the most important Coptic codices formerly preserved by Propaganda see ZGEGA, Catalagus Codic. Copt. MSS. Musoei Borgiani (Rome, 1810); MEIER, Die Propaganda (Göttingen, 1852); LEITNER, De Curia Romana (1909).



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Catholic Church. Congregatio de Propaganda Fide Records
University of Notre Dame Archives
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