Pope Leo XIII was not an Augustinian, but knew and appreciated the Order from his days in the town of his birth.
He was born as Gioacchino Pecci in 1810 at Carpineto, Italy, where there was an Augustinian church and house (convento). Carpineto Romano is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Rome in the Italian region of Lazio, and is located about 60 kms southeast of Rome. Ordained a priest in 1837, he moved in 1841 to Perugia, where as a priest he started a bank for poor people, and introduced other reforms. In 1843 he went as papal nuncio to Belgium, and when recalled in 1845 he was made bishop of Perugia. Pecci governed his diocese in such a manner as to point ahead to his later career as pope. Pope Pius IX made him a cardinal in 1853. In an address as the Cardinal Archbishop of Perugia on 21 July 1860, he spoke highly of the Augustinians who were labouring there.
He became pope on 20 February 1878. In his fondness for the Augustinians, he rebuilt their ancient church and convento in his native town, Carpineto, and gave it an annual donation of money. In 1888 it was made the novitiate for the Roman Province and for adjacent Italian provinces. Pope Leo had already assisted the Order by stepping into it governance in December 1880 to have the forward-looking and dynamic Anthony Pacifico Neno O.S.A. called from the position of Augustinian Provincial of Villanova Province (United States of America) to govern the Order internationally. The assistance of Leo XIII was so invaluable that the suggestion has been made, "The Pope in the year 1256 helped the birth of the Order, and Leo XIII helped save it from dying." This suggestion is not totally without merit. He also showed his interest by approving the acquisition and use of land immediately adjacent to Saint Peter's Square as the site for a new Augustinian General Curia and Augustinian international house of studies (Saint Monica's International College). Leo also appointed three gifted Augustinians as cardinals, and previously had appointed one of them, Sebastian Martinelli O.S.A., as apostolic delegate to the United States from 1896 to 1902. In March 1892 he gave the Order the parish of Castel Gandolfo, which contains the summer residence of the Pope. (In 1929 Pope Pius XII took this parish from the Order, and instead gave it the Parish of Saint Anne - the Parish of Vatican City - instead.)
He also appointed some members of the Order as diocesan bishops in areas where Augustinians normally had no expectation of this appointment. One of these Augustinians was a professor at Saint Monica's International College in Rome, Giovanni Camillieri O.S.A.. He became the Bishop of Gozo, Malta. In his long pontificate of twenty five years, Leo officially declared only seventeen persons to be saints of the Church, yet two of these were Augustinians, Clare of Montefalco and Rita of Cascia. The devotion of Leo XIII (Pope from 1878 to 1903) to Mary under the title of Mother of Good Counsel has become proverbial especially because of his words, saying of that pontiff: "Children, follow her counsels." One of the famous pictures of that pontiff is the one taken beneath a picture of Our Mother of Good Counsel. Whence came the Pope's devotion to the Mother of Good Counsel, the fresco on the wall of the Augustinian church at Genazzano, an hour's drive from Rome?
Images (above): At right, Pope Leo XIII, and (at left) part of his home town, where he renovated St Augustine’s Church and returned it to the care of the Augustinians.Perhaps it was through his Augustinian confessor, the Papal Sacristan, Bishop William Pifferi O.S.A., himself an ardent apostle of this Marian devotion. On 22nd April 1903, Leo announced the inclusion of the invocation to the Mother of Good Counsel in the Litany of Loreto. Among the poems of the Pope Leo XIII was found this one to the Mother of Good Counsel:
THE PRAYER OF JULIUS (1895)
Mother, I called thee from my childhood hour,
With Prayer and hymn I besought thy power,
A youth, I felt alas the olden fire,
Cool in the midst of rash desires.
But thou art faithful: help thy erring child
Thou “Mother of Good Counsel” styled – Leo XIII
Leo XIII died on 20th July 1903, at the age of ninety-three years. Fr Angelus Ferrata O.S.A., Commissary General of the Order at the time of the death of Pope Leo XIII, addressed a circular letter to the Order which read in part: "What is of great interest to us [Augustinians] is this: that there were hardly any other Pontiffs to whom we owe so many and such great favours. He created three of our brethren Cardinals; he promoted many of the brethren to the Episcopate; he granted us two Vicariates Apostolic; he restored to us the church of Saint Peter in Ciel d'Oro at Pavia, and he permitted the remains of Our Holy Father Saint Augustine to be carried there to our custody once again; he gave us many convents, too, among which is that in his native Carpineto, which is the sign of a very kindly soul. He had a singular piety toward Our Mother of Good Counsel and he enlarged our convent at Genazzano, and he placed the invocation to Our Mother of Good Counsel in the Litany of Loreto, from which so much honour has come to our Marian shrine at Genazzano that no one can fail to notice it. He canonized St Clare of Montefalco and St Rita of Cascia, and beatified many others."
The Order did appreciate the interest that Leo XIII had in it, and to this day his name ranks high among its benefactors. AN4336