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A very astute and zealous student, he remained uncertain as to his calling.
During the cholera epidemic in Rome he ably assisted Cardinal Sala who became convinced that he was fitted for larger responsibilities, and he urged him to enter the priesthood. Yielding to these solicitations, he was ordained priest, the start of a brilliant ecclesiastical career.
Gregory XVI intended to make him a cardinal, but his death and the events that troubled the opening years of the pontificate of Pius IX postponed this honor until 19 December, 1853. He was elected pope on February 20, 1878 what he would remain until his death in 1903.
Eighty-eight statements on political theory and practice and the encyclical on the condition of labor, Rerum Novarum followed in 1891.