With Pope Francis arriving in America, there are many media sources recollecting the “first” papal visit to the United States by Pope Paul VI. But this isn’t quite correct. Back in 1849, there was a covert visit to the United States by Pope Pius IX. Here’s a video explaining it, or you can read on below for a full explanation of this little known historical fact.
I’ve only had the opportunity to visit the White House once and after lunch I was shown a portrait of a large ship flying the American and Papal flags. It depicts the first papal visit to the territory of the United States in the person of Pope Pius IX in 1849.
The American USS Constitution (known affectionally as “Old Ironsides”) received onboard King Ferdinand II and Pope Pius IX on Aug 1 1849 giving them a 21-gun salute. By stepping on board an American vessel, the Holy Father officially entered American territory. A commissioned military ship has the same legal status as a piece of political soil. So while Pius IX did not actually enter the borders of the United States, he did technically step foot onto American territory.