Last month the Middle School boys and girls welcomed a special visitor, Vice Corporal Alain Miserez, who recently retired from the Pontifical Swiss Guard in Rome, Italy. Alain provided a Power Point presentation to the students and fielded their questions regarding the Pontifical Swiss Guard. In his presentation, Alain gave the students a brief history of the Guard and described his time of service with Pope Francis and the impact that it had on him. He also talked about the requirements necessary to be a Swiss guard as well as the incredible honor that it is for a Swiss military officer to be chosen for such a service. As an added surprise, Alain attended a boys’ gym class and gave the boys a demonstration and instruction on the physical fitness required of a Swiss Guard. Alain is in the U.S. visiting with the Rea family. He plans to return to Switzerland and attend law school next year.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard is a small force maintained by the Holy See, it is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace. The Swiss Guard also serves as the de facto military of Vatican City.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard has its origins in the 15th century. Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) already made a previous alliance with the Swiss Confederation and built barracks in Via Pellegrino after foreseeing the possibility of recruiting Swiss mercenaries. The pact was renewed by Innocent VIII (1484–1492) in order to use them against the Duke of Milan. Alexander VI (1492–1503) later actually used the Swiss mercenaries during their alliance with the King of France. During the time of the Borgias, however, the Italian Wars began in which the Swiss mercenaries were a fixture in the front lines among the warring factions, sometimes for France and sometimes for the Holy See or the Holy Roman Empire. The mercenaries enlisted when they heard King Charles VIII of France was going to war with Naples.
Among the participants in the war against Naples was Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II (1503–1513), who was well acquainted with the Swiss having been Bishop of Lausanne years earlier. The expedition failed in part thanks to new alliances made by Alexander VI against the French. When Cardinal della Rovere became Pope Julius II in 1503, he asked the Swiss Diet to provide him with a constant corps of 200 Swiss mercenaries. In September 1505, the first contingent of 150 soldiers started their march towards Rome, under the command of Kaspar von Silenen, and entered the city on 22 January 1506, today given as the official date of the Guard’s foundation. “The Swiss see the sad situation of the Church of God, Mother of Christianity, and realize how grave and dangerous it is that any tyrant, avid for wealth, can assault with impunity, the common Mother of Christianity,” declared Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss Catholic who later became a Protestant reformer.
Pope Julius II later granted them the title “Defenders of the Church’s freedom”.