Father Nerinckx appointed administrator and bishop of New Orleans. — He declines the appointment. — He offers himself for the Louisiana mission. — New trouble in Kentucky. — The New Orleans difficulties. — The vicar-general opposes Father Nerinckx' departure.
It has truthfully been said that "the style is the man;" and this is especially true of a man who labors under difficulties and anguish of mind. Father Nerinckx' letters had given Bishop Carroll a thorough insight into the character of the man, and they heightened the esteem he had previously conceived for that martyr to duty.
Burdened with the administration of the American Church, that prelate had, after the purchase of Louisiana by the United States, also been canonically appointed administrator of the diocese of New Orleans; and when he petitioned the Holy See for the erection of the four new bishoprics of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Bardstown, he also resolved to confide the government of that distant church to another.
p186 Upon the resignation of Bishop Penalver y Cardenas, the administration of the diocese of New Orleans had devolved upon the only surviving canon, the Rev. Thomas Hassett, who assumed jurisdiction under turmoil trying circumstances. Anthony a was foremost in throwing difficulties in his way, and things came to such a pass, that, at the death of the administrator in 1804, a schism was imminent. On assuming jurisdiction in 1805, Bishop Carroll appointed Rev. Olivier, the then chaplain of the Ursuline convent in New Orleans, his Vicar-general with extraordinary powers; but this did not mend matters, and it was only in 1808 that the worthy priest partially succeeded in bringing order out of this chaos of confusion.b
Alarmed at the deplorable condition of the Louisiana diocese, Bishop Carroll thought that a man of Father Nerinckx' cast would be the one most likely to subdue the spirit of revolt, rife in New Orleans. He recommended him to Rome as a suitable person to take charge of the vacant diocese in the character of Administrator, signifying, at the same time, his desire of having him consecrated Titular Bishop, as soon as difficulties could be settled. The sovereign Pontiff acceded to the request of the Bishop, leaving it to his prudence and good judgment to determine the proper time for consecrating the reverend gentleman Bishop of that important See. The bulls of the four new Bishops arrived early in September, 1808, and p187 with them a brief appointing Father Nerinckx administrator of Louisiana; Right Rev. John Carroll to be Archbishop of the new American province.
The archbishop hastened to communicate this news to Father Nerinckx, who, unconscious of the high honor that awaited him, had resumed his arduous missionary duties with his accustomed zeal. The letters reached him on the 30th of October of the same year, and to say that he was thunderstruck is almost putting it mildly. "The good missionary was with Mr. Badin when he learned the news of his appointment. He meekly bowed his head, and observed to his friend, beginning with the words of the Psalmist: Bonitatem et disciplinam et scientiam docendus docere non valeo — 'having myself to be taught goodness and discipline and knowledge, I am unable to teach these things to others.' He mildly but firmly refused the proffered honor,"1 in the following letter, dated:
October 31, 1808.
"Right Rev. and respected Sir:
"Your lettersc of September 30th were handed to me rather late last night. Truly, I have rejoiced with exceeding great joy, hearing that the Father of mercies had finally designated the one whom we expected so impatiently, looked down upon his people, and blessed his inheritance, that He might rule it and exalt it for all p188 eternity! Blessed be His Holy Name here and world without end! I exultantly congratulate your Grace that it has pleased God to place you at the head of all the churches of the United States of America; so that, where you rose as the aurora of an incipient church, you may shine like the noonday sun, emitting rays which will glorify and vivify the other churches of the Union. May the good and ever-merciful God add many years unto the vigorous old age of your Lordship, for His greater glory and the good of His church, even at the expense of mine, if I have more years to live.
"It can not but be a cause of great and sincere joy to my reverend and cherished host, that he has not been called to the very hard and tremendous position of the Episcopacy; we however thought that he would have creditably carried the burden; but God's judgments are not the judgments of men. This church has reason indeed to be glad to hold its worthy Pastor [the Right Rev. B. J. Flaget], a Prelate, the best qualified for the responsible duties of that great office. I understand that the three others are evidently sent by God; men, according to the heart of the Prince of Pastors; infinite thanks to the Lord!
"So far, the letters of your Lordship forced tears of joy from every pious eye. But in the midst of my exultation and jubilant happiness, behold, in the twinkling of an eye, sadness has taken its place, and my bitterness has truly become p189 very intense. When reading in the next line, among the elect, my name, which should rather be condemned to eternal oblivion, I could not but emit deep groans and bitter sighs of grief, convinced, as I am that, in the judgment of an angry and justly irritated God, I should be buried away from view. Afflicted indeed, humbled and agitated, I thought over the matter for a long time, till finally, becoming more quiet, I commenced to examine the subject without commotion, thoroughly, and with the greatest care before God. Having first implored, as usual, the help of God in prayer, I consulted the glory of God primarily, then the salvation of my neighbor and my own salvation, as the only objects worthy of my consideration. After much and serious reflection, I am forced to the conclusion that it is simply and in every way impossible for me to accept the episcopal honor and burden; hence I refuse the proffered elevation, as being totally unfit for it.
"However, as of old, I am ready, if my superiors deem proper, to go and work in that vineyard under an administrator to be appointed there; for the news that reached us about the state of religion in that region is truly sad, and imperiously demands whatever help can be got. In case I should go there to work, I would desire my countrymen who might come to join me.
p190 The Rev. Benedict Joseph Flaget had also refused the mitre, and, upon Archbishop Carroll telling him he must accept, had referred the whole matter to his ecclesiastical superior, Mr. Emery, in Paris. This step delayed the consecration of the Bishop of Bardstown for over two years. Archbishop Carroll, not yet aware of Father Nerinckx' refusal of the dignity conferred on him, communicated the unwelcome intelligence to the missionary by letter, dated October 23, 1808, insisting, at the same time, upon his acceptance of the office, and inclosing a letter from Bishop Concanen, in Rome for New York.
Father Nerinckx again refused; but, alarmed at the good opinion the Archbishop had conceived of his abilities, and afraid lest, as in the case of Bishop Flaget, the Metropolitan would tell him he must accept, he resolved to forestall his kind intentions, and called upon his brother priests to assist him in ridding himself of the burden of the episcopacy. "Desirous of retaining him in Kentucky, where his labors were so fruitful, Mr. Badin, in conjunction with the Dominican Fathers of St. Rose, petitioned the Holy See that he might not be compelled to accept an office which would tear him from a field of labor in which he had already proved so eminently useful. They also represented that the great delicacy of conscience characteristic of Mr. Nerinckx, would render him exceedingly unhappy in so arduous a situation, if it would not wholly p191unfit him for its responsible duties."3 However, the humble priest did not dread the work; he was willing to take a share of the burden on his shoulders, provided the honor rested on a more willing head; and on the 3d of December he wrote to the Archbishop the following letter:
"Feast of St. Francis Xavier, 1808.
"Right Rev. and Illustrious Bishop:
"On the first day of this month, I received the honored letters of your Grace, dated October 23d, from which it appears that my recent letter had not reached you at the time of your writing. Truly, I have every reason to rejoice in the Lord from the bottom of my heart, for the consoling statement contained in them, viz.: that the Holy Father is so well pleased with the improving condition of ecclesiastical affairs in these States. Any one who takes ever so little interest in the welfare of the church, must be moved to tears of joy. To be sincere, however, I must confess that these good tidings are mixed with some sad ones: We deeply regret the danger we are in of not obtaining our Bishop elect, that man approved by the universal suffrage of his brethren, dear to God, just, kind, and pious. In the meantime we will not doubt that this, the amiable will of God, will be vigorously and sweetly brought to execution by the bowels of mercy of our Lord.
"But there is another reason why my soul refuses p192 to be comforted: I have looked into this matter of my appointment, considered it again and again; and, truly, in whatever light I look upon it, whithersoever I turn for counsel either of my own heart or around me, one and all loudly proclaim that it is entirely impossible that such be the will of God toward me, unless He wanted to punish and chastise in his wrath this poor people as well as me. Ah! would to God that these good men, who had some share in bringing about my nomination, knew me as I am! If I were foolish and insolent enough to accept the dignity, they would, indeed, have reason enough to lament my own inevitable ruin, and the irreparable loss of those who would be committed to my care. But my fears are allayed, seeing by the letter of Bishop Concanen, that the whole thing is left to the discretion of your Lordship, who is well aware by this time of my total inability; so that there is little room left for the least suspicion of my promotion. In order, however, that I may not seem to 'count my life more precious than myself,' and to shirk tribulations and labors, I shall most willingly accompany the one who is to preside over that flock, if I can in any way be of use to him; if my superiors approve of it, I am ready to spend my strength in some part of that land, to all accounts, really 'made desolate with desolation,' to the best of my ability. I therefore beg and entreat of your Lordship, to whom I have intrusted my all from the moment of my arrival p193here, as a father, to settle this matter in your pious sagacity, for the greater glory of God and the salvation of my own soul. . . .
"Commending myself again and again to the prayers and sacrifices of your fatherly solicitude, I remain,
"Of your Lordship,
"The most humble and obedient servant,
That this letter had not its desired effect appears from the following letter of Archbishop Carroll, written to a friend of Father Nerinckx, in Louvain — Mr. Peemans — the French original text of which I found in the Bollandist Library of the Jesuit Fathers, in Brussels:
"Baltimore, February 2, 1809.
"I had the pleasure of receiving, three days ago, your long expected letter, dated June 3d, of last year, containing another, too short to satisfy my curiosity, addressed to Messrs. Beschter and Wouters; the latter not being sealed, I have thought that I rightly interpreted your intention by reading it, and forwarding it to your friends, who, as well as Mr. Nerinckx, Henry and Malavé, are constantly busy in the vineyard of the Lord and render the most important services for the salvation of souls. I notice that p194 you had grave apprehensions with regard to Mr. Nerinckx, caused by a letter of Mr. Badin; but it is with the sweetest pleasure I am enabled to say that his sickness has not been a long one, and that he has entirely recovered; you will likely have the proof of it at his own hands by the same vessel which carries this letter. That vessel had to leave a month ago, and I sent to New York a heavy package of his letters for Brabant, addressed to N, and, indeed, you were not forgotten. In the midst of his joy at the erection of an Episcopal See in Kentucky, and at the nomination of Mr. Flaget to fill it (a man who, under the present circumstances, seems destined by Providence to unite all differences of opinion in the diocese confided to his pastoral solicitude), Mr. Nerinckx is grieved at his own nomination to the Apostolic Prefecture of the diocese of Louisiana, and says he will abscond in a Trappist cell rather than to accept the dignity. But nothing is as yet decided or will be until the very uncertain arrival of Mgr. Concanen, Bishop of New York, who is to be the bearer of all the Briefs, etc., relative to the changes which the government of this western portion of the church is to undergo. . . . Mr. Nerinckx, of your diocese of Mechlin, a most zealous missionary, is nominated Vicar Apostolic of Louisiana. . . .
"✠ John, Bishop of Baltimore."
p195 As late as September, the Bishop of Baltimore writes to the same Mr. Peemans:
Baltimore, September 5, 1809.
"I received with pleasure and gratitude, on the 7th of August, your letter of June 8th. . . . Mgr. Flaget, Bishop elect of Bardstown, in Kentucky, who returns to France to obtain some priests of St. Sulpice to accompany him to his diocese, seems determined to decline his nomination unless he succeeds in that mission. If Kentucky loses him, it will be a subject of eternal regret. Distinguished by all the virtues necessary to an ecclesiastic, he is especially so by his sweetness of temper, and his spirit of conciliation, which is just now absolutely necessary to the one who will be at the head of that diocese. . . .
Mr. Nerinckx still manifests the same aversion to his nomination as administrator of the diocese of Louisiana. I have just now renewed my entreaties and expostulations with him on that head, and God alone knows if he will persist in his refusal after the reception of the Bulls, which are still looked for in vain, the Bishop of New York not having yet arrived. The Trappists have left Kentucky for Louisiana, and Mr. Nerinckx, who is unwilling to shoulder the government of that diocese, desires, however, to accompany them thither in order to be near them and to work for the salvation of souls. . . .
"✠ John, Bishop of Baltimore."
p196 When the news of Father Nerinckx' nomination reached his old parishioners of Everberg-Meerbeke, in Brabant, the ladies of the parish immediately set about preparing and making up a complete suit of episcopal vestments, which they had almost ready to send to him, when they received the intelligence that he had firmly refused the proffered dignity.5
Determined to leave no stone unturned in order to escape the position which, in his humility, he thought so much above his capacity, Father Nerinckx resolved to call to his aid the influence of Right Rev. Leonard Neale, Bishop of Gortynad and Coadjutor of Baltimore, who, having known him at Georgetown, would, he felt assured, plead his cause with the Archbishop more successfully than he could himself. In a letter of January 16, 1809, to that prelate, he humbly but persistently represented the impossibility of his consenting to so "sad an election, foreboding nothing but evil to the church, brought about by to him unknown, and likely well meant influences; but so glaring an incongruity that he knew it would be enough to bring the matter to the notice of his Lordship, who had learned by personal experience how unfit a subject he was for that position, to have his name struck from the list of appointments."6 He also remarked that after the advent of the new Bishop, there would be abundance of priests p197 in Kentucky, and ended by requesting the Coadjutor's help in securing an appointment in Upper Louisiana, where priests were few.
But how horrified was the poor missionary, when, upon receiving a reply, he found out that Bishop Neale understood him as requesting to be appointed to a new bishopric in Louisiana! Never was man in a greater hurry to answer a letter:
"At the Priests' Land, near Bardstown, Washington Co., Ky., July 26, 1809.
"Right Rev. Sir:
". . . I must have made an egregious mistake, since your Lordship writes as if I had asked to be sent to that part of Louisiana for which Rome intends to provide. May the Lord God avert such a misfortune from me, and leave me sense and honor enough never to presume to accept such a dignity! It is true that a conditional arrangement of that kind has been sent from Rome, and how such a thing could ever be thought of, I am at a loss to account for. But that should not have troubled me much, since I was fully convinced that your Lordship and the Archbishop of Baltimore would correct the mistake which crept, I do not know how, into the letters of the Right Rev. Doctor Concanen, and would suggest the name of another worthy of the honor, and competent for the work. I hereby correct my mistake, my Lord, viz.: the mission I was asking for is situated in Upper p198Louisiana, some distance from the little town of St. Louis, in the vicinity of which the Trappists are finally trying to settle down, and some three hundred miles from here. The place designated in the Roman letters is in Lower Louisiana, the metropolis of which is New Orleans and more than one thousand miles distant from her. If I expressed myself inadequately, please excuse me; and procure me, I beseech you, the grace of ending my days in my humble position. . . .
"Your humble and obedient servant,
Now that he thought that matter set aside, and considering that with the arrival of the new Bishop, Kentucky would have a full supply of priests, Father Nerinckx turned his longing eyes to the abandoned missions of Upper Louisiana, the poverty of which tempted his disinterested zeal. More and more convinced in his own mind that he was rather a precursor to his brethren in the priesthood than a real missionary — a border pioneer, whose duty it was to clear up the land and prepare it for the more elaborate cultivation of subsequent tillers — he now directly applied to Archbishop Carroll "to be assigned to some of the stations in Louisiana deprived of laborers, which Father Badin has enumerated to your Lordship. There are great many such, but, if it be the will of God, it would perhaps be best to send me to the vicinity p199of the Trappist Fathers, who tell me they will settle in the parish of Cahokias, not far from a place commonly called St. Louis, where they hope to be of some help to Rev. Ollivierº and Rev. Maxwell."8
But the storm of abuse, spoken of in the preceding chapter, which had scarcely subsided, now rose with more vehemence than ever, this time against Father Badin; and his guest being the only one in whom he could confide or to whom he could apply for good counsel and efficient help, the Vicar-general insisted upon his remaining in Kentucky until peace should be restored.
Considerable trouble had been brewing in St. Michael's mission, where the people showed the most culpable indifference for priest and church; the cemetery was so badly neglected that the cattle had free access to it and desecrated the graves. The missionaries had vainly endeavored to bring these catholics to a sense of their duty, and five consecutive attempts of Rev. Badin had resulted in utter failure. Father Nerinckx, always more sensible to the wrongs done to others than to his own, went thither on Sexagesima Sunday of 1809, determined to settle matters to the satisfaction of priest and people; and he succeeded. Three families, among them Nancy Elder, were prevailed upon to come forward and publicly submit to the church authority, by subscribing the formula prescribed p200 by the Archbishop of Baltimore; and, in a few weeks, only seven families in the whole mission, who could not easily be reached because living at the very outskirts of the settlements, remained stubborn and persevered in their opposition to Father Badin; "and all that," writes Father Nerinckx to the Archbishop, "because they do not want him to be Bishop of Kentucky! Indeed, they could fare worse; although that reverend gentleman has repeatedly said in my presence that he would refuse the appointment if tendered to him. They could have expressed their views with less harm to the church and to themselves. Their conventicles always end in riots and dances; several of these, called frolics, frisks, or dancings, having taken place in Holy Cross congregation, ending in women's fights; and, at the very time that I had announced the establishment of the confraternity of the Holy Name in St. Charles parish, a number of so‑called catholics, ejusdem farinae, held dances on the limits of that congregation."9
Father Badin suffered greatly from all these petty persecutions; but his ever trusty and less impulsive confrere consoled him with the thought that they were fighting the good fight, and that their endeavors for the good of the people were appreciated by the many and applauded by their superiors. The venerable Mr. Nagot wrote to him from Baltimore: "Constans esto. Thanks be to the Lord that we have excellent p201and good teachers here; but it is a matter of surprise to us, that a country reclaimed from the savages only about twelve years ago, should so far exceed the seat of government of the United States in point of piety and christian discipline, that we can not but attribute a great part of the merit of the miracle to your zeal and fervor. . . ." Bishop Neale encouraged them in the following words: "You have entered the lists to promote the grand work; never yield till you accomplish it." And these sentiments were indorsed by one whose approbation they prized above all others, the Patriarch of the American Church, Archbishop Carroll, who wrote: "I am sure that many abuses will be prevented, if you succeed in your commendable endeavors, and I encourage you to perseverance."
Father Nerinckx now thought that nothing further interfered with his plans for the evangelization of Upper Louisiana.10 A number of catholic families had emigrated from Kentucky to that region in 1797, and settled in Perry county, in the neighborhood of what was subsequently known as St. Mary's of the Barrens. Josiah Miles, William Carico, and several other families, who subsequently moved, in 1810, to St. Louis county and settled near the mouth of the Missouri river, having heard of Father Nerinckx' intention of going out there, asked him to p202 accompany them; and our missionary once more wrote to Archbishop Carroll, urging the opportuneness of his being sent to Upper Louisiana, for the following reasons:
"1. There are two villages, St. Louis and St. Charles, •about twenty miles distant one from the other, which have together a population of about two hundred families, and are •fifty miles away from the nearest priest.
"2. There is a congregation, called Tucker's Settlement, of about sixty families, •seventy miles away from the former place, and another known by the name of Fenwick having twenty families, and thirty miles away from the first. All these people are scattered far and wide and never see a priest.
"3. Many infidel Indians live in the vicinity, and it is asserted that my labors among them would not be without fruit.
"4. This extensive field, perhaps ready for the harvest, is never visited by a priest. What faith, what morals, can these poor people have? How many of them who perhaps lose their souls for the want of an evangelical laborer!
"5. There are only two priests in the whole region, and they live •one hundred miles apart. One of them, Rev. Mr Olivier, is a very pious man, but old and totally ignorant of the English language. His pastoral charge extends, moreover, over a district entirely distinct from the one I refer to, and, if reports are correct, he will soon be forced by old age or death to vacate the p203field, for his congregation stands already now in need of an assistant priest. The other priest, Rev. Mr. Maxwell, is sufficiently known; he resides •seventy miles from Tucker's Settlement. This is a sad state of affairs, my Lord. Practically speaking, and taking into consideration the limited work Father Olivier is capable of, the position of Mr. Maxwell, and the little help the Trappists will give, this large number of families, scattered over an area of more than two hundred miles in extent, is, so to say, without a priest.
"Having, therefore, considered before God the wants of this mission, I can not see how I can decline that reasonable call unless my superiors decide otherwise. Your Lordship having the necessary jurisdiction to provide for those missions, I humbly entreat you to send me at once the necessary faculties, instructions, etc., to emigrate to Upper Louisiana, for these poor people most ardently wish for a priest.11 . . ."
The Archbishop's answer was any thing but favorable to the projects of our missionary, and renewed all his former fears. The delay of Bishop Flaget in accepting the mitre, caused a great deal of annoyance to Archbishop Carroll, who thought that, a Bishop having been appointed for Kentucky, he could no longer exercise jurisdiction in that State or grant the dispensations asked for by the Kentucky clergy. This he gave as a reason for not granting Father p204Nerinckx' request, pleading at the same time the wants of Lower Louisiana. Religion suffered greatly in New Orleans, and the Archbishop intimated that he felt disposed to force upon the humble priest the acceptance of the administration of that diocese.
Father Nerinckx again wrote, trying to convince Archbishop Carroll of his inability to perform the expected task, and expressing his honest opinion that greater than an administrator's powers were needed in the present emergency. His were conscientious motives, and his letter so thoroughly explains the situation of affairs, that we venture to give it in full, at the risk of trying the patience of some of our readers.
It bears no date, but must have been written in the Fall of 1809 — in August — as appears from the context:
"Right Rev. and Illustrious Sir:
"I understand from your honored letters that your reason for not granting my wishes is the delay of Bishop Concanen's arrival, who is the bearer of Roman Briefs that will put an end to your doubts about the controverted jurisdiction. Personally, I am of opinion that, till now, your Lordship's jurisdiction over the whole diocese has not been limited, since no circumscription of new dioceses has been determined upon. Such at least was the practice in the old country, where, although nominated to a pastoral benefice, p205we could do nothing until we had taken the customary oath before the Ordinary; the jurisdiction of the attending priest remained entire until the Elect had fulfilled all the formalities of the Curia. But I willingly acknowledge my ignorance in these canonical processes, with which I never had a reason to suspect I should have any thing to do.
"I am often covered with confusion when I reflect how troublesome a writer I must appear to your Lordship, whom I so frequently annoy with trifling affairs; but you have so far dealt patiently with my foolishness, and I beseech you to hear me again with fatherly kindness. The subject will not seem of little consequence to your Paternity, since you are usually so solicitous about the salvation of one single soul. Pardon me, therefore, my Lord, if I appear struggling to 'deliver my only one from the hand of the dog,' for I have suffered persecution and exile for it.
"I have noted several passages in your welcome letter, upon which I shall, with all due reverence, present the following comments:
"1. I would like to live in the vicinity of the Trappists solely to have near me a confessor who would help me with his advice and prayers in all difficulties, whilst I could, in the intervals, make such excursions among the settlements as my health and strength would permit; for, from what I hear, there is, in Upper Louisiana, p206 work without end or intermission, and no temporal comfort whatever.
"2. When I consider the state of the Kentucky diocese at large, under such favorable auspices of a coming abundance of laborers, the necessity of my remaining any longer in this region completely disappears;e whilst in that part of Louisiana I was speaking of, extreme want and penury call most emphatically for any priest who can be spared. It is entirely destitute of workers, over •one hundred and fifty miles away from a priest; it counts hundreds of families — catholics, or rather to be made catholics over again — scattered in diverse settlements. Many new families are continually going out there, and will emigrate in greater numbers when they see me or any other priest settled there. That the hopes of a greater number of priests in the Kentucky diocese will be realized without a doubt, is abundantly proved by the promises of the Sulpitians, the notable increase of Dominican Fathers, the erection of a Seminary, etc.; and, in all that, there ought to be an excess of consolation to Rev. Father Badin, who is undoubtedly of greater worth than I am.
"3. But let us see how we should look upon what your Lordship says toward the end of your letter (and that without hyperbola, I am sure,) of the statement and unutterable miseries and difficulties of the diocese of New Orleans: There is, you say, great corporal misery — this I have, with the grace of God, learned to despise — but p207 immeasurably greater spiritual misery, which ought to be looked upon as extreme, from the very fact that the present very worthy Vicar-general has tried every thing in vain to remedy the evil. I have heard as much here, and that more than once from men who had heard and seen it — been witnesses to it all. But what would I, in my nothingness, succeeding to so worthy and experienced a man, effect, where so great a one has worked in vain? . . . Allow me to observe, in the next place, of how little weight the authority of a Vicar-general has been considered, even in a man who is most worthy of the position, and who has been substituted in the place of another Vicar of similar merit and equal ill-success. Remember how shamefully that authority has been despised by clergy and people, which your Lordship so justly styles by their right name of firebrands of discord, scum of many nations, controlled by that God-forsaken Anthony ,12 a man of the most wicked dispositions, who is the cause of all the trouble there; and your Lordship will have to come to the natural conclusion that the hope of a successful end to all these difficulties can be based only upon an authority of sufficient influence to enforce obedience to its commands, and backed by a science profound enough to 'convince the gainsayers.' That such an authority can be no less than the episcopal one, is clearly proved by the two unsuccessful attempts of two p208Vicar-generals; for episcopal authority alone can quell all pretexts, subterfuges, and cavillations. I am convinced that the people, and perhaps also some of the clergy, will have respect enough for religious principles to give to their Bishop the honor which is his due, and to see the difference between episcopal and any other inferior authority.
"An observation akin to this is, that, if a Bishop has to be everywhere perfect in all respects, he must be more especially so in New Orleans; and, Right Reverend and dearest Father in Christ, what kind of administrator would I be in such a position, I should like to know? What a figure I would cut, indeed! They would justly scoff at such a foolish leader, and, to use the words of Peter Bles: 'Illiterate and foolish, will I not, as a Bishop, be an idol of grief and sadness, which God selected in his wrath for the desolation of the people, . . . so that it will come to pass what is read in St. Matthew: "When you shall see the abomination of desolation in the holy place," etc.' Nor can I be said to have been nominated by the Holy See for the administration of that diocese, and hence designated for it by Divine Providence. Why? Because it is plain to me that the very opposite is to be construed from the Brief. The Holy See itself acknowledges how little I am known, since it has recourse to your Lordship, to whom I am scarcely known for one or two years, and that only by vague rumors from a most distant p209 region. These rumors seem to me to be altogether too doubtful to make them the basis for the election of a man, otherwise unknown, to so tremendous a ministry, in such a fearful perturbation of the church, and that in a place so far from help and counsel, that it has scarcely been able to obtain a remedy to one single evil during the lapse of so many years, besides being hampered, or at least left to its fate, by the civil power.
"These arguments seem to me conclusive ones; at least I can not find any thing to object to them. Nor do I hereby intend to find fault with the way my superiors have acted. They may have been imposed upon, and deceived by false or erroneous reports; nor was any thing, up till now, determined upon. Besides, my mind is continually agitated with thoughts and reflections, the conclusion of which is ever the one suggested by St. Gregory in his L. S. Pastor., chapter 9: 'He who is void of virtues should not come forward, even if forced to.'
"To open my heart entirely to you, the place, not the honor, would be my due; because no comfort — a thing which I never merited — but undoubted and great difficulties, which I have, alas! but too often provoked, await me there. I would ardently wish to meet these, were it not that my lack of virtue would insure my inevitable ruin.
"I am detaining your Lordship too long, and p210would detain you ever so much longer, were I only to indicate in a few words my many reasons for lamentation. I will therefore condense in a few sentences what I would like to say and prove in many: 1. There is no need of my staying in Kentucky, nor will there be after the advent of the Bishop. 2. I might perhaps be of some use in that part of Louisiana, where so many heathens, heretics, nominal catholics, etc., live, scattered among many widely distant settlements without any priest. 3. In no being could you find qualities more diametrically opposed to those which the great ministry of a Bishop demands, than there appear even at first sight in a poor and miserable candidate, who urgently asks for the glory of God and for the honor of our much beloved and too greatly afflicted mother church, that his soul, and that of so many others to whom he could not but be a greater cause of ruin, may be spared. . . .
"While I finish my letter, we celebrate the feast of St. Philip Benitius, in the lesson of whose office I find that he concealed himself in the mountains of Tuniatumf as long as necessary, in order not to be forced to accept the burden of the Pastoral Office; and your Paternity knows better than I do, how many similar facts the catalogue of saintly men records. If such a thing was commendable in a saint, what will not a poor miserable sinner as I am do? Since, however, I stumbled in the first Nocturn of this day on those words of Ecclesiastes: 'Children, p211hear the judgment of your Father, and so do that you may be saved;' and in the Gospel of the Mass: 'You are my friends, if you do what I command you; . . . you have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you;' and since I have always made it my rule of conduct to hear, in all things, 'the Bishops whom the Holy Ghost has placed to rule the church of God,' I therefore repeat what I said so often — for 'anguish surrounds me, aye, the sorrows hell encamp me' — I commend again my life and death to your Paternity, so that I may finally know the will of God.
"Your Lordship will, I am sure, excuse me, remembering that if careful deliberation is required anywhere, it is without doubt necessary when a thing is to be decided for ever. And if your Lordship coincides with my views in sending me to Upper Louisiana — and without doubt you have the necessary jurisdiction to do so — I beg you will dispatch my letters as soon as possible, for many from Kentucky are going out there this fall, and I could save expenses in their company. A thousand thanks for your paternal solicitude toward
"Your humble and obedient servant,
The Archbishop could no longer withstand the earnest prayers and unselfish reasons of the humble priest; on the other hand, the "Sovereign p212Pontiff had yielded to the entreaties of Mr. Nerinckx, supported by the suffrage of his brethren in the ministry; and he did not insist on his accepting the appointment."14 And the following extract of a letter of Father Nerinckx to Archbishop Carroll, dated November 15, 1809, tells the result: "The Dominican Father Fenwick has just arrived in Kentucky, bearer of the good news that, in the opinion of your Lordship, I would not suit for the place. That has been my constant personal belief, and the opinion of all people of sense. And now I am freed from that nomination — Benedicam Domino in omni tempore; semper laus ejus in ore meo!" "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth!" exclaimed the thankful priest, with genuine delight.
Archbishop Carroll approved at the same time of Father Nerinckx' resolution to migrate to the missions of Upper Louisiana, for the reasons given in his former letter, and pronounced it "apparently inspired by the spirit of God." But Father Badin being his Vicar-general for the Far West, the Prelate directed Father Nerinckx to apply to him for the necessary faculties. The latter did not in the least relish that way of acting, for, as he wrote to Baltimore: "I know Father Badin well, and to commit this matter to him, is to refuse my request peremptorily." And so it was. The Vicar-general had no one whom he could depend p213upon for help; the Dominicans were not under his jurisdiction, and Rev. O'Flynn, but lately arrived, could hardly be relied upon to settle permanently in the Kentucky mission. He therefore insisted upon Father Nerinckx remaining at his post.
Truly, man proposes and God disposes! Father Nerinckx' reasons for desiring the Louisiana mission were praiseworthy; his Bishop thought him inspired by God for the salvation of souls; and, in the light of the extreme misery of these abandoned people, we are inclined to look upon Rev. Badin's motives for retaining him as unreasonable; yet the inscrutable designs of God's Providence willed it so. The true work of Father Nerinckx in Kentucky had not yet begun; and for that work of love — the foundation of a religious community which was to cover Kentucky and the Southwestern States with educational establishments — God willed that he should remain.
1 "Sketches of Kentucky," pg. 200.
2 Baltimore MSS.
3 "Sketches of Kentucky," pg. 200.
4 Baltimore MSS.
5 See "Sketches of Kentucky," pg. 200.
6 Baltimore MSS.
7 Baltimore MSS.
8 Letter to Archbishop Carroll. Baltimore MSS.
9 Baltimore MSS.
10 Upper Louisiana included all the territory of the present State of Missouri.
11 Baltimore MSS.
12 He subsequently submitted to Bishop Dubourg.
13 Baltimore MSS.
14 "Sketches of Kentucky."
a Antonio de Sedella, a populist priest who was as the time, and has since been by historians, viewed in sharply contrasting ways. A detailed defense of the man is to be found in "Fray Antonio de Sedella: An Appreciation", LHQ 2:24‑37. Maes follows Shea.
c I haven't seen Nerinckx' original letter, but I'm almost certain this is a translation error. Litterae (plural) is the Latin word for a letter (singular).
d The gentle reader should not go hunting for Gortyna in the United States; as coadjutor bishop, Neale had been made bishop in partibus of this little town on the island of Crete; see my note to chapter 24.
e Daniel Boone moved, also from Kentucky to Missouri if a few years earlier (1799), for something like the same reasons. It's interesting to see this ecclesiastical version of the same impulse.
f Not that it matters much here, but Tuniatum, despite the antiquity of the name, is a very uncertain place; it's usually said to be the modern Monte Amiata in Grosseto province not far north of Rome.
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