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Chapter 31

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Charles Nerinckx

by
Camillus Maes

published by
Robert Clarke & Co.
Cincinnati, 1880

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 33

p571 Chapter XXXII

1824‑1827.

The Loretto Society. — Apple Creek, Perry county, Mo., etc. — Cape Girardeau, Mo. — Father Nerinckx' Library. — Cedar Grove, Louisville, Ky. — Mission among the Osage Indians in 1847. — Interesting account of their customs.

We will now cast a rapid glance over the subsequent history of the Loretto Society.

At Father Nerinckx' death one hundred and twenty-one sisters had joined the Society, of whom eighteen had died. Mother Juliana remained at the Barrens, Perry county, Mo., and Mother Isabella Clarke became Dear Mother. Father Chabrat was continued ecclesiastical superior of Loretto until 1834, when he became Coadjutor Bishop of Bardstown. Under his administration the new chapel was dedicated in 1826, but no new foundations were made in Kentucky by the Mother-House. Sister Sabina O'Brien succeeded Sister Isabella as Dear Mother that year, and remained in office until 1832, when Mother Josephine Kelly, of Missouri, was elected to fill her place.

Some attempts at colonization were made by the Bethlehem foundation of Perry county, but p572they were not permanent; perhaps, owing to the fact that, in the mind of Father Nerinckx, its founder, the Loretto Society's aim is not so much the establishment of parochial schools, as self-supporting houses, such as academies, orphan asylums, and preparatory schools for first communicants. St. Joseph's parochial school, Apple Creek, Perry county, Mo., was the first foundation of the kind, attempted in 1831, Sister Eulalia Kelly, Superior. This place had been given to the sisters by a good old German catholic, Mr. Snowbusch, but it was no situation for a school. These sisters, three in number, were moved to St. Mary's, New Madrid, in the same State, November 2, 1832; they struggled for over six years against fever and sickness, and were finally recalled to Bethlehem, June 24, 1837.a

Sister Benedicta Fenwick was sent, in October, 1832, with five other sisters, to open a school at St. Michael's, Fredericktown, Mo.; they returned home in April, 1836.

A flourishing house, called Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was established by Sister Agnes Hart and seven others, at Ste. Genevieve, Mo. (where Father Nerinckx had died thirteen years previous,) June 24, 1837. It was suppressed in August, 1858.

Rev. Walter Coomes succeeded Bishop Chabrat as Ecclesiastical Superior in 1834, but the increasing wants of the catholics soon required his active co-operation on the mission, and from p5731835 till 1846, all authority was centered in the Dear Mother, under the immediate jurisdiction of Bishop Chabrat.

Sister Isabella Clarke was re-elected Dear Mother in 1838, and under her administration the Society began to get over financial embarrassments, which had been a serious obstacle to its progress. The sisters were invited to St. Mary's, near Pine Bluffs, Arkansas, the same year, and sister Agnes Hart, with two others, were sent there, the 11th of October, 1838. Mr. Crede Taylor, Francis Vangine, and some other good catholics gave them a small strip of land with some log and two frame buildings. St. Joseph's Little Rock, was established from this house, January 14, 1841, Sister Alodia Vessels, Superior. She and the two other sisters were recalled to Loretto, Ky., April 24, 1845. The Sisters of St. Mary's, near Pine Bluffs, were moved to St. Ambrose, Post Arkansas, in August, 1842, and recalled home to Loretto in May, 1845.

Bethlehem, Perry county, Mo., was moved to St. Vincent's, Cape Girardeau, in the same State, where a convent and academy were established in November, 1838, and put under the direction of Mother Benedicta Fenwick and seven sisters. This institution flourishes to this day.

In 1839, Right Rev. Bishop Flaget brought with him, from Europe, three French ladies, two of whom were candidates for the Loretto p574Society. Money being a very scarce article at Loretto in those days, he arranged with Bishop Chabrat to pay their travelling expenses with a portion of Father Nerinckx' books. Mother Isabella objected, that, by the express terms of the founder's last will, the library was to remain at Loretto for the use of the priest who had charge of the Society. But, considering the little use to Loretto of that very select collection of ecclesiastical authors, and the great benefit which the seminarians would derive from such a valuable acquisition, the director quieted her scruples, and carried away most of the books over to the Seminary in 1841. The remainder were taken away under Bishop Spalding.

Bishop Flaget also entertained a great desire of possessing an institution for the education of the deaf and dumb, and having on hand a donation of several hundred dollars which he could apply to a charitable purpose of his own selection, he induced the Loretto Sisters to try the experiment; accordingly, three children were admitted in 1840. But Bishop Chabrat strongly urged upon the prelate the claims of the Seminary, which was in great need of assistance, and the intended means of support having thus been withdrawn from the establishment, the attempt failed.

The Cedar Grove property, Portland, Ky., now better known as Mount St. Benedict, near Louisville, was bought in the Spring of 1842, by Bishop Chabrat for $1,200, and the sisters p575founded the now flourishing academy on the 16th of August, of the same year. The place was deeded by Bishop Spalding to the Loretto Sisters in 1856, the consideration being $4,000.

Dear Mother Generose Mattingly was appointed as successor to Sister Isabella in 1842; and Mother Berlindis Downs, whom the Bishop had named to succeed her in 1843, was elected Dear Mother by the community in 1849, after she had already acted as such for two terms.

Under her administration, and by the advice of Rev. Father David A. Deparcq, who had been appointed ecclesiastical superior in 1846, four Loretto Sisters were directed to leave Ste. Genevieve, Mo., on the 9th of September, 1847, under the escort of Rev. J. Schoenmakers, S. J., to open a manual labor school among the female portion of the Osage Indians.

This mission had been for several years in the hands of the Presbyterians, who, convinced that their Calvinistic teachings would remain barren among the Indians, abandoned it in 1845. In the course of the same year, Major Harvey, Superintendent of the Indian tribes, having assembled in council the several tribes of the Osage nation, exposed to them, in the liveliest colors, the great advantages of a good education, adding that their Great Father, the President, would send them missionaries to instruct their children, if they so desired. One of the chiefs replied that the only missionaries they wished p576for, were the Black-gowns who had visited them many years ago. In fact, Rev. Father De Lacroix had visited the Osages in 1820, and Father Van Quickenborne, S. J., as well as Rev. Mr. Lutz, were among them several years later. The Superintendent, a just and liberal man, communicated the Indian's reply to the government, supporting their demand as a just and beneficial one. In pursuance of his advice the President requested the Superiors of the Society of Jesus to take charge of the mission, and they accepted.

In the Autumn of 1846, the Rev. Father Schoenmakers went to examine the state of affairs at the mission situated on the Neosho river, a tributary of the Arkansas, forty miles from Westport, a frontier town of the State of Missouri. He came back to St. Louis in mid-Winter; and left definitely for that mission, the 7th of April, 1847, accompanied by Father J. J. Bax, S. J., and three coadjutor brothers. To the great surprise and delight of the Indians, who had mourned Father Schoenmakers' departure and his prolonged absence with little hope for his return, the missionaries arrived at Osage Mission, the 28th of the same month, and a school was opened on the 10th of May. Before the close of the year 1847, the council had to petition their Great Father to enlarge the houses of the mission, so well was p577the school attended, and the government acceded to this request.

The chiefs soon manifested an ardent desire to enjoy the same educational blessings for their daughters. Father Schoenmakers resolved to interest a generous and fervent community of nuns in the education of the Osage girls. With this intention, he went to St. Louis, but he knocked in vain at the door of several convents of that city; the enterprise frightened every one.1 At length, he addressed himself to the Sisters of Loretto, Kentucky; and, remembering the last wishes of their generous founder, the Superiors eagerly accepted the offer.

After remaining about ten days in St. Louis, making preparations for their long trip, and purchasing clothing and other necessary articles for the Indian children who were to be placed under their care, the sisters embarked on the steamer J. J. Hardon about the 20th of September, 1847, and, after many delays on the sand-bars of the Missouri, they reached Kansas City, at that period, the western end of civilization. A few straggling log or frame houses were, at that time, dignified by that name; but the sisters found there the kindliest hospitality at the house of Mrs. Chouteau, the leading lady of the place, a good catholic and a real mother to p578priests and religious. As the good sisters had never traveled away from civilization, they knew very little of the difficulties often encountered in crossing the vast prairies of the West, and of the dangers attending camping-out at night. Mrs. Chouteau proved her maternal kindness to them, by preparing every thing necessary for their tedious journey of one hundred and fifty miles.

Rev. Schoenmakers hired a two-horse wagon, and, on the 2d of October, 1847, the little caravan, consisting of the Jesuit Father, Mr. Jarboe, Mother Concordia, and Sisters Bridget, Mary, and Vincentia, started for the Osage Mission. Nothing unusual occurred during their first day's journey to mar the happy cheerfulness of our missionaries, but when night came, the sisters wondered not a little to see nothing before them but the immense waste of prairie and the sky above. However, under the guidance of the priest, they pushed bravely on, and they soon perceived in the distance the hoped for shelter, a little building which would hardly accommodate the party, the only house between Kansas City and the mission. But they soon found out that they had been forestalled; the building was crowded; nothing daunted, the sisters alighted, and, having spread a cloth on the grass, they had reason to be thankful for the kind forethought of Madame Chouteau, and did honor to the excellent provisions she had given them. After night prayers, Father Schoenmakers p579and Mr. Jarboe were soon snugly ensconced under their blankets on the grass, whilst the sisters reclined as best they could on some clothing which had been spread in the wagon for their night's rest. Morning dawned at last, and was thankfully welcomed by the poor sisters, little accustomed to such open air sleeping quarters. Sister Vincentia soon bestirred herself making coffee over a blazing fire, and they all partook with much zest of the scanty breakfast, not a little amused at the novelty of their situation, and, in Indian fashion, they sat upon the grass.

The journey was now resumed, and the morning hours passed swiftly by, as our travelers spent most of them in devotions, whilst their thoughts reverted to the sisters at home, who had the happiness of assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on this bright Sunday morning. At noon, they reached a spot called Cool Water Grove; here they met some peaceable Miami Indians, the chief of whom spoke English enough to make himself understood. Father Schoenmakers and the sisters visited his tent, and were delighted to learn that his children had been educated by sisters in Tennessee. After a short rest they proceeded on their journey, and, at night, reached a trading-post where they were kindly received; however, the Indian saddles, trunks, and pelts, which filled the place, emitted a most insupportable odor which rendered their stay there any thing but agreeable. Nothing but the welcome sight of a gentleman p580on horseback, the only white man they had seen since leaving Kansas City, relieved the tediousness of their third day's journey; and they encamped near the Osage lands. This was truly a night of horrors for the poor sisters; the appalling stillness of the boundless prairie was only broken by the wild howls of the prairie wolves, and the darkness of the nightb only served to increase their terror. Left to themselves in a wild country, far from all human aid, they fervently invoked that Divine Providence which Father Nerinckx had taught them to rely upon with such unbounded confidence, and their fears soon subsided; they felt that they were under the powerful protection of Him, for whom they had sacrificed every earthly gratification.

About noon of the fourth day, they reached Mr. Papin's trading-post, ten miles from the Missouri; here, men, women, and children had assembled to meet Father Schoenmakers and his little band. "At first sight," writes one of the sisters, "these Indians seem more like spirits of the lower regions than human beings; the grandees among them are more frightful in appearance than the common class. The latter are filthy and almost without covering; the former are painted red, black, green, and yellow; their heads are adorned with eagle claws, shells, heads of birds, and feathers of various kinds."

In the afternoon, our party left the post, and proceeded to their mission home, the wagon being p581followed by some fifty boys in a state of complete nudity. Father Bax, S. J., accompanied by a dozen little boys, came to greet our travelers at their arrival. The good sisters were immediately introduced into their new home, made of hewed logs, two stories high. They became at once the one object of the curiosity of the inquisitive Indians, who would go every little while and look at them through the numerous crevices with which the ill-constructed house abounded. A few split saplings roughly set on four round sticks to imitate benches, were the only furniture of the place; a bench, made by Mr. Jarboe out of a piece of rough board, and long enough to accommodate the four sisters, proved quite a commodious seat to the poverty-loving Friends of Mary.

On the 10th of October, the sisters opened the school with four pupils, three half-breeds and one Osage. In a few months the school counted eighty children, who, thanks to the indefatigable zeal of their teachers, soon became quite proficient in reading, writing, elementary arithmetic, grammar, and geography, and had acquired some knowledge of drawing, painting, and all kinds of needle-work. Some learned music with great success, for the Osages are fond of singing; and it was edifying to the missionaries, and a great gratification to the Indian parents, to hear the dear children sing hymns and canticles during divine service on Sundays and festivals. This success, of course, was not p582reached without much trouble to the sisters, but here, like everywhere else, they proved true children of Loretto, faithful to the spirit of their holy founder. Says Father Bax, S. J.:2 "Their sufferings, their trials, and their privations were very great. They were obliged to sleep in the open air. That did not hinder two other sisters from coming to join them a little after in their heroic enterprise. Their patience, their kindness, their courage and their perseverance, have gained the esteem, affection, and love of every one. They are succeeding; they have already produced a considerable change, and are doing great good. The talents displayed in the direction of their school, and the rapid progress of the children are admired by all the strangers who visit this community."

The school being a manual labor establishment, the girls learned to cook, wash, iron, bake, sew, knit, etc., and their industry soon procured for the boys pants, vests, and other garments, to replace the little ragged blanket which formerly was their only scanty attire. Bead, shell, and other fancy work proved a favorite occupation to the Indian maidens, who have a wonderful taste for such ornaments that gratify their unsophisticated vanity. They considered it a great privilege to work for the altar, and made laces, albs, vestments, etc.; later on, when other churches were built in the neighboring p583missions, the children delighted in furnishing them with all the necessary ornaments.

As the Indian children were not used to confinement, in fact, quite averse to it, the missionaries were obliged to give them many recreations. On those days, they wandered through the woods, gathering nuts and wild grapes, or disported themselves in the clear waters of the beautiful Neosho, for Indian papooses take to the water like ducks. However, when the elders were absent on a hunting expedition, which happened twice a year, the girls, naturally timid, were afraid to remain in the forest, and kept close to their guardian angels' side.

"After the ground was plowed, and corn and wheat sowed by squaws, who do all the heavy work, the whole tribe started for the buffalo hunt. Not a being was left behind, the children being left to be cared for by brothers and sisters under the supervision of Father Schoenmakers, who, like a good shepherd, generously provided for his numerous flock (like the primitive christians, we have all things in common). The sick ones were stretched on a pony, a pack on each side of the animal preventing their falling off. On their return, the corn was ripe and undisturbed, though no fences were made to secure it. This precaution was unnecessary; the Indians keep no other animals but horses and dogs, and although they have them in great numbers, they take them all with them to the hunt.

p584 "The Indian is at home in any part of the prairie; the women, in a few hours, make excellent tents. The men shoot and kill the game; the women attend to the drying of the meat; this was done by a fire made of buffalo chips, as they call them, no wood being obtainable for miles around. The Indians are very fond of that meat, and on their return from the hunt, they bring their children some packs of it; the little ones rejoice over this as much as white children do over candy. Occasionally, some Indian offered a buffalo tongue to the sisters; in presenting the gift, he would say: 'I thought of you, way yonder!' This was one of their best turned compliments. Before going to the hunt, they always brought to the sisters their most valuable objects to keep for them. One of them once opened his trunk on his return, to see whether all was right within; to the horror of the poor sisters, he displayed a handful of scalps at which he looked with much complacency, shaking the long hair, whilst his eyes sparkled with delight. These were his treasures!

"When a respectable person among them dies, his friends kill a horse on the grave of the deceased, while a party of warriors go in search of an enemy whom they can kill and scalp. They then imagine the dear departed happy in his new hunting-grounds, as he has a horse to ride on and a servant to wait on him.

"One of the boys was taken sick at the mission. p585His father had him removed to his tent; the consequence was, the poor boy took cold, and died. The Indian was sore perplexed, not knowing what to do with him; he consulted a friend: 'My boy," said he, 'loved the white men, yet, he belongs to the tribe; to whom shall I send him?' The friend advised him to send him to the Black-gown; accordingly, he was brought back to the mission, dressed and buried according to our customs. This was what they called giving him over to the white men. The Osages seldom put their dead under the ground. They place them in a sitting posture, clothed in a buffalo robe, a fan in the hand, beads of various colors about the neck, and near them various trinkets, even coffee and sugar.

"The manner of mourning among the Indians is quite singular. The women cut and disfigure their hair, which is naturally beautiful, and put a large patch of mud on the right side of the head. They do not eat, as long as that symbol of grief is there. However, if they are invited to eat by various persons whom they respect, they show their deference by calling for water and washing off the mud; they then comply with the desire of their friends. But it must be remembered that this is a very high mark of esteem. Once a woman brought a little girl to the mission; Sister Bridget gave the child a good bathing, dressed her, and cut her hair, trimming it nicely, so as to give the little one a better appearance. The mother having come p586in, immediately raised the Indian whoop, and exclaimed: 'Alas! a stranger has done what thy mother should have done herself; thy mother should have made thee mourn for thy dead father.' The mourning of their men is somewhat different: they let the hair grow very long, they disfigure their faces with mud and white clay, then go day after day to the grave of the dear departed, where they sing, or rather howl, most pitifully.

"The Osages require great attention from their relatives in time of sickness. To uncles and aunts they give the title of little fathers and mothers; and, if one of them fails to visit a sick child, the other relatives hack their heads like mince-meat. When a child died at the mission, the parents required payment from the fathers and sisters, which they usually paid in blankets, calico, or such things. The sisters had a little girl, a daughter of Red Eagle, who, after a lingering sickness of some months, died. Red Eagle was so enraged, that he went to the mission with the avowed purpose of whipping the sisters! Father Schoenmakers sent Sam. Bevenan, an Indian, to remain in the sisters' house, and prevent the chief from effecting his purpose. It is doubtful whether Sam. would have succeeded; but, fortunately, an Indian woman, named Gray Heels, happened to be in the house when Red Eagle came, and she told him, in the Osage tongue, that the sisters had been very good toward his child, and had given her plenty of p587water. It is an Indian notion, that, in sickness, water is the most efficient remedy. This pacified the fellow; he left, not, however, without his pay, namely, a blanket and about ten yards of calico!

"If one Indian, in a quarrel, kill another, (a case seldom met with,) the murderer has to pay for that death with all his horses and whatsoever else belongs to him; these are distributed among the relatives of the murdered man.

"The Osages have many faults; they are sensitive and jealous; but have a catholic heart. No missionaries belonging to other denominations have ever succeeded in gaining them to their opinions. The fathers and sisters always found them ready to learn their prayers and catechism. On the first Christmas of 1847, only two, besides the religious, went to holy Communion; but on the Christmas of 1848, several boys and girls made their first Communion. Many of the children had been baptized by some travelling missionary, a few years previous; they kept the picture which the priest had given them, as a record of their baptism. But it has been a source of real sorrow to the good missionaries and sisters, to have effected so little permanent good among them, notwithstanding their energetic efforts, and their self-devotion; however, they have the consolation of having baptized thousands of infants, who are now glorifying their Creator in heaven.

"Mother Concordia, and after her, Mother p588Bridget, well understood the sublimity of their holy mission; and under their kind maternal sway, the sisters faithfully followed their example. Oh! that I could describe the trouble, the anxiety, they suffered for those poor children, most of them covered with most disgusting sores! With what tenderness they washed and dressed those ulcers, so revolting to nature. They had imbibed the beautiful maxim of their holy founder: "Gain souls, buy souls, at whatever cost;" many a one was purchased for a few yards of calico. This bribe did not prove sufficient in the case of an old woman whose sickly child the sisters were most eager to baptize; but the tempting offer of some fruit made her yield at last. The little one was baptized, and named Joseph, and shortly after, God, in his mercy, took the dear little soul to himself. There are few children raised among the Indians, most of them die young. Of the great number of families who were in and about the Osage mission, the sisters knew but two women who raised four children to maturity; and of all the girls who were raised at the mission during the first fifteen years, and who afterwards married, not ten are living now."3

After the treaty of 1866, with the government, the poor Osage Indians reluctantly left their beautiful lands of the Neosho, and their dear Mission Home, to remove further West. A new mission was formed by the government, and, against all p589equity and justice, given to the Quakers, notwithstanding the energetic protest of the Osages. The Osage mission town, settled by whites, soon replaced the Indian tent, and is built on the site of the Indians' burying-ground; to procure for the white children the advantages of education, of which the unfortunate Indian progeny had been deprived, the Sisters of Loretto soon laid the foundation of a fine stone building, which was completed in three years, at a cost of $25,000. The new establishment is called St. Ann's Academy, the first of the kind founded in Southern Kansas; and one hundred acres of land surrounding it have been deeded to the sisters. Thanks to catholic enterprise and zeal, the children of the Kansas pioneer enjoy all the blessings of a truly christian education.


The Author's Notes:

1 Cfr. "Western Missions and Missionaries," by Father Desmet, pg. 350, sqq.

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2 In "Western Missions and Missionaries," by Father Desmet, pg. 360.

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3 Narrative by one of the sisters, 1874.


Thayer's Notes:

a Both dates are printed thus; that makes less than five years. The latter date is the same as the date of foundation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel a few lines further on; this seems unlikely to me: I suspect that for the New Madrid foundation the 1837 date is the error.

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b On October 4, 1847, the moon was waning, just past the quarter (see this page of the U. S. Naval Observatory lunar almanac), and thus, of course, was visible most of the night (U. S. Naval Observatory data for Kansas City, Kansas) if the skies were clear: not the brightest night, but not the darkest either.


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