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Bill Thayer

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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 1

p. v Preface

When the Loretto Sisters were told by the Right Rev. P. J. Lavialle, D. D., of Louisville, to jealously treasure every scrap of paper relating to their venerable founder, the Bishop assuring them that, within a few years, every available document would be hunted up to write his life, they little thought that this their fondest hope would be realized so soon. Almost half a century had elapsed since Father Nerinckx had crowned his many labors by a most precious death; and his memory was so well nigh obliterated outside the homes of his spiritual children, that they could hardly credit the gratifying prediction.

The reader will judge for himself whether I was right in rescuing the memory of the Rev. Charles Nerinckx from comparative oblivion.

I had not the remotest idea of writing his life, until, having applied to a reverend gentleman for some documents in his possession, with the intention of embodying them in a short sketch of the life and works of Father Nerinckx for a magazine, I was told he could not part with them, unless I pledged myself to publish a biography of the founder of Loretto. Fully aware of my inability to do justice to the subject, and considering that more sacred duties allowed me to devote to the work but a few hours through p. vithe week, I very reluctantly complied with his request. If I have not fulfilled the task to the satisfaction of the public, I have at least the merit of having added another leaf to the glorious annals of the Catholic Church in these United States, and of having called the attention of more able scholars to an illustrious name in the galaxy of pioneer missionaries whom the New World owes to the persecution of the priesthood in France and Belgium, during the revolutionary period of 1793.

At first writing, many misgivings natural to literary infancy, and increased not a little by necessary translations from the Latin, Flemish, and French, halted me at every step. Besides, many gaps, filled, in some instances, only two and three years later, occurred in the narrative of events. I was continually cramped in its redaction, by lack of trustworthy information. This necessitated lengthy and often sterile researches, on rubbish-covered by-paths in the almost untrodden historical field of the end of the last and the beginning of the present century. Stray ends of information, gathered in out of the way places, have thus, at odd times, been knotted together in one unbroken skein of disentangled strands. Hence, the reader must not always expect the uneven thread of my narrative to smoothly reel from the literary spindle.a

The learned Archbishop Spalding has, it is true, eloquently embalmed Rev. Nerinckx' memory in the interesting pages of his "Sketches of Kentucky," and from them we have freely drawn. But we have succeeded in obtaining many valuable and hitherto unpublished documents, which enable us to give a fuller history of the venerable missionary's laborious career. It gives us, moreover, an opportunity of perpetuating the virtues and good deeds of his spiritual children, "the Friends of Mary at Foot of the p. viiCross," the self-sacrificing Sisterhood of Loretto, Ky., in the words of Bishop Flaget, "the most valuable legacy which good Mr. Nerinckx had left to his diocese."

We can vouch for the historical accuracy of the details of our narrative. We got them all at authentic sources, more especially from letters of Rev. Father Nerinckx, many of whose autographs the writer has in his possession. The few details we have about his ministry in Belgium, we partly glean from his own letters; partly from the London Catholic Miscellany, for April, 1825, which obtained its information from Rev. John H. Nerinckx, a brother of the missionary, living in London at that time.

From a Flemish narrative, edited by J. G. Lesage Ten Broek,1 at Amsterdam, in 1819, and one of Father Nerinckx' letters, published by the same at 's Gravenhage in 1825, for the benefit of the American missions, we gleaned many incidents of travel, and some historical data not to be found elsewhere. A unique copy of both is now in the possession of p. viiiMr. John Gilmary Shea, of New York,b who kindly allowed us the use of them.

The records of the Hospital of Dendermonde, Belgium, and a lengthy Flemish circular, published in Ghent by Rev. Nerinckx, whilst on a visit to his native country in 1816, add not a little interest to the work.

A precious collection of manuscript letters, written by the venerable missionary to his parents and friends of Flanders, now in the library of the world-renowned Bollandist Fathers, Brussels, has proved a mine of wealth. Were it only for the pleasure and profit its perusal and use have given us, we would cease to regret the, to our interested friends, tardy publication of this biography.

To the Most Rev. J. Roosevelt Bayley, D. D., Archbishop of Baltimore, for personal exertions in culling Father Nerinckx' Latin manuscript letters from among the numberless documents of the Metropolitan Archives, and intrusting them to us for use, our acknowledgements are due. Little did we think, when promising him the early publication of the work in which he took a kindly interest, that so many obstacles would beset our way, and that his own name would have been added to the bright historical roll of the departed Fathers before our work would see the light.

Our thanks are especially tendered to the learned and worthy Father Walter H. Hill, S. J., of St. Louis University, whose encouraging words and efficient help have made him like unto a charitable Booz to the gleaning Ruth.

Any one acquainted with the veneration Loretto entertains for its saintly founder, need not be told that the good sisters have taxed alike old papers and the memory of the older members of the community p. ixwho knew him well, to add to the comparatively meager account of so useful a life as that of the Rev. Charles Nerinckx.

The mention of some supernatural occurrences obliges us also, in obedience to the decree of Pope Urban VIII, to declare that all that is related in this biography, and all the titles of respectful homage bestowed on the priest whom it honors, rest on no other authority but the testimony of men. That testimony is above suspicion, but it is not brought forward to forego in any way the judgment of the Church.c

Monroe, Mich., Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. June, 1879.


The Author's Note:

1 Joachim George Le Sage Ten Broek, the noble champion of catholic interests in the Netherlands, was born of Protestant parents, in Groningen, November 27, 1775. He became a convert to the Catholic Church in 1806, and published, in 1815, his work on the "Grandeurs of the Roman Catholic Church." Three years later, he began the publication of the Godsdienst Vriend — "The Friend of Religion" — which he continued editing until 1824, when he became blind. This infirmity did not prevent him from assuming the control of the Catholyke Nederlandsche Stemmen — "Catholic Voices of the Netherlands," in 1835. Appreciating his services in the interests of religion, Gregory XVI made him Chevalier of the Golden Spur in 1840. Mr. Le Sage died suddenly, but not unprepared, at Grave-on‑the‑Maas, July 11, 1847. For many years, he went to Holy Communion daily. His father and brother were Protestant preachers. His efficient help in behalf of the American missions entitles him to a grateful remembrance in the prayers of our catholic people.


Thayer's Notes:

a Nor even to sedulously avoid some pretty bad split infinitives.

[decorative delimiter]

b The eminent Catholic historian, whose best-known and most comprehensive work was still ahead of him at the time this preface was written.

[decorative delimiter]

c This by way of disclaiming some of the author's own writing. In connection with Father Nerinckx, events much like miracles will be reported in the book (particularly in chapters 28 and 30; yet (article Pope Urban VIII in the Catholic Encyclopedia, my italics): "[Urban VIII] reserved the beatification of saints to the Holy See and in a Bull, dated 30 October, 1625, forbade the representation with the halo of sanctity of persons not beatified or canonized, the placing of lamps, tablets, etc., before their sepulchres, and the printing of their alleged miracles or revelations."


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