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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Arms and the Monk!
The Trappist Saga in Mid‑America

M. M. Hoffman

published by
Wm. C. Brown Company
Dubuque, Iowa, 1952

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 12

 p111  XI

Two Trappist Bishops

It is, of course, an unusual thing for a monk to be chosen a bishop, and especially a Trappist monk; for two Trappist monks to be chosen bishops — and within two years time and from the same monastery — is something that never occurred before or since this event at the Iowa foundation in the long annals of the Church in both hemispheres. Only once before from the time of the great Abbot de Rancé of La Grande Trappe had a Trappist monk been elevated to the episcopacy. What adds strikingly to the singular quality of this affair is the fact that the monastery and the community from which they were chosen were so humble and poverty-stricken in the estimation of contemporary Church authorities that they were refused abbatial status.

Just when Mathias Loras, bishop of the Dubuque diocese whose limits at this time were coextensive with the state of Iowa, first began to think of requesting from Rome a coadjutor, and when, casting about in his own mind, his attention became fixed on Prior Clement Smyth, cannot be definitely established; whatever signs our sources reveal show that it must have been during the year  p112 of 1853. Born and reared during the hectic days of revolutionary and Napoleonic France, spending years of active missionary labors in the pioneer districts of Alabama and Florida among whites and negroes, and in his later life continuing his rugged and energetic career amongst frontiersmen and red aborigines in the far‑flung see of the Northwest, it is small wonder that now in the sixty-first year of his life, his health and vitality were beginning to ebb. He wore glasses in his later years to save his fast weakening eyesight, his hearing had become impaired, and he was becoming subject to ever lengthening spells of illness.

During his close and intimate relations with the brethren of the New Melleray priory he had naturally been able to study the character and administrative ability of Father Clement. The illustrious Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, who took an intense interest in the early history of the Church of the Northwest, wrote this version of the selection: "It was a most remarkable incident — Bishop Loras, a Frenchman, and his priests, nearly all Frenchmen" (as a matter of truth, however, less than a third of the priests of the Dubuque diocese at this time were French) "debating as to who should be named his coadjutor and successor. The bishop had cast his eyes toward a French priest, the pastor of the Cathedral of St. Louis, Father Paris, not, we can well believe, because he was a native of France, but because he was, as we know, a holy and learned priest. But the clergy of the Diocese of Dubuque suggested that a bishop of another nationality might, all circumstances considered, be more useful in the Lord's vineyard. Bishop Loras readily consented to the wishes of his clergy, and the name of Rev. Clement Smyth was forwarded to Rome for the approval of the Holy Father." It is difficult, however, to find any evidence to corroborate this statement of Archbishop Ireland. On the other hand in March of 1853 Bishop Cretin in writing to Loras and revealing that he had been addressed by him on the matter of a coadjutor who would be a monk, said: "I have always thought that a coadjutor would bother you more than he would help you unless he would remain in his monastery and go out only to fulfill the missions which you might be able to confide in him." In November, 1855, Bishop Loras went to St. Louis to attend the First Provincial Council which was held in the old cathedral of St. Louis, and he had Prior Clement Smyth accompany him. Among the recommendations of this council was one creating a coadjutorship  p113 for Dubuque, and following his return home, Loras during the following month of December sent his choice of Prior Smyth along with his recommendations to Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis who forwarded them to Rome. Shortly afterwards the bishop received the congratulations of his confidant, Bishop Cretin: "It would indeed be difficult to find a man more disinterested, more zealous, more capable. I think that his nomination at Rome will meet with no difficulty whatsoever."

Naturally and of necessity Bishop Loras had consulted his friend Dom Bruno of Mount Melleray on this step, and the latter had brought the request before the General Chapter of La Grande Trappe. The capitular fathers immediately frowned on it. Said their minutes of the second session of 1856: "The Reverend Father Clement, Titular Prior of New Melleray in the United States of America, is on the point of being promoted to the coadjutorship of Dubuque, no doubt with future succession: his Father Immediate, the R. Father Bruno, Abbot of Ireland, asks the opinion of the General Chapter. The unanimous opinion of the General Chapter is that the R. Father Clement decline both the honor and the charge which it is wished to bestow upon him. And on this subject the Chapter quotes the Definition contained in the 36th chapter of the Nomasticon: 'Neither an Abbot nor a Monk of our Order if he be chosen to the Episcopate may ever yield without the assent of his Abbot and of the Cistercian Chapter unless he shall be constrained by the Holy Father, the Pope.' "

And thus the matter hung in abeyance for a long time; Rome would have to speak. In all probability Bishop Loras was little perturbed by this refusal of the Cistercian chapter, for he had seen a similar obstacle overcome before. In 1848 the Jesuit, Father Van de Velde, had been instructed by his superior to decline the nomination to the episcopal see of Chicago unless compelled by an express command of His Holiness. The consent of Rome had nevertheless been obtained in this case, as Loras well knew, since he had been one of the co‑consecrators of Bishop Van de Velde.

It had been decided at the Cistercian General Chapter meetings of the previous year that the two American Trappist houses of New Melleray and Gethsemani should receive a formal visitation every second year, and that the two Abbots of Melleray in France and Mount Melleray in Ireland should alternately fulfill this duty. So in 1856 Dom Bruno came to the United States and Iowa on his  p114 second voyage and he did this more willingly because he hoped that Loras' importunate request of Rome would soon be granted and he wished to be present at the prior's consecration. He arrived in Dubuque on March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph. The sagacious abbot, keeping his own counsel, simply told Prior Clement that he "feared" the truth of the rumors now going about concerning his appointment to the Dubuque coadjutorship. But the prior confided to Father Donaghoe: "I have not the slightest apprehension that Rome could sanction such a choice, even if I were the person most strongly recommended, which I do not believe has been the case." Toward the end of June, the bishop who apparently had received some misleading news from Rome, wrote Father Clement that his prayer was heard, that a coadjutor had been appointed and that the prior was the chosen one, and demanded to know how long Father Clement had been in possession of the Bulls of Consecration. The prior indignantly denied having any sort of papal bulls and professed utter ignorance of the entire matter.

As should have been expected Rome was deliberate and slow as usual, and as month followed month Dom Bruno remained in America. While at New Melleray he was immensely pleased with what he beheld at the monastery. There was harmony, piety and concord among the brethren. There were neither debts nor doubts of future progress in the little community. The fertile fields continued to yield; the monastery possessed several teams of mules and horses and ten yoke of working oxen. The energetic abbot, seeing the pressing need of a suitable monastery church, consulted with the prior, selected a proper site himself, and then set the wheels of construction agoing. That very summer a large frame church eighty feet in length and twenty‑two feet in width was built, and cloister-stalls and benches both for the choir religious and lay brothers were installed. Still not to be repressed Dom Bruno later supervised the erection of a number of smaller buildings — work-shops, a bakery, washhouse, tailor's room, carpenter's shop, and library room.

The new year of 1857 began to swing into its course and not until the middle of April did the documents arrive from Rome nominating Prior Clement Smyth coadjutor to the bishop of Dubuque with the title of an "Episcopus in partibus infidelium," a "bishop in the land of the unbelievers;" the bulls had been signed in Rome on February 17th by Cardinal Barnabò and named him titular bishop of Thanasis.a1  p115 There was joy in Dubuque and among the silent, smiling monks in the halls of New Melleray to whom the news had been imparted. Bishop Loras had his coachman drive him out to the monastery in his carriage, and the following week the prior-bishop-elect wrote to Father Donaghoe at St. Joseph's Convent: "The good Bishop spent last Wednesday night here with us & appeared in all his glory. Never did I see him in such apparent good spirits before. We have arranged to meet, all of us in Dubuque on Monday next & on the day following to take the boat for St. Louis."

On the following Tuesday Prior Clement left for St. Louis accompanied by Bishop Loras, Abbot Bruno Fitzpatrick and Father Terence Donaghoe, the vicar-general. Before the departure of this group Dom Bruno had appointed Father James Myles O'Gorman to the priorship of New Melleray — the office which he had relinquished to Father Francis Walsh in 1850.

On Sunday, May 3rd, 1857, Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick consecrated Father Smyth a bishop of the Catholic Church in the Cathedral of St. Louis and the Co‑consecrators were Bishop Henni of Milwaukee and Bishop O'Regan of Chicago. An interesting glimpse of the occasion is obtained from the secular press of that day, The Missouri Republican of St. Louis:

Episcopal Consecration
Imposing Ceremonies

Yesterday was a gala day at the Cathedral when the ceremonies consequent upon a double consecration were performed. The parties most interested were the Rt. Rev. James Duggan, Bishop of Antigone to be coadjutor to the Archbishop of St. Louis, with right of succession to the archbishopric, if he survives the present Archbishop, and the Rt. Rev. Clement Smyth, Bishop of Appanasia [sic]a2 to be coadjutor to the Bishop of Dubuque, also with the right of succession.

The ceremonies are of the most inspiring of the Roman Catholic Religion. The high officers of the church officiating were the Most Rev. Archbishop of this city, who was the consecrator, and the Rt. Rev. Dr. Spalding, Bishop of Louisville, who preached the sermon. We understand that all the Bishops of the Province of St. Louis were present.

 p116  Not all the bishops were present, however. Besides the prelates mentioned in the preceding paragraphs there were in the sanctuary that day Bishop John B. Miege, S. J., of the Indian Territory, Bishop Henry Juncker of Alton, and the Right Reverend Abbot, Dom Eutropius of Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky.

From this time on Bishop Clement Smyth, although always entertaining a deep affection for his old monastery and the community over which he had so happily presided, and ever manifesting a great interest in their welfare, had only occasional relations of direct import with the New Melleray house. In fact, as bishop, he was never so intimately connected with the story of the Iowa Trappists as had been Bishop Mathias Loras during his incumbency of the Iowa see. Bishop Smyth was immediately plunged into diocesan labors, his first great task being the completion of the new Dubuque cathedral. And it is of note to mention that in 1858 after the resignation of Bishop O'Regan this first Trappist bishop in American history became Administrator for a time of the rapidly swelling diocese of Chicago. To Bishop Smyth's eternal credit was his firm and courageous handling of the case of the infamous schismatic, Father Charles Chiniquy, whom he excommunicated and forced out of the Chicago diocese.

Prior James, having for so long a time cooperated as subprior with Father Clement, found it easy to follow closely in his footsteps as superior. "Good, generous, kind-hearted and withall so extraordinarily talented," exclaimed Brother Kieran in his annals, "Father James kept a vigilant watch especially over the movements of our housekeeper who even at this period manifested a tendency to run risks which eventually resulted most disastrously for our community. This state of things did not surely occur during the administration of Father James; it was reserved for his successors to accomplish so doleful an event." Dom Bruno continued being edified and pleased as he saw the fabric of his monastic affiliate being ever more carefully fashioned under the new prior's guidance, and was preparing to return to Europe with a heart brimming with gratitude to Providence, when still another source of gratification was disclosed to him and delayed his departure for a time. Father Thomas Hore who had some years previously deeded his farm and buildings in Allamakee County to the New Melleray community but had remained in possession of them, now visited the monastery and placing  p117 the deed in the hands of Dom Bruno and Prior James, announced that as he had received permission to retire from the active ministry and was returning to his native Ireland, he was relinquishing Holy Valley (referring to La Val Sainte of Dom Augustin de Lestrange) to the monks. The abbot, with the concurrence of Prior James, sent Father Francis Walsh and six lay brothers to the Wexford farm to manage it for the community and to discover whether it might eventually become an affiliate of the Dubuque house; Father Francis was to act as pastor of the little Wexford parish and of the neighboring missions. Thereupon Dom Bruno, unable to delay any longer, left immediately for France to attend the meetings of the General Chapter at La Grande Trappe.

The acquisition of this property by the Trappist brothers was remarked upon in several Catholic papers and to one of them an ebullient enthusiast from Wexford wrote in June of 1857:

This new branch of the Melleray Monastery will give an impetus to the Catholicity of Allamakee County. There will be priests in abundance: and such priests, eloquent, learned and holy men. Agriculture, too, will flourish where the monks are, for they are scientific and laborious farmers as the excellent cultivation of their fields near Dubuque abundantly proves. Their less enterprising neighbors will be directed and encouraged by their experience and success, and Allamakee County will become the Catholic garden-spot of Iowa. It will suit Catholics better than any other class of people, and few others will remain, if we judge from experience in the vicinity of Dubuque. The cowl and habit seems to frighten sectarians as much as a scarecrow does birds in a cornfield.

And the bishops in Dubuque when making their report to the Propagation of the Faith Society in France at the end of 1857 stated that there were now "2 convents of Trappists" in Iowa.

Alas, too soon did the colors fade from this roseate picture. The hilly land of the Holy Valley was hardly suited to the intensive cultivation sought by the monks and there appeared no secure future for a permanent Trappist foundation there. "Somehow the project fell through," related Brother Kieran, "and all were back again in less than one year and six months." The housekeeper, Brother Mary Bernard, was sent to Wexford to dispose of the land to the neighboring  p118 farmers for the benefit of the monastery but Father Francis Walsh remained for a time as missionary pastor. So attracted was Father Walsh, the former prior, by this pastoral work that he sought and was granted permission to enter the diocesan priesthood after having been duly dispensed from his religious obligations by the Pope, and withdrawing from the Cistercian order he devoted the remainder of his life to pastoral and chaplaincy duties in the Dubuque diocese, serving, among other stations, for a number of years as shepherd of the growing St. Patrick's congregation in Dubuque.

Meanwhile a startling event had been taking place in the abbey of La Grande Trappe in France. Thither had gone Dom Bruno after his prolonged sojourn in the United States. So impressed had he been by the progress, both spiritual and material, of the Iowa Trappist house, and so depressed had he become by conditions in Ireland, both political and economic, that he began formulating a daring, a radical plan of action in his mind. Already in December of 1853 he had sounded out Prior Smyth on the propriety of the Dubuque foundation buying the farm at Mount Melleray and thus allowing the Irish monks with these funds to tiger their entire community to Iowa. And now in the fall of 1857, addressing the abbots assembled in General Chapter, he described with complete detail all he had seen in America and in Iowa particularly on his long journey, and then outlined the project he had long been meditating of moving his abbacy and community to New Melleray. After the discussions, the minutes of this interesting capitular session read simply: "Things remain as they were: the project of the translation of the Abbey is abandoned."

Although at the Iowa priory during this time "affairs went smoothly on," as Brother Kieran records, "yes, and very prosperous also — difficulties and debt seemed as though such things were never to exist," there were in 1858 two sad events to be noted. One was the death of Brother Stanislaus Mullany, the first brother to die at the monastery and whose name heads the list of those who lie in sleep in the peaceful monastery cemetery. He was a young man of only twenty-seven years of age and had been received into the Dubuque Trappist house three years before. The community had grown under Prior James to the number of sixty and just before Brother Stanislaus' death, Brother Kieran had recorded: "We were now living nine years and three months here" (in Iowa) "and during  p119 that time no member of our community died in this monastery, though many were aged men." The other sad event was that of the death of Mathias Loras, first bishop of Iowa, the patron of New Melleray monastery and the friend of Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick, whose French accented voice had first called the Irish Trappists to the trans-Mississippi West. After his funeral which had been attended by government officials, civic leaders, church dignitaries and four thousand mournful followers he was buried in the crypt of the new cathedral which he and Bishop Clement Smyth had just completed.

A joyful event, however, of the same year was the first ordination to the priesthood of a member of Dubuque Cistercian brotherhood. On August 21st, 1858, in the newly erected monastery church Brother John Baptist Hogan who had arrived in Iowa with the second Trappist colony in April of 1850 and was now forty‑two years of age, was anointed with the sacerdotal oils by the kindly hands of his former prior, Bishop Clement Smyth.

When the new year of 1859 was ushered in the reports that Prior James was soon to be elevated to a bishopric had already obtained wide circulation. Archbishop P. Richard Kenrick of St. Louis had been impressed by his piety, his practical talents and his other eminent qualifications — so it was stated. The recent episcopal appointment of Clement Smyth was still fresh in the minds of the monks and of the public and possibly for that reason there was much less comment made or surprise manifested about Father James O'Gorman's nomination. Although Abbot Bruno was also aware of the coming elevation of his Trappist prior he could not, he felt, return so soon to America again. As it developed Prior James had already been nominated at Rome on January 18th, 1859, as Titular Bishop of Raphanaeb and Vicar Apostolic of Nebraska. Prior James confirmed the nomination by accepting the bulls which reached him on April 15th. He left New Melleray on May 2nd and was consecrated in the St. Louis cathedral on May 8th, 1859, a Sunday, by Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick, the co‑consecrators being Bishops Miege and Juncker. His fellow Trappist, Bishop Clement Smyth, who had accompanied him to St. Louis delivered the sermon on the occasion.

The Vicariate of Nebraska embraced what are now the states of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and the western parts of the Dakotas. There were probably not more than seven thousand Catholics  p120 in that vast region, including the Indians, and particularly the Black Feet tribe among whom the Jesuit missionaries were then gaining many converts. Arrived in Omaha the new bishop wrote to Father Donaghoe: "How different has been my egression from Melleray, and Bishop Smyth's. He had only to go thirteen miles when he found everything he could rationally desire; I have travelled as many hundreds of miles and have not found a home." He did, however, find a remarkable old friend, Father Jeremiah Trecy, a former Iowan. This priest who had served Bishop Loras well in his efforts to secure immigrants for the West, had held the pastorate of Garryowen, a few miles south of New Melleray, and had befriended the monks in their early years of destitution. Three or four years previous to this meeting with Bishop O'Gorman he had led a colony of farmers, some of them from the monastery district and the others from Garryowen, to Nebraska where he was engaged at this time in founding a city and a farm settlement. He immediately induced the willing bishop to accompany him on a long, "parching drive of 150 miles" through the Omaha and Pawnee Indian reservations and almost smack into an Indian insurrection before they reached the St. Patrick's settlement. Here the bishop found that Father Trecy's city existed only on paper, — "but it was a beautiful city," added the bishop, "and every saint of the calendar has on it a street dedicated to him or her."

This extraordinary character left his settlement two years later for Washington, D. C., and then for Alabama, where in the beginning of the Civil War he served as chaplain with the national guard of that rebel state and later served with the northern troops in Tennessee in the army of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Rosecrans — the only instance in the history of that great conflict (and probably of any great conflict) where the same clergyman served as chaplain with both antagonists.

As the extreme western part of Iowa was so far from Dubuque and was just across the Missouri river from Omaha, Nebraska, Bishop Smyth induced Bishop O'Gorman almost from the start to attend to the Catholics in this region granting him full faculties and jurisdiction, and this sharing of the episcopal care of Iowa by the two former priors of the New Melleray monastery continued until the death of Bishop Smyth in 1865.

Thayer's Notes:

a1 a2 "Thanasis" is a mistake.

Sees in partibus infidelium (now just "titular sees") are nominal sees of places which do not have active bishops; the towns are roughly within the ancient Roman empire but now in areas held by infidels, usually Moslems. Since a bishop is properly always a bishop of a Christian congregation in a place, these sees are assigned to a bishop as a legal fiction, when no see is available, or when the bishop is a coadjutor, or in a missionary zone where no see has yet been erected, or for some other reason does not have his own see. Many of these towns in partibus are very small places, and were even very small and obscure places in Antiquity.

That said, these places can usually be found on a good map of the ancient Roman empire, and will usually have been given as sees to several men over the course of the centuries. The reading Appanasia given in the contemporaneous newspaper article, although yielding nothing and almost certainly wrong, might point the way to the actual name.

"Thanasis", though, appears in no print source in my library, and as the name of a town appears on the Web almost always in connection with Bishop Smyth. Fortunately the good people at that excellent resource Catholic-Hierarchy.Org have a page for Bishop Smyth which clears up the mystery: he was titular bishop of Thennesus in the Egyptian delta.

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b Raphanae was a town of the Decapolis, mentioned by Pliny (N. H. V.74); its site is now unknown.

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